Increasingly I have found it difficult to find time to research the pictures I do and have blessed the enthusiasm and input of my good mate Dave. His knowledge of ‘things military’ and in particular fire arms have proved essential of late and I lean on him heavily for sourcing the reference I need to make a project happen. This project was a particular case in point.
Colonel Peter Cook, the local representative of the Army Benevolent fund (Soldiers charity) commissioned me to paint a picture for the 2nd battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in aid of the charity. I’m always up for an opportunity to help out our boys and girls and particularly the Tigers, my local Regiment, so I readily agreed; not realising quite what a long project this was going to be.
My first job was of course finding out what sort of thing they were going to be after and was introduced to The R.S.M Andy Lingham the driving force behind the project. He invited the two of us to ‘Sobroan night’ an important date in the regimental calendar and a real insiders view of the regiment at play. We had a fantastic time and I don’t think either of us had to put our hands in our pockets once. He showed us a number of evocative images from their time on operations in Afghanistan. He particularly wanted the picture to express a combat situation but also to emphasise the dirt and filth they had to contend with much of the time. After much thought and conversation , D2 (Dave X 2) as we had been christened by then came up with the composition and decided that it should reflect an incident where a unit has been ambushed whilst preparing for the next contact. We wanted to show two main figures in the foreground, the first being a sergeant observing and controlling the unit and a second actually firing at the enemy. There would be other figures in the background, but these two would be the main focus of the picture, so I set about drafting the initial composition.
As you can see we have the main characters hunkered down in the beginnings of a ditch with a few trees developing behind. The sergeant in the fore ground is shown with his left arm dropping down towards his left thigh. I was hoping to give the impression of him having just dropped down to take cover. Andy Lingham stepped in at this point and said that he would prefer that the N.C.O should be shown on his personal radio with an impassive rather than excited face. You will see the alterations I have made in later pictures; note the compound wall on the right of the picture.
As you can see I have indulged my bad habit of getting into the detail rather than ‘blocking in’ as is probably technically more correct. The reference photos I was using showed the wrong expression I felt, so I used a bit of ‘artist’s license’ and used my own features as the basis for this mans face….unfortunately it came out looking a bit like me.The next stage was to continue this figure on his knees shooting at the enemy. I had always intended for the picture to have a lot of warm evening light coming from the left and you can see with the light and shade how I have achieved this. For those that are interested, I tend to use a lot of the cooler raw umber mixed with Cobalt blue to achieve varying shades of cool grey through to cool browns. The more blue the further from brown the resulting colour becomes. The hotter browns were achieved by using titanium white, cadmium orange and a touch of burnt umber or ultramarine to modify the tone. Dave’s advice about uniform and in particular the SA 80 was invaluable along with the dozens of photos he has. I always worry about this kind of picture as military men are particular about their kit and will spot something wrong immediately.
The horizon line is nearly fully developed now along with the forward edge of the ditch and you can see I have given the Sergeant a face; appropriately impassive I thought. Andy was pleased with it which was the main thing. He had also been copying these images to his fellow N.C.Os for their input. Thankfully, the feedback was positive. Notice how I have moved the left arm to the new position and his P.R. from his chest to the strap of the ruck sack
Lots of progress now with more foliage and some muck and mud in the foreground. The main figure is all but complete and I think gives a fair idea of the filth that our men are obliged to operate in. It would seem that little changes for the P.B.I (Poor bloody infantry) even in these modern times. You should have a sense of what is happening now and how the ditch is orientated.
The background is developing nicely, but all of the time I needed to be aware of where the shadows would be … trees on the compound wall, soldiers against the bank, etc. You will also see a third figure has appeared to give the painting depth. The colours in the distance are a little cooler and the detail less distinct to give the impression of depth and distance.
The fourth and final figure has appeared to give a little balance to what I felt was a picture that was a little too left biased. This was taken from a photo of Dave pretending to re load a rifle on my kitchen floor. This sort of thing is difficult to adapt at the best of times so painting in rifle and other details and making them convincing is a real challenge. I was especially pleased when R.S.M Lingham said that this was one of the better bits of the painting.
This gives an idea of the detail in the background. You should see that it is a little looser than the main images (Although it is quite a good likeness of Dave) You might see why they call him ‘mini Ross’ as he has more than a passing resemblance to Ross Kemp
All done now and in the frame. I painted the border slip in the regimental colours of blue and yellow which picks out the DZ patches of the same colour on the shoulders of the protaganists. The zap number on the body armour of the sergeant starts with the first two letters of the wearers name. I chose Atkins (as in Tommy Atkins the name of every soldier and why our troops were always known as Tommies) I felt this was appropriate as these men are in essence no different from all of the courageous men that preceded them.You may just be able to make out the inclusion of some stray cartridge cases and some effective return fire on the compound wall.
Overall a fascinating project that must have taken over a year to bring to fruition. Thanks go to Dave who was ever generous with his valuable time. R.S.M. (unsurprisingly, soon to be Captain) Andy Lingham was superb and was unstinting in his support and advice. Thanks to Colonel Adam Crawley for his encouragment and great personal charm. Thanks also to all of the lads in the Sergeants mess at Woolwich who have welcomed us so many times into their fold. Dave and I had many a happy evening with these guys; and despite trying to, were never allowed to pay for anything.
The painting raised £3,500.00 for the soldiers charity, which was just the icing on the cake