An Artist Abroad: Drawing life on the front line

Captain Sophie Whitaker, 39 Regt RA. Image by Cpl Si Longworth RLC

Captain Sophie Whitaker, 39 Regt RA. Photo by Cpl Si Longworth RLC

Captain Sophie Whitaker is a serving war artist whose main job is to provide Joint Fires Targeting support to Task Force Helmand on OP HERRICK 18. As a member of 74 Battery (The Battleaxe Company) 39 Regiment Royal Artillery – attached to 1 Royal Horse Artillery, Sophie works in the Brigade Headquarters, Lashkar Gah, where she finds time between an often hectic schedule to put pencil to paper.

Where do I start?

Ironically I am struggling to inspire myself to write a 2,000 word essay for another project and yet why I thought it would be a great idea to start writing a blog is absolutely beyond me!

Nevertheless, I am passionate about art and after learning that a ‘serving war artist’ is something of a rare breed I am determined to use this blog to encourage others out here (they know who they are), and back at home, to come out of the shadows and share their talents.

So what about me – how did I end up here?

I shall spare you the full story for another day but in a nutshell I joined the Army in January 2008 when I started at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and commissioned at the end of that year. Prior to that I had studied Arabic at the University of Durham for four years and enjoyed living in Alexandria, Egypt as part of my second year (perhaps more of that in blogs to come).

Having been brought up in a multi-cultural environment, I have a natural curiosity for people and their environment and love being able to observe, learn, understand and interact with other cultures. In some ways the heat and the dust of Afghanistan – with the distinct smell of cheap recycled toilet paper and potable water was somewhat comforting and reminiscent of my childhood!

Capt S Whitaker – This is where it all started! Image by Mr David Whitaker (my Dad)

A young Sophie Whitaker – This is where it all started! Photo by Mr David Whitaker (my Dad)

Sights from a sangar

This is not my first tour of Afghanistan, I deployed to Camp Bastion on OP HERRICK 13 but between the Ops Room and the flight line there was little more inspiration than sunsets and helicopters and I lived in a ‘Bastion bubble’. What is rather exciting about being based in Lashkar Gah this time round is that I am surrounded by a life and culture beyond the wire that I barely get a glimpse of.

Afghan motorcyclist – initial sketch WIP. Photo by me

Afghan motorcyclist – initial sketch WIP. Photo by me

In a changing context of Stabilisation Operations, current focus is very much on the people and through my blog I would like to share with you the War through my eyes – as an artist or a soldier , or a mix of the two – whichever you would prefer!

I shall work on a collection of sketches, drawings and watercolours based on the theme of ‘Sights from a sangar’. Details of my ideas will follow next week as I am attempting to produce one piece of artwork a week.

Alas, I have managed to only write 408 words here, so back to my essay (If only a picture really was worth 1000 words!)

Captain Sophie Whitaker, 39 Regt RA. Photo by Cpl Si Longworth RLC

Captain Sophie Whitaker, 39 Regt RA. Photo by Cpl Si Longworth RLC

Look at Sophie’s page

13 thoughts on “An Artist Abroad: Drawing life on the front line

  1. Hi

    Sorry for being a “Dumb Ass”, but where does one see your drawings, and please dont say its like the telephone exchange format, i.e. For pictures, press 1, for chatline, press 2, etc, etc. From what little I could see you are pretty (being the operative word) dame good at Art, are pencil drawings your only medium?. Well all the best to you all and come home safely to all your loved ones.

    All the best Tony Teague (Ex Royal Sgnals)

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    • Hi Tony,

      The good news is that the ‘press 1’ is simply here. I have not posted any of my work online and this blog is my only forum of displaying them, in fact many of my colleagues have only just found out that I draw through this blog! So I’m afraid the only place you will see my work is here – for now at least.

      I enjoy using a variety of mediums, in particular pencil and watercolour. I would love to do more work in oil, but unfortunately having been busy moving up and down the country with my pre-deployment training, I haven’t had much time to focus on my art. I often get asked by friends for requests to draw their pet for a Christmas or birthday present, and always have a pencil to hand. I hope this answers your question and thank you for your kind words.

      Regards,

      Sophie

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  2. Excellent story, wonderful blog and your an amazing lady. Please say hello to my daughter if you see her WO Kelly Newbound CSAT she is in Afghan for another month.

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    • Dear Simon,

      If you let her know who I am and where, I am I shall do my best to look out for her and pass on your wishes.

      Regards,

      Sophie

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  3. One a week? That’s a big ask Sophie ! I served 84-94, 1st Gordons and did some pieces for the Regiment, in particular an NI piece depicting life in Belfast, took me months!

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    • Dear Colin,

      Absolutely – it is an effort, but who doesn’t like a challenge? Most of the pieces will be relatively ‘quick’ studies that take less time than my more detailed work but nevertheless still capture the mood- as you will see as I post on future works in progress. I shall look forward to enjoying and re-living some of the moments that I capture when I have more time on my return!

      Regards,

      Sophie

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      • Dear Sophie

        I’m now retired from the Police due to an injury and have launched myself into Art in a big way and I only have one regret and that is during my police career, 18 yrs, I didnt make time for Art. So make time LOL, always carry a sketch pad and a couple of pencils.

        Take care

        Colin.

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    • Thank you for introducing me to it! Hope you are enjoying your trip out and look forward to seeing your pics when you get back in!

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  5. Hi Sophie, have just been reading your blog and looking forward to seeing your artwork and more blog !! X

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