I was asked by the R.A.F Benevolent Fund to create an image for 2 squadron R.A.F.Regiment based at Honnington in Suffolk. I was given the loose remit that it was to illustrate the invaluable services of the Regiment to operations in Afghanistan. I had no clear idea of what the Squadrons role involved so I headed off to Honnington where I was introduced to Sqn. Ldr. Matt Carter Commanding Officer of the unit. (He is the only contemporary R.A.F Military Cross winner; definitely worth a google)
I was sat down and given a presentation outlining the work of the Regiment and an idea of how the painting should look started to form. One of the most striking impressions I was to get was the ‘air aware’ nature of the unit and how they coordinate with the air assets available in theatre. I decided that this would be the essence of the picture I was to paint.
The idea occurred to me to show a ‘medevac’ operation and men of the Squadron calling in a chinook to evacuate a casualty. I wanted to show not only the ‘comms’ guys but some of the other men who would be involved in the security of the landing zone.
You can just see the chinook drawn in at top left of centre. The idea is to show it on approach to the landing zone. One of the specialist snipers is shown with his Quad bike. I made a mistake with this guy in that I hadn’t shown his pack on the front of the bike where it would normally be. I will be adding this later. The second figure is a normal rifleman looking along the top of his sight to better take in the area he is defending. The nearest figure is the Lance Corporal responsible for ‘comms’.
A little more detail now with the near completion of the Quad bike. The reference photos I took at Honnington were a great help, but as usual with the military, everything was spotlessly clean, so it was necessary to distress the bike a little. You can also see that I have expanded a little on the detail in the foreground, showing the typical arid and stony ground with a few blades of dessicated grass.
You will notice quite a bit of distressing on the bodywork of the quad bike. The reference photos I took whilst at Honnington were of kit that was beautifully looked after. In the harsh conditions of Afghanistan the vehicles don’t look like that for long; neither do the men for that matter. I was careful to look at photos of the vehicle in theatre to get an idea of how they show wear and tear. I am going to need to add E.C.M equipment as well.
It was at this stage that I found out that the union flag on the helmet of the nearest man was unlikely to be something seen on operations. You will see in the next picture that I have painted this out.
The camel pack on the nearest figure was broken in the reference photos and needs to be corrected, which is why it ends so uselessly. I made the conscious decision to have both men wearing the ‘Oakley’ gloves, which are commonly purchased by the guys. I gather that the new design of British Army glove is based upon this product. The figures in the picture are looking a bit pristine at the moment and I will ‘distress’ them as I go along; I will probably need to increase the contrast on both figures as well. You’ll note that the wristwatch is not done as using the reference I had would have meant both men wearing the same watch, I used a watch worn by a Royal Marine in the end.
The main figure is pretty well finished now with a few rips and tears in his uniform and a little dirt added. You can see the mouthpiece added to the camel pack and the wristwatch added. Note also the swirl of dust and debris now in the background, heralding the arrival of the chinook. This will need more work when I do the mountains.
Pretty near finished now….but it was at this stage that I was to find that there were one or two factual inaccurracies. For instance, I hadn’t included personal radio for the rear of the two main figures. I also needed to add the’ blast protection’ specs that by this stage the guys are all supposed to wear (I hate these because they tend to obscure eyes). I was also asked to include a Merlin escort helicopter in the background
Oh well…back to the easal
My efforts would appear to have been successful. A charming couple, the Andersons paid £5000 for the picture when it was auctioned at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund: I couldn’t be happier.