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

Fastnet update: 15 August 13

Update Thu 14 Aug -1330. We rounded the rock at 1315 yesterday and then headed on a steady tack to the Scillies. Last night the weather was mixed with some heavy rain and gusts. We have been chasing down some distant yachts and are determined to pick up a few places! Our first spinnaker hoist of the event ended abruptly as a tear developed, ripping the. Material to shreds rapidly! We are now sailing under our only spinnaker left ( after a quick patch job after spotting another tear) We have recently rounded the Bishop Rock lighthouse and The Scillies and our making our way to The Lizard. We are all showing signs of fatigue but spirits are up as we hope to reach Plymouth in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Heidi

Update 14 August 2013

Update 13 August 2013 including updates for 9, 10, 11 and 12 August

Update 8 August 2013 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

Fastnet update: 14 August 2013

Wednesday 13 August: Approaching the Rock.

Wednesday 13 August: Approaching the Rock.

Update wed 14 Aug 1215 – After rounding The Scillies we wind dropped significantly and we were almost going backwards. Last night was wet and blustery as the wind picked up to Force 5.

With no moon or stars it was pitch black and we were blasting along, heeled over considerably. Even the dolphins came out to play again! I can only describe this as driving along with no headlights on and the car doors wide open! Fat chance of getting any sleep down below!

We can now see the rock and the sun is coming out! Bring it on – we are nearly homeward bound!

Update 13 August 2013 including updates for 9, 10, 11 and 12 August

Update 8 August 2013 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

Fastnet update: 13 August 2013 – Need more wind

 

Update AM 0630 Tue 13 Aug. We are making steady progress and have been on the same tack for hours, but the wind has dropped and is due to drop further – conditions that do not suit our boat. We need more wind! Sailing at night under the moonlight and stars is always exhilarating. You have to keep a lookout for lights as ships and tankers can creep up upon you very quickly.

Capt Lucie Allaway

Capt Lucie Allaway

Watches change every 4 hours and I’m on with Lorna and Sam while Leila, Caz and Emily make up the other watch. The stint between midnight and 0400 always seems to pass the slowest but we are keeping our energy levels up and morale with copious amounts of food. ( perhaps we should rename this race the ‘fatnet’?!) Seriously though, just moving  around the boat while heeled over and bouncing through the waves, especially visiting the heads (loo) is hard work as you have to hold on tight and keep your balance. It almost feels like an obstacle course! We are now passing the Isles of Scilly to our West and heading north.

My sister and her family live on St Mary’s so I’ve given them a wave 🙂  This morning we were blessed with a beautiful sunrise as dolphins played in our wake and bow. 236 miles covered but a number still to go- somewhat demoralising when we know that some of the bigger yachts will finish today!

Fastnet update: 11 August 2013 – The race begins

We arose at 0700 with mixed  feelings of excitement and nervousness. We then slipped just after 1000 wearing life jackets and with our storm sails up to queue behind the long line of yachts and progress through the identity gate. Race rules dictate that we have to do this before the race actually starts. The Solent then became a fleet of white sails bobbing around the starting line as skippers inspected which end to start from. This is always a difficult time as all eyes are on deck watching for boats to avoid collisions! Helicopters were swarming overhead filming the start and hearing the radio and starting gun became very difficult.

We set off at 1230 and tacked our way out to The Needles passing dozens of spectator boats and crowds of  people at Hurst Point. We were tacking every 2-3 minutes for 3 hours so we were pretty ‘pumped’ as we exited the Solent and moved into watches. It was an amazing sight to see all the other boats on the water and we were in awe as the class one huge monohulls and trimarans screamed past us!

After a scrumptious home-made ricotta and spinach lasagne made by Lorna and chocolate brownies made by Sam we sailed through the night and are now heading to Start Point near Plymouth. Winds are hovering around 11 knots and we have completed  110 miles. Morale is high!

Fastnet update: 10 August 2013 – Caz’s birthday!

Heidi up the mast.

Heidi up the mast.

Capt Lucie Allaway continues to update us on the team’s progress ahead of the race…

As Cowes Week has now ended we managed to secure a berth at Cowes Yacht Haven and moved Redcoat down the Medina River to a pontoon with shore power and no need for a paddle in the tender to get ashore. It has been a busy day making final preparations to the boat and reassessing our personal kit and rations required for the event.

Lucie and Saskia attended the skippers brief and have buried their heads in weather and wind forecasts, various navigational charts and tide atlases working out our route. Getting the navigation right is key and we have every faith in their decision making.

Final team meal ashore with cake for Caz.

Final team meal ashore with cake for Caz.

After our final meal ashore and some scrumptious birthday cake made by Sam, we have hit our bunks for an early night. We slip tomorrow at approximately 1030 and our start for IRC class 4 is at 1230. (All starts will be screened live on the RORC Fastnet website.) Thankfully our tracking device is now working after a few hiccups today and everyone will be able to follow us on our journey over the coming days. We are all getting excited now; fingers crossed for a safe finish in Plymouth.

Fastnet update: 9 August 2013

Maj Saskia Hart takes over the narrative of the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

Today is ‘victualling and rationalising’ day, i.e. loading up with food and getting rid of excess baggage (and that’s just the crew).

Pastry wizard Maj Sam Shephard was dispatched to a nearby kitchen to bake Cornish pasties and coronation turkey with her able sous-chef Maj Leila Greene, while the independent Scottish contingent, Maj Lorna Craik, was tasked with the spinach and ricotta pasta bake.

Meanwhile, back on the boat, our ever-cunning skipper, Capt Lucie Allaway, watched with a beady eye while we emptied Redcoat of non-essential items. Out went our electric kettle, saucepans, pillows, the five-year-old box of sugar with the coffee-coated spoon embedded in it like Excalibur… Not to mention personal kit that would not be required: non-sailing shoes, jeans, large bottles of shampoo, seven tubes of toothpaste (one large one should last us the week) and towels (no opportunity to shower during the race!).

We also received a small pile of Royal British Legion parcels which contained T-shirts, polo shirts and a flag that would double up as a spinnaker (approximatey 6 by 4 metres). At least nobody will miss us!

Final shopping done, and off to Cowes to berth on Whisky pontoon in order to watch the end of Cowes Week fireworks.

Sam's yummy home-made pasties to keep up our morale!

Sam’s yummy home-made pasties to keep up our morale!

 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

 

Fastnet update: 8 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We enjoyed a more leisurely start this morning, and Emily cooked us some yummy sausage sandwiches because little wind was forecast first thing. Caz also mended some sails – there are always maintenance jobs to carry out!

We then headed out from Cowes and into the Solent to do some more spinnaker work, each time trying to get faster and more slick with out hoisting and dropping drills. Lucie was pleased with our performance, and we anchored up in Osborne Bay for a bit of lunch and a chance to discuss and plan our food menu and shopping for next week. Keeping our energy and hydration levels up will be key.

If there is no wind next week, we will have to use the anchor as a brake to reduce the effect of the tide pushing us backwards. Fingers crossed there will be wind – anchor drills are messy and laborious. As we nibbled on lunch, we could see in the distance a fleet of colourful racing spinnakers competing in Cowes week, reminding us that our own race is only three days away… Bring it on!

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

Enjoying the sunshine in the Solent – Lucie at the helm.

Enjoying the sunshine in the Solent – Lucie at the helm.

On the rail.

On the rail.

Alongside in Cowes – stickers on ready for the race!

Alongside in Cowes – stickers on ready for the race!

Fastnet update: 7 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We slipped yesterday from Cowes at 0800 hrs and headed out into the Solent. There was very little wind, so we practised some light winds sail trim and spinnaker hoists and drops. In the afternoon, the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) and Soldier Magazine visited us in Cowes and interview the skipper Lucie and Leila, Saskia and Caz. We headed out with them into the Solent and they were really happy with the shots and footage they got from the rib kindly lent to us from Toe in the Water. BFBS will put their story out on Friday.

After a fun afternoon, we headed out for a crew meal in Cowes.

Update 6 August 2013

Motoring out of Cowes to start training

Motoring out of Cowes to start training

Spinnaker flying

Spinnaker flying

Leila on the spinnaker sheet

Leila on the spinnaker sheet

Lucie being interviewed by BFBS

Lucie being interviewed by BFBS

Fastnet update: 6 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We awoke this morning to very little wind, so carried out some dry land training on sail trim. We then set off an immediately had to return to the pontoon as we had sprung another diesel leak! All very frustrating! After another call-out to the engineer, it was fixed and we were on our way.

This afternoon was spent on the Solent practising sail changes with all the sails on board, and putting in and shaking out reefs (to reduce the size of the main sail). We’ve now had some supper afloat and are just heading into Cowes before some more sail change practice in the dark… We hope the wind picks up tomorrow!

Heading up to Cowes

Heading up to Cowes

Saskia Hart and Caz Olive washing up

Saskia Hart and Caz Olive washing up

Skipper at the helm

Skipper at the helm