An Artist Abroad: Morale in a box!

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.

Now where did I leave you…?  Ah yes … the old man and the donkey!

I am still managing to produce a piece of artwork for the week, but it does need a daily input and with what has turned out to be a busy week, I have suffered a few late nights – but it was worth it! In setting myself the challenge of one piece a week, the time seems to be flying by, as I struggle to find enough hours in a day to accomplish all that I want to!

I am now 40 per cent through my tour (not that I’m counting) and therefore have around another 17 pieces of art to produce! That sounds pretty exhausting, come to think of it.

Local Afghan Silk and Lace

Local Afghan Silk and Lace

Not to mention that I am also trying to plan my wedding and have decided in a flurry of excitement that I want to design my own dress! (For those of you who know me, this won’t be a surprise). To add to that, I have already bought some Kandahar-sourced silk from my Afghanistani  friend ‘H’ – the tailor in the local ‘antiques’ shop on camp. It may not be designer but it will certainly have a history and a story to tell. I doubt I shall post any sketches and designs on here, just in case my fiancé is tempted to peek! (And before you ask which Regiment he’s in – he’s not, he’s a farmer.) But I digress, back to the art…

Work in progress

This week’s subject has been completed over a period of about three days/nights work (1-2 hours max) and making up more time where I can. Whether it may be an early night, a quiet Sunday morning, or as per today’s instance – sitting out a sandstorm after a session in the gym!  Details of the work in progress over this week, as written day by day, started a little like this:

Cross-hatching technique

Cross-hatching technique

 

Day 1

I love to use cross hatching, a simple and effective way to get large amounts of lead on the paper and work towards building up a framework. I can cross over again and again to darken areas, or add closer and smaller lines for more detail.  As you can see here, I have tackled the background first with an erratic mix of hatched blocks. You can also start to see the areas that I have identified for marking out further by drawing in the lines closer together. Every line is drawn with purpose and I don’t really like shading large areas of background as I find the lead will undoubtedly smudge at some point. I also use a scrap piece of paper underneath my hand when I draw to reduce the amount of smudging. As it’s getting late I shall finish there for the evening and start again sometime tomorrow.

The Old Man begins to take shape

The Old Man begins to take shape

Day 2

Today I am squeezing in a 30 min break after the gym as a heavy sandstorm has just blown over camp. I have now completed the background and started to work on the old man – trying to depict his wrinkled clothing and texture. On my way back in to work I drop by the post room to see if my parcel has arrived – our post had already been collected by the department so I hurried back to the office in hope…nothing…another day perhaps?

Donkey follows suit

Donkey follows suit

 

I continue to work on the man this evening, sitting on my bed as the dust laden rain has just started to tap on my roof again. I start to work in the shadows on the donkey’s saddle bag and begin to shade in the donkey, despite hoping to get an early night as I am on duty again twice this week!

Day 3

I was back on the sangar this morning from 0700 hrs and I can thoroughly recommend that two hours of constant standing, with the occasional squat and calf raise, is a very effective weight loss method! I wonder why that is never recommended in any of the ‘Woman’s Health’ and ‘Men’s Fitness’ magazines that are littered around the Ops room? Aside from the odd pigeon seeking shade for company, and the sounds of others calling in their radio checks over the system, the hours pass slowly and quietly. However, with the ever-rising summer temperatures, more and more locals are active earlier in the morning, so I had plenty of activity to watch, and must come up again soon to sketch. No progress today on the drawing I’m afraid as work turned out to be pretty busy.

Morale in a box!

Morale in a box!

 

Day 4

Finally my parcel has arrived! It contains home baked brownies, pastels, watercolour pencils, gummed tape, masking fluid and some biscuits! It is amazing how much morale a small shoebox can contain – thank you. You really do appreciate the simple things in life out here, and nothing can beat a bit of home baking! The brownies were surprisingly well packaged and well preserved, still soft in the centre and crispy on top – absolutely divine! On the other hand the pastels were rather less contained and managed to scurry around whilst in transit as is evident by the tinted letter!

The finished piece

The finished piece

Oh, I almost forgot – here is the finished piece that I completed earlier today. Look forward to this same duo in colour – my target for next week.

Look at Sophie’s page

Find out more about Army Arts Society

7 thoughts on “An Artist Abroad: Morale in a box!

  1. Thank you for posting your interesting blogs Sophie. Love your ideas for a most unique wedding gown and what an heirloom for your future generations! Hope you are coping with the extreme heat. My son is currently on deployment and he tells us how unbearable it is becoming. Take care and look forward to seeing your beautiful artwork and stories. God bless and keep safe.

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    • Hi, thank you for your kind words and support. I can’t wait to get home and start making the dress! I have spoken to my fiancé and shall post the working in progress and sketches for my wedding dress after the big day as I know he reads this! The weather is rather unbearable right now, but we gradually acclimatise. I hope he is well and hasn’t got too much longer left to go!

      Regards,

      Sophie

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  2. Sophie – your creativity knows no bounds! I heard all about those brownies and was rather jealous that your hubby to be neglected to send any my way 😉 An amazing idea to design your own dress, and what a lovely project to be working on while you’re away.x

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    • Hi! Yes the brownies were a hit – although I have of course asked him for a re-show. I shall write to you soon and sketch down my ideas for the dress in a bluey – you must make sure a certain farmer doesn’t read it though. Looking forward to seeing you all when I get back.

      Soph

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