An Artist Abroad: People make places

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.

I finished my last post suggesting that I would have a go at some caricatures and so I did…

Whilst travelling back to Lashkar Gah from Price, I transited through Bastion for a day and spent some time with the ‘Bastion Ops’ team, whom I talk to daily over the Polycom in my daily update brief. I had my camera out when the MTWO (Motor Transport Warrant Officer) grabbed me and suggested that I take a photograph of her team there and then, sitting on the bench in the ops room. In fact, she demanded that I produce something memorable for them! Now the MTWO isn’t the kind of person you say no to, and so I hurriedly snapped away at the somewhat reluctant faces either side of her. She suggested that it didn’t matter what style I managed to produce, so long as it was fun … and that she wouldn’t mind a caricature…so that set my thoughts going!

A local face.

A local face.

I have never drawn caricatures, and on reflection of this project, I probably ought not to attempt them again! I googled a few ‘how to draw caricatures’ guides on the internet and printed off some examples to have a practice and see how I got on. This was certainly easier said than done! I managed to copy the examples with no problems, but I found it hard to steer away from drawing what I saw realistically, instead ‘seeing’ a caricature and highlighting obvious features of recognition. Nevertheless I had set myself this aim of creating a caricature of the Bastion Ops team, and would persist to see what I could come up with.

Ten years younger!

Bastion Ops team

Bastion Ops team

Here is the final drawing – I purposely tried to keep the faces as the main focus with only rough, sketchy lines to indicate their bodies in order not to detract away from their faces. As a first attempt at a recognisable individual, it wasn’t too bad – the team certainly recognised themselves, but a little more work is needed on this style of drawing! I ‘revealed’ the finished drawing to them during one of our daily conferences, as it appeared as the final slide to the powerpoint presentation entitled ‘Any Other Business’. It was a little light humour over a weekend, as the weeks so often merge into one. Thankfully, it was very well received and the individuals in question shared the humour. The RSM was particularly happy as he appeared around ten years younger, whilst the BSM now has an idea of what he will look like in ten years time! The BK also noted the size of his biceps whilst the MTWO appeared younger!

Free flowing nature

However, in the aftermath I thought I would stick to what I knew and decided to produce a watercolour painting of a little girl who caught my eye as she fleetingly stared up at the sangar as she walked past with her classmate. I wondered what she could possibly have been thinking as she wore such a suspicious and perturbed expression whilst clutching her book. The perceptions of ISAF troops vary considerably from children who rush from their houses to wave the troops past, to those that are only too happy to pick up the biggest stone and take their best shot.

Colourful passers by.

Colourful passers by.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this piece as it was painted on nice grainy watercolour paper, and I had forgotten what a difference good quality paper makes! The Movements Warrant Officer in the headquarters (another keen artist) had returned from a visit to the UK bringing with her a large pad of the paper, and very kindly gave me a few sheets. I love the way the paint is absorbed into the paper, and the subtle shades but deep colour it enables.

Yellow fusion.

Yellow fusion.

The dress takes shape.

The dress takes shape.

Well I must admit that I find acrylic encourages me to paint in layers and blocks of colour whereas watercolour is a lot more fluid. I particularly enjoy the free flowing nature of watercolour paints as I use flow of water to place the paint on the paper in a loose and carefree manner. I started this week’s painting with a background wash of yellows and brown infused to create a mottled and patchy backdrop.Once this had dried, I started to work on building up the cloth and texture of the girl’s dress and headscarf. A suggestion of the pattern on the dress, and the shadows of her headscarf start to take shape before I hint at shading her face. You may notice in this picture that I have also used some watercolour pencils to mark out the dress pattern and the detail in her hands prior to painting them.

Detailing her headscarf.

Detailing her headscarf.

It wasn’t long until I had completed a very simplified suggestion of a pattern on her dress, and had built up the layers and shading of her headscarf. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any pictures in between these stages as I was too busy concentrating on working up the shades and texture. Once I had completed her clothing, I focused on her hands and troubled expression. Skin colour is often hard to gauge but I always start with a rough mix of yellow, brown and red, using white and blue to vary the lightness and darkness. The more red and white I add, the more pink the tone, whereas adding brown and a smidgen of blue will darken the tone considerably. In extremis, I also use a black, but tend not to make a habit of it.

Test sheet.

Test sheet.

 

I prefer to paint the face light to dark, starting with a light base layer and building up darker layers working from the edges of her headscarf and fading towards the centre of her face. I particularly wanted to make her frown stand out, and focus on her eyes. So here is the finished piece for this week!

The Observer.

The Observer.

This next week will be very busy as my room is packed up and my work space limited to a ruggedized laptop and monitor, two phones and a handful of stationary. The rest of the office should be making its way to Bastion where, at the end of this week, I too shall soon find myself! I am incredibly excited at the prospect of my R&R which is now only a week away! I can’t wait to see my fiancé, the dogs, the rest of my family and friends! Not long now.

Look at Sophie’s page

4 thoughts on “An Artist Abroad: People make places

  1. My partner and i admire what you have done here. I love your part in places you say you are carrying out this to present back however i would believe by all of the comments that is working for you also. Do you have any more info on this specific?

    Like

  2. Thank you for your interest. I’m sorry but I’m not quite sure what you mean by your comment? My job out here is in the Taskforce Helmand Headquarters where I run the Joint Fires Coordination Cell – the art is just my hobby. The images I draw are scenes that I have personally experienced, and ones that have left an impression on me, that I would like to share with others. The collection of soldiers’ art work from across bases in Helmand is for the publication of an Art Book produced by 1 Mechanized Brigade which will be published later this year, and available to the public. I hope that helps?

    Regards,

    Sophie

    Like

Comments are closed.