For as long as Ivan Pineiro could remember, he had always been interested in art. Born and raised in Cuba, the self-taught artist first became fully immersed the world of drawing by recreating japanese animations and cartoons.

He said he never thought he would use his talents to be an artist. He always assumed his gift would be applied into whatever profession he pursued in life.

“Little by little, with time, it became more of a full-time thing,” Pineiro said.

He tried unsuccessfully to leave Cuba several times the “traditional way” of building rafts to cross the waters from north Cuba to Florida. But when he turned 18, he decided to swim 30 miles from Cuba to Guantanamo Bay. The solo ocean journey took him 18 hours.

He attributes making it that far without fresh water to his training as an expert competitive swimmer in high school. Pineiro saw no future for himself in Cuba.

“I couldn’t be caged in a tiny island,” he said. “I wanted to explore … it was an excruciating journey.”

During his five years serving in the Army, he worked as a cook. He’s said he picked that military occupation code because as an artist who creates with his hands, he felt the Army could benefit from his skills.

“I wanted to something I can connect with in an artistic way,” Pineiro said. “I always had a great passion for cooking … and I translate all that creativity into the kitchen.”

However, his career in the Army was cut short in 2009 when he tore a tendon in one of his biceps during a demanding work schedule while on deployment in Iraq.

“I had to get (medically evacuated) out of there and that created a track to me to be medically serviced out of the Army,” he said. “That was something that impacted me a lot especially for me as a paratrooper.”

Since transitioning out of the Army, he’s had many opportunities come his way to finish his studies and also gain work experience. One of these opportunities he got was to be part of the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which put him in a clerical position as an intern at the Watters Family Life Counselling Center (WFLCC) at Fort Bragg. The WRP connects college students, or recent graduates who have disabilities, with federal employees.

Between taking appointments and checking visitors in to the center, Pineiro would fill his time by putting his artistic ideas onto a sketchbook, a past time that caught the attention of Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Daniel Hardin, deputy director of WFLCC Chaplain Training Center.

“He had a sketchpad, which is doing artwork of drawing people’s faces,” Hardin said. “I noticed that he could really capture emotion well and made artwork with pencil and graphite.”

Hardin described Pineiro as a quiet professional.

“You can tell he was a Soldier,” he said. “He was very respectful and very patient with people as he would handle folks coming in for therapy — that was impressive to me. Then when I saw him drawing I said, ‘Wow, you’re in the wrong field. You should be a professional artist.’”

Hardin then asked if Pineiro could create five drawings that depict journey to healing based on biblical passages for the counselling rooms in WFLCC. Pineiro, who had done commissioned work before, obliged.

Currently, Pineiro’s collection consists of capturing the essence and attitude of Cuban life, which is his graduate thesis project at Fayetteville State University. His pieces are mostly made in oil and created from photographs he’s collected of his visits to his native country.

“Everything is very representative of the Cuban society right now like that crumbling building, the facades and the old cars,” Pineiro said.

The five commissioned artworks in graphite and ink by Pineiro will be showcased at the Healing Moments Prints Dedication at 11 a.m. Friday at WFLCC.