When doing what you love is part of your job: The life of a visual information specialist

USACE Omaha District
Published Feb. 26, 2019
USACE Omaha District Visual Information Special Jeremy Bell stands in front of five of his original works at the Michael Birawer Gallery in Seattle Feb. 2018. (Courtesy photo)

USACE Omaha District Visual Information Special Jeremy Bell stands in front of five of his original works at the Michael Birawer Gallery in Seattle Feb. 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Cool World 
Year: 2013 
Size: 26in x 33.5in x 5.5in 
Medium: Charcoal, Acrylic, Spray Paint, glitter, Ink

Original work by Jeremy Bell, Visual Information Specialist with USACE Omaha District (Courtesy photo).

***Note: Original image is not in public domain.

Cool World Year: 2013 Size: 26in x 33.5in x 5.5in Medium: Charcoal, Acrylic, Spray Paint, glitter, Ink Original work by Jeremy Bell, Visual Information Specialist with USACE Omaha District (Courtesy photo). ***Note: Original image is not in public domain.

The Achiever 
Size: 48x36x 3in 
Medium: Charcoal, Acrylic, Sharpie, Wax, spray paint, on wood. 
Year: Feb 2015

Original work by Jeremy Bell, a Visual Information Specialist with USACE Omaha District. (Courtesy photo)

***Note: Original image is not in public domain.

The Achiever Size: 48x36x 3in Medium: Charcoal, Acrylic, Sharpie, Wax, spray paint, on wood. Year: Feb 2015 Original work by Jeremy Bell, a Visual Information Specialist with USACE Omaha District. (Courtesy photo) ***Note: Original image is not in public domain.

What types of career options come to your mind when you think of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? Engineering, of course, or construction perhaps. Even project management and economics careers would be obvious. The reality is that USACE offers scores of careers in vastly different focus areas ranging from finance and accounting, to safety and occupational health, and even to graphic design or “visual information” as it’s referred to in the military. The latter career (and the focus of this piece) is a common position in military outfits; visual information specialists are typically the military personnel armed with a camera or video camera—in addition to their normal battlefield weapons.

Visual information specialist Jeremy Bell is currently manning a one-person shop taking care of all of the USACE Omaha District’s needs. The department has four primary functional areas of expertise, which includes graphic design, photography, videography and other audio/visual support. Bell has the responsibility of documenting any major projects or events going on in the district. He produces, edits, and finalizes the products to be ready for the public. For print materials, he creates magazines, posters, calendars and whatever else the many district’s departments may need. The VI office downsized from two specialists in fall 2019, when Bell’s colleague, well-known USACE photographer Harry Weddington retired.

“I’m constantly aware of my workload, project flow, and being aware of what are my capabilities versus expectations and workload,” said Bell.

A unique feature of having a job in visual information is the fact that the work Bell does is seen by the public, something many artists strive for.

“Working with the Corps is great because it’s this gigantic organization, right, and yet we’re still kind of behind the scenes,” said Bell. Not too many people are aware of the Corps’ presence, although we have our hands on some really vital, important things throughout this country.”

Bell notes that because the Corps’ strong influence on the public, he gets to work on some high visibility projects, something he particularly enjoys.

“When they [projects] come in to me, I’m processing them for what they are, but once they leave my hands, they’re put out into the world. And so that’s kind of interesting to say, you know, I created this thing in house but it’s being viewed by thousands and thousands of people.”

Bell’s job with the Corps of Engineers is not his only studio for getting his creative juices flowing. In his spare time, he paints, and while he often turns to oil paint as his primary medium, he’s used charcoal, acrylic, oil, sharpies, spray paint, polyurethane and encaustic wax on projects. He enjoys using a lot of materials and seeing how they interact with each other.

An artist that Bell has developed an appreciation for in his adulthood is Kehinde Wiley, a Los Angeles native currently based out of New York.  Wiley has made a name for himself worldwide, with his style of depicting people of color in typical poses reminiscent of noblemen, royalty and aristocrats found in classical European paintings.

“Art is really great because there’s no rules, so to speak. As long as you’re expressing yourself and dealing with the concepts and ideas that you’re interested in, the medium—there’s no limitation to that,” said Bell.

In his personal art projects, Bell enjoys combining abstraction with realistic representation, which is evident in his portraiture work. Though painting is his typical form of artistic expression, an upcoming installation with a local architectural firm will involve chairs. With work presently being shown in Seattle, his local work in Omaha and his day job at the Corps of Engineers, Bell is certainly an artist on the move.

Bell is quick to point out that doing visual information work in the government is something you have to seek out, as jobs are not typically advertised as “graphic designer needed” or “artist sought”; in contrast, you might see jobs listed as “visual information specialist” or “audio-visual specialist” or something similar.

“Kids don’t dream about things they don’t know about, so I never would have thought to apply for this job had it not been for my military career”, Bell said. “When I was in the Air Force, I was an information specialist and so having that forehand knowledge let me know that there was an opportunity out there.”

According to Bell, jobs in the graphic arts are out there but are not always obvious to the job seeker.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is a really important and large organization here within the nation but they’re really good at staying behind the scenes. So just know that it’s a great place to work in and be a part of, but you’re going to have to be somewhat proactive to find the opportunities.”

The saying “when you’re doing what you love at your job, you never work a day in your life” may be appropriate to describe Bell’s work at the Omaha District. He’s able to take his passion for art and use his creativity to make a wide variety of graphic materials for the district’s hundreds of projects across 10 states. If you see any Corps of Engineers posters or signs going up in your community this spring, it probably came from Jeremy Bell’s desk.

For full interview, visit: https://dvidshub.net/r/bj8wnn


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