Artist Profile: Capt. CJ Baumann (USMC)

 If asked to describe the Marine Corps in a few words, it’s unlikely many civilians would use the term “Patron of the Arts”. So, it may come as a surprise that the Corps, through it’s National Museum, helps support a Combat Artist program to allow talented artists (active, reserve, and retired) to document its history in a format that often elicits more connection and emotion than words or photos can. One such artist is Capt. CJ Baumann, who’s been kind enough to answer a lot of questions from the Talk On and share his experience and story. The Talk On has been blown away by Capt. Baumann’s thoroughness and transparency, we guarantee you’ll learn something from his story whether you spent a decade in service or never touched foot on a military base. 

Disclaimer: Capt Baumann’s commentary is his own and in no way represents the official endorsement or position of the US Marine Corps. 

TO: Where/When did you serve? # of Deployments?

CJ:  I am currently an active duty Marine Corps Officer, having commissioned in 2011. I am a logistics officer by trade but facilitate the Marine Corps Combat Art Program (MCCAP) with the FMOS 4606. I have deployed three times, two of which were embeds for MCCAP purpose.

TO: How did art come into your life and become a career?

CJ: Drawing has always been a part of my life, but not seriously until the middle of my college years. Due to regular interest and practice my skills improved, which prepared me to be a candidate for the Marine Corps Combat Art Program (MCCAP). The MCCAP has accelerated my ambition and academic approach to art, exposed me to more mature and veteran artists, and provided opportunities (as well as encouragement) to develop as a field illustrator. I’m not sure I can quite call it a career yet, but the beginning of a hopeful future is developing. The deployed units that have already been supported by the MCCAP have been impressed with the quality of work and storytelling we have provided, while continued interest and requests for further embeddings from other fleet units are paving our future.

TO: Which is your favorite piece you’ve done and why?

CJ: My favorite piece is a large panoramic drawing (see above) of a platoon commander giving his platoon an operations brief in the desert of eastern Africa. The perspective is from outside the ring of Marines looking in, with the platoon commander facing the viewer. The scene of circling around the terrain model, listening to the platoon commander give a brief is universal to the Marine Corps. The drawing is done on tonal paper with an emphasis on the bright highlights and hard cast shadows, rendering the heat of the day and rugged rocky terrain. Again, a universal experience amongst the Corps. I believe this piece is one of my stronger connections to the audience who views it.

TO: What is the Marine Corps’ role in helping you create, share, and develop your artwork? What is a Combat Artist?

CJ: A Combat Artist is currently an FMOS (Free-Military Occupational Specialty) for active duty Marines and is under “additional duty”, or when supportable from your primary duties. Under the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC), the Marine Corps Combat Art Program (MCCAP) screens applications and designates artists to serve in the program. As opportunities arise for embedding with deployed units, personal schedules are deconflicted and artists are deployed for weeks at a time.

The Marine Corps’ global operations, rich history, and national respect drives my desire to capture its story through art. My personal (and professional) experiences, can be used to shape my inspiration and artwork.  It’s through these that I am able to understand the scene in front of me and illustrate the emotion and story needing to be told.

TO: Why does the Marine Corps have this MCCAP program?

CJ: The Marine Corps has always had an art program (kind of). It was started in WW1 by Colonel John W. Thomason Jr. and at some point an actual MOS. Even in the presence of cameras, the Marine Corps in its adoration of its own history has appreciated renderings of its Operations and members. I believe in/around the Vietnam era the MOS went away (or at least shifted to the reserves only) and it’s been a fight since then to get any kind of budgeting for it to come back in any real fashion.

 Artists in residence have been the go-to, namely Colonel Charles Waterhouse and Colonel Avery Chenoweth. In Desert Storm and the early Iraq/Afghan years we had designated artists (reservists) who deployed under active duty status, namely Charles Grow, Michael D. Fay, and Kristopher Battles. Charlie, being a former artist himself, has been a real reason this has gotten the momentum it has. Being the Deputy Director of the National Museum of the Marine Corps helps, and with help of the Training Command CG, BGen Bowers as well as construction of the “combat art gallery” inside the NMMC we are seeing the program take off.

 I believe the Marine Corps wants an art program, and those who truly appreciate our history as well as understand that todays/tomorrows actions are going to be history one day recognize the value in illustrative documentation… especially (because) art can muster up emotions/recollections sometimes better than a photograph. So for now, the MCCAP is not officially a part of the Marine Corps. The program is managed under the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and NMMC – but as we artists are allowed to go TAD to do art of deployed units, we continue to vouch for all the reasons why this should once again be an official part of the Corps. 

TO: How did you find the MCCAP program? Were you recruited or was it something you were aware of previously? 

CJ: I am a unique one. The program was almost dead and silent from about 2008-2014. I was unaware of the term “combat artists” and didn’t know a program was being developed. I came to the knowledge of the program in 2013 through a former Marine and artist named Robert Bates. He introduced me to Michael D. Fay and it was through him I learned more. He saw in me talent worth mentoring and so for about 1 year he virtually coached me, and introduced me to Colonel Craig Streeter. Col Streeter is also an artist and at the time (Fall 2014) was acting as an artist in residence with the NMMC. In June 2015, I took a 3-day trip from Camp Lejeune to Quantico to present my portfolio to the Marine Museum and Curating staff. Fortunately, I was seen as talented/mature enough and was designated as an artist before I left. 

 In 2016 my unit deployed but I was tied up in operations and lacked independent maturity (as an artist – didn’t have a mentor at the time) so very little was (artwork) created. This year I’ve embedded with the 24th MEU and 26th MEU (Africa and Norway) while partnered with Richard Johnson and what a game changer!  I was the second person (there currently are only 3 active duty artists) brought into the program, and since then there has developed a formal application process, reviewing board, and an official designating process. 

TO:  What does a deployment on MCCAP duty entail? What does a day in the field look like for a Marine Corps Combat Artist?

CJ: Deployments can vary and it depends on what the unit requesting us is wanting us to capture. So far our embeds last 10-14 days. I act as the liaison to all the planning and embedding details since I’m active duty and can work with the staff directly. We insert a few days before the operation and link up with platoon/company that we will be focusing on, typically following (them) for a few days before transitioning to a different portion of the exercise. With regards to embedding, we prefer to be directly attached and sleeping/eating in the field with the Marines. This allows for best views/interactions/and moments captured. While in Djibouti with 26th MEU we attached to Fox Company and did this. Other times, if the unit is too mobile or has recognized they can’t support a direct attachment, we will commute daily from (somewhere nearby). This usually allows us more freedom to float around the Area of Operations.

 A typical day while deployed relies on good coordination and good people skills when making first impressions. Mostly with the leadership staff, introducing yourself and trying to explain why you are there, and what you’d like to have access to can (cause) friction sometimes. Ideally we can show previous works, quickly get them excited about what we’re doing, and gain access to almost anything. We usually nurture these relationships by following back around and showing the Marines/Leadership what we’ve created. This is always an enjoyable and rewarding moment.

 We do 80% of our work in the field and try hard to minimize our “studio touch-ups”. We plan for a “production day” every 4-5 days where we can deliberately finish the works we couldn’t in the field as well as scan/photo and social media our products. Believe it or not, there is actually a good bit of admin work that comes with creating field work. At the end of our embed, we will consolidate photos of our work onto a PPT or PDF to distribute to the Commanding Staff to share our products and say thank you. We usually get very positive feedback here and word spreads to further “invitations”. We hope this continues.

TO: Do you have a civilian audience or is it mostly veterans right now?

CJ: My audience is both civilian and military. I try to share my military work with civilian communities practicing Urban Sketching and Plein Air style work. Our approach as field illustrators is the same, just different subject matter. Awareness of our work needs to spread in the military community so that more opportunities to deploy and document would occur, and awareness in the civilian sector needs to spread for the sake of humanizing the sacrifice giving by those Marines we illustrate. I’d like to see both expand.

TO: What role do you think art will have in bridging the military-civilian divide that’s arisen during these long wars? 

CJ: There is a wide range of experiences people can have in life, especially comparing the military and civilian sectors. (But), the common denominator between us is the human factor.  The human factor opens the spectrum of emotion which is much narrower despite experiences and it’s here I believe we have a bridge across such different (experiences). With this said, I believe that combat art done well can serve as a bridge that conveys a familiar emotion to an otherwise unfamiliar event. In a perfect world, this would allow the viewer to feel the emotion that was had in that moment by the artist and draw up both empathy and an appreciation for the artist and his experiences. I currently try to fill the gap I am in position to address, which is capturing the everyday moments of the Marines at the tactical level (lowest level) and simply sharing their story, often trying to put an illustration to an actual name.  

One of my mentors and role-models is civilian illustrator Richard Johnson ( His theory is that if you seek to put yourself at the point of influence/significance and simply draw what you see, the artwork will take care of itself. Though he has +15yrs of drawing experience, including multiple combat zone embeddings with deployed units, he is always reminding me that growth is continuous. His illustrations of service members have been exhibited in both Canadian and American military museums. Additionally, his ability and style have been a topic of discussion on TEDTalks and at the art and war symposium of the Air Force Academy.

I envision my work being able to do the same thing one day. With a greater exposure to “illustration opportunities” and growth in my portfolio, I expect the same opportunities to rise for the MCCAP and for artists like myself. I strive to always be ready to speak on behalf of the Marine Corps, its members and their story through illustration and art.

Capt. CJ Baumann’s work can be found at his personal site. Check him out and keep an eye out for more input from artists in the MCCAP Program in future Talk On Profiles. 

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