An Artist Abroad: Drawing on down time

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

Captain Sophie Whitaker, 39 Regt RA. Image 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 find time?

As I am rapidly discovering, producing one piece of art a week is by no means an easy task, however, I have started and so I shall go on…

Frustratingly I can’t dedicate the usual amount of time I would want to spend drawing each piece as I had hoped – otherwise I would never find enough time for work! Therefore I have adapted my style temporarily to create a series of simplified street scenes – highlighting a character or two and leaving the background as a suggestion of a desert environment. It is my intention to build up such a collection to aid me in creating a larger, busier street scene, combining all the characters on canvas when I get home.

I have often been asked what mediums I enjoy working with, and to that I answer all of them! But I suppose especially pencil, water colour pencil and watercolours. Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of time to indulge in experimenting and refining my techniques, but I shall look forward to being able to do so during my post operational tour leave (fondly known as ‘POTL’).

Abrigo - My traditional style

Abrigo – My traditional style

In each piece I hope to capture the mood, shapes and textures of the entire composition rather than the detail of faces, fur and fabric. A classic example of my usual style pencil drawing can be seen here; my old boy ‘Abrigo’, an ex-racehorse and an absolute gentleman. Something of this size and detail usually takes a couple of weeks in my normal work routine, working for a couple of hours each evening or whenever I can find time to sit still.

Drawing has always been a passion of mine and is the one thing that entirely consumes my attention from which I cannot be disturbed – not for love nor money. (Much to the disappointment of my beloved fiancé and dog at times!)

Daily routine

Every morning I awake to the drone of my alarm at 0700 hrs before getting up (0710 hrs) and out to meet the rest of my team routinely at 0730 hrs for breakfast. The mornings are busy for me as I read the updates from the last 24 hrs and populate them on an ever-expanding spreadsheet, before prioritising the various powerpoint presentations that are required for briefings later that day.

It is a sad fact of life that as a staff officer you become more accustomed to your mouse and keyboard than your rifle! Your normal safety procedures (NSPs) very soon adapt from the ‘Cock-Hook-Look’ to ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’.

The operational tempo varies considerably and so there are never two days alike!  I manage to squeeze in a daily gym session after lunch each day before taking any down time to draw before heading back in to work. The days incidentally finish anytime from 2100 hrs – 2300 hrs, so not quite your ‘9 to 5’. As I head back to my room in the evenings I look forward to being able to relax with my drawing and for a moment immerse myself in something other than work.

This week’s inspiration

This week’s inspiration

This week’s drawing

This week I have completed the pencil study of the Afghan motorcyclist, the eagle-eyed of you will notice that this is indeed the same one I was working on in the photographs on my first blog! Here is the original blurry photograph I used as a model and reference, taken with a 200 mm lens. The beauty of art is being able to recreate a memory or scene that for whatever reason, the camera (or in this case the photographer!) was unable to capture. I am also by far, my worst critique and need to remind myself on a constant basis that my art is my interpretation of what I see and experience, and how I would like to share that with others.

How he starts

How he starts

This is how he starts – from the face first, working my way down the picture from his sleeves, to his jacket and flowing down the scarf. It is in my classic style tonal drawing, which I love but wish I had more time to experiment with colour – perhaps I shall have a go out here. I am still awaiting a parcel from home with a few extra paints (and with a bit of luck some biscuits too!)

Building up the background

Building up the background

Next, I work on building up the background so that I can get a feel for the contrast of the overall picture and where necessary, start to define the shadows and highlights more. The key motivation behind this composition was to highlight the long shadows cast by a typically high and intense sun, against the hard, arid ground as the colour is almost entirely bleached out.

Finished piece

Finished piece

Here is the finished drawing, which took me approximately four evenings worth of work and my rest day gym session! I thoroughly enjoyed working on this, and have already found inspiration for my next drawing. Again with a long shadow, creased clothing, but this time a donkey for transport. I will attempt to convey the heat of the day, as the donkey lethargically picks its feet up one by one, loyally carrying his master home.

Next week’s project

Next week’s project

Look at Sophie’s page

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