Most commissions I am asked to do tend to be of Second World War aviation, but recently I have felt a need to expand into more contemporary areas of military history. This is motivated by my huge admiration for our armed forces and their efforts to perform the near impossible tasks set them.
As a boy, I grew up in Deal in Kent, the home to the Royal Marine School of Music at the time. It was a natural progression that one of the first projects I was to attempt was of a Royal Marine Commando in Afghanistan.
The following is a step by step account of the project which now hangs in the sergeants Mess at the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone.
The first step is working out the composition, which in this instance was to be a very simple single figure. I wanted to include the poppy fields the chinook helicopter and the barren mountains of Afghanistan; all I felt needed inclusion to symbolise this conflict. As you can see I have put a chilly green as underpainting for the poppy field and to establish the limits of the near horizon.
One of my personal foibles is becoming engrossed in the detail of the subject when probably it would be more technically correct to complete the underpainting over the whole image. Here you can see that I have made a start on the camo. jacket of the Commando. I thought that the mixture of different types of camouflage was possibly a consequence of poor equipment standards. R.S.M Mcgill at Lympstone put me straight, informing me it was apparently common practice in the early days of the conflict to mix camouflage because of the varying terrain encountered in Helmand. Now of course they are using the Multi Terrain Pattern a far more bespoke solution to the problem of concealment.
I love to do faces and this one I particularly enjoyed. I wanted to capture a little bit of the tension and fatigue in the face of the young marine. You might see that I have chosen to illuminate the subject from the right of the picture. The disadvantage of this was that this would have left the face in relative shadow. I have used the shine on a perspiring face to lift it from the darker field and mountains behind. A feature of men in combat is that they often clench their jaws hard, particularly during a contact. It is not uncommon for the muscles of the jaw to fatigue and the mouth to fall open slightly. This I have tried to show in the picture. You will note also that I have roughed in mountains at the back and a tree line in the middle distance.
Side pouch and also detail in the foreground are beginning to appear. I must admit I was dreading the poppy field which was a nightmare of varying size flowers and foliage receding into the distance. I started by completing some of the seed pods in the immediate foreground so that I could establish the correct scale and tonal values against the main figure.
I finally ‘knuckled down’ and put some detail in the foliage in the foreground. You will note that a field of cereal crop has appeared in the middle distance. This was to establish a more nuanced progression into the distance. (It also reduced the size of the poppy field, which was no bad thing) You will note that the mountains are looking a little more complete than they were.
All done now with completion of the SA 80 rifle and the marines pack. note the poppy field with the seed pods and poppies reducing in size as they recede into the distance (A horrible job). I also added a chinook helicopter with a swirl of yellow dust and debris being thrown up as it takes off. I felt that another familiar image of this conflict was this yellow dust that appears in so many of the images of the war.
Finally note the inclusion of a couple of European poppies , the symbol of remembrance and my personal tribute to the fine men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. If you should have sight of the appalling casualty lists of this conflict…Look at how many are Commandos….It’s the kind of soldiers they are.