An artist abroad: Back into the swing of things

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.

How quickly time is still flying by, I have now been back at work for just over two weeks and my handover will be here in another two. Now fully re-charged and re-energised I will endeavour not to succumb to what is most commonly known as the R&R blues – a condition that affects 99.9 per cent of personnel returning from the joys of a restful R&R to the high tempo and routine of OP HERRICK. Determined not to allow this to creep in, I hit the ground running and I felt as if I had never left. It was actually a pleasure to see the familiar faces that I have been working alongside for the past five months and listening to their experiences on R&R with reinvigorated spirits and renewed enthusiasm… although this rapidly faded into the general routine hubbub of the working headquarters.

Bold and bright painting

My $3 Afghan engagement ring

My $3 Afghan engagement ring

Time certainly wasn’t going to drag during my first week back as my Battery Commander (BC) was due on his R&R and therefore I would have to cover some of his tasks and staff work. With a comprehensive set of handover notes – all rigidly hyperlinked and absolutely foolproof.  My  BC has now returned and I managed to accomplish the tasks I was set and await the next drafting for various pieces of staff work to include; the Relief in Place (RiP) , handover and normalisation FRAGOs  (Fragmentation Orders) , a Post Operational Report, and a Mission Exploitation presentation. All of these are essential to ensure that our handover to the next brigade is professional and informative to provide a seamless transition from one to the other. The Post Operational Report and Mission Exploitation are key documents to enable all the lessons learnt from our tour to be collated and discussed to improve our capability and deployment for the future.

But enough about staff work…

This blog’s painting is referenced from a photograph of two Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) women on the ranges conducting pistol training. I wanted to create a bold and bright painting by laying a brilliant orange background in contrast with the blue of the AUP uniform and the dark blue/ coal shades of their head scarves. These women are in training at the Lashkar Gah Training Centre (LTC) which is the centre of excellence for police training in Helmand Province – where over 2,000 Afghan Nationals are trained each year  to become policemen and women. Their skill and courage is highly commendable, and their will is strong as they persist to be able to provide their own security – an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem, as is the running theme of OP HERRICK 18.

Paint was drying far too quickly

Painting outside with photo reference

Painting outside with photo reference

The painting starts life out the back of my tent but with temperatures still reaching 37 degrees Celsius during the day, I couldn’t spend much longer than 20 minutes outside – particularly as the paint was drying far too quickly! Here you can see I managed to get a quick wash of colour on the background before I turned into the shade. I am struggling to find the time to paint as my shift doesn’t allow time during the day, and at night; now sharing a tent often means the lights are out by the time I get back off shift. However, a fellow artist in the headquarters – the Brigade Movements Warrant Officer (BMWO) has regularly booked out one of the small conference rooms in the evening after 2100hrs, and so after hours we both sit down for an hour to paint. Although this does compete heavily with my gym time!

Tented accommodation

Tented accommodation

Times of change are noticeably prevalent as I am one of two OP HERRICK 18 females remaining in our tent, whilst the others have all moved to the transit as they start their handovers with their replacements now occupying their former bed spaces. The ratio of red rats (7 Bde )  to green triangles (1 Mech Bde ) is rapidly increasing as they filter through their RSOI and start to find their way around the headquarters. I admire their enthusiasm, for some this is their first tour and for others they are seasoned veterans already. But I don’t envy them, nine months is a long time, and I’m glad my six are coming to an end now.

Selecting artwork for the coffee table book

AUP women WIP

AUP women WIP

AUP women WIP

AUP women WIP

 

In addition to routine staff work I am in the process of selecting all the artworks from across Helmand; from paintings, pencil drawings, photographs and poems, for the production of the OP HERRICK 18 Operational Art coffee table book.  A number of professional artists have deployed with various members of the Brigade during Op HERRICK 18 including; Graeme Lothian, Matt Cook, Hugh Beattie and Michael Alford to name a few.  I have had a fantastic response from the soldiers of the Brigade and certainly have my work cut out with over 500 submissions to filter through. They will all be presented to the Brigade commander and his panel in the coming week. Throughout this sorting process, I have also managed to design a poster to be distributed amongst the Brigade and soldiers are already signing up for their memento. Copies of the book will also be available to the general public – so look out for information on the British Army social media pages if you want one!

Op HERRICK 18 Art Book Poster

Op HERRICK 18 Art Book Poster

With only three weeks remaining I am incredibly excited already about the prospect of going home and enjoying my post operational tour leave! I also have a new job to look forward to on my return …more details on that in my next blog. And to finish this blog, here is the finished painting of the AUP women.

AUP women finished painting

AUP women finished painting

Look at Sophie’s page

Find out more about Army Arts Society

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