Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Progress Measured in Feet (and Legs!)

The Sculpture moves on.... doggedly, stubbornly, forward:

Today I added feet armatures and a little bit of basic leg structure:
 notice the foot "bones" for the upcoming clay feet...
Basic leg muscle forms are added to the leg armature wire

This week and next I expect to actually have a couple live Marine "models" in the studio-- that is, live Marines wearing the WWI uniforms and gear, so I can get a realistic look at facial expressions, how the gear hangs, and how the material in the uniforms lays and folds.

I can't wait to see it!

Monday, August 30, 2010


The two figures in the Belleau Wood sculpture now have torsos. 

As you know, I'm using a modified "Ecorche" technique to build the figures from armature to completion.

Today, I focused on the midriffs of the figures, putting muscles on the rib cages, filling out shoulders and necks.

Tomorrow, if time permits, I will make the arms and legs have their basic musculature.

Before I finish the figures-- putting their uniforms, hair, expressions, etc.-  I will put a layer of plaster tape over the muscles as a type of hard "skin", which will serve also as a rigid support for the sculpting wax I'll use to finish.

I started dabbing on clay to make some back muscles

The back and "glutes" becoming more refined

The beginnings of neck muscles

Shoulders, delts, etc...

The kneeling Marine's back also was developed

Kneeling Marine's shoulders, collar bone, etc...

One more phase in the process, and they'll start taking on a living human likeness. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Of ACOGs and Iron Sights...

Marine sights in through his ACOG on the 200 yard line, in the Sitting position.
The "Offhand" (now known only as"Standing") position
In a proverbial lull in the artistic fighting, last week I attended Annual Rifle Training at the rifle range here at Quantico-- and praise God, I shot "Expert"!

Many things at the Range are just like they've been for years-- the smell of gun smoke, carbon and CLP; the popcorn-staccato sounds of rifle fire as rounds go down range (as well as those rounds cracking overhead while you're down in the butts); and of course the repeated phrases "Shooters on the firing line... You may commence firing when your DAAAAAAAAAWG Target appears....CEEEEASE FIRE, CEASE FIRE..."

But a new thing has shown up all across the Corps, which at first perturbed me-- the use of RCOs, the telescopic sights also called ACOGs, while qualifying on the rifle range.

The "Old School" Sergeant in me thought it was a terrible idea to throw away the old "iron sights". It seemed a huge slap in the face to all the crack marksmen that have gone before us, who trained long and hard to become proficient at placing a round into center mass from hundreds of meters away...

And I also felt that it would perhaps destroy the ability to teach fundamentals to new Marines, by somehow making it too easy to shoot with, or making the shooter lazy. 

However, once I'd fired with the sight, I felt that it was an excellent addition to the tool kit of the Marine  marksman, as it helped the Marine who practiced and applied the fundamentals, and even brought faults and bad habits into stark relief against the magnified target in his sights, so that he could address those problems...

A Shooting Coach discusses fundamentals with his shooter during practice firing
When I was firing with the ACOG, I could see the reticle (the ACOG's version of the front sight post) move all around the black in the center of the target, and could even see my own pulse, throbbing from the tight loop sling on my arm down through my hand guards into to weapon. Also, if I looked too much at the target, which the sight sort of tempts a shooter to do, the round would dance all about the target, around the black, mocking my lack of skill.

Yet I found that if I kept the proven disciplines-- maintained my Natural Point of Aim, rested in the position, concentrated on the reticle instead of the target, and exercised breathing control and trigger squeeze, I could benefit from the magnification of the sight. 

Many shooters expressed the same "Old-Salt" doubts about the new way of doing things as I did, but many shooters liked the idea of using the sight that one would use in a combat environment.

By the end of the course of fire, and after Qual Day, I had to admit that the more things change, the more they stay the same... and the Marine Corps will go on making excellent marksmen by adhering to the fundamentals of marksmanship, no matter what the weapon system.
Practice Firing continues on the rifle range, as Coaches and Primary Marksmanship Instructors share their knowledge with the shooters
And years in the future, today's Marines will be the Curmudgeons having the same discussions about their new M25A4 laser weapons...! ("Yeah, in the Old Corps, we actually had to see the target with an optical site to shoot at it...none of this laser range finder stuff..." )

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good Values, Good Read

I saw on Mike Fay's blog Fire and Ice a blurb for an article by Mark Shields, about Marine Corps Values, and I too thought it was worth sharing.

Expressions, Alla Prima

I've been painting in small format lately, to maximize my time v. production ratio, and also because small can be better sometimes for "viewing fun".

Two oil sketches are shown here-- both depict men-at-arms seated, but with altogether different expressions.

One image is of an Afghan National Police man sitting, smiling (he was greeting a Marine patrol as it returned to the Police station near Garmsir).

The other image is of a Marine sitting, exhaused, after some good, hard live-fire training in the heat of the Mojave Desert.

I enjoyed creating both paintings, as they show emotion, and the format allowed me to be expressive with the paint application, working quickly and wet-on-wet to achieve a bit of intensity in the form, to accent the emotion of the subject.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nocturne in Blue and Dust

Here is my first "nocturne" in my combat art career-- an oil sketch on mounted linen, 14" x 11".

It's from last year in Helmand Province, as a convoy of MRAPs moved at dusk in the distance somewhere west of Garmsir, kicking up dust under a full moon and dark blue sky.

It was one of those scenes that sticks in your head, when artistic and professional sensibilities come together to make an image that should be made into art.

Painting in France!

In June, after "Javelin Thrust",  I took some leave--Kelly and I took a trip "across the Pond" to see Paris (and Belleau Wood, of course) and celebrate our ten-year anniversary, July 1st.  We'd always wanted to go, but never actually did, until this summer.

It was wonderful. We got to see the sites, be the ugly Americans,  fling dough around like it's going out of style, and generally have the time of our lives!

I sketched the Arc de Triomphe:
I also painted a scene en plein air of the lovely square near our hotel in Le Marais district:
yes the hat is a bit much.... but it's Haitian and quite fittingly eccentric for an artist, I think!

(The crowd that gathered to critique the piece were actually restaurant owners, one of whom bought the painting from me on the spot, and also treated Kelly and me to dinner in his restaurant!)

I spent two days in and around Belleau Wood as well, looking at the battlefield:
The Pavillon de Chasse--the famous Hunting Lodge near the north edge of the Wood (this is facing north, as if going in the direction the Marines were attacking near the end of the Battle...there are more shell holes on this side of the Lodge than the others).

The "Iron Mike" Monument to the Marines at Belleau Wood

An exploded German field piece on display in Belleau Wood

This is a studio painting in casein, in the roughing-in phase, before finishing details are begun...

One day soon, I hope to return to do more sketching, and research for a painting I've long been planning-- my own depiction of the Battle of Belleau Wood, complete with attacking Marines, fighting and dying Germans, machine guns and bayonets-- the whole nine yards...

New York Times Article-- We Made the Paper of Record!

I still can't believe it's true! Back on July 19, the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure Section featured the Marine Corps Combat Art Program, in an article entitled, "With Sketchpads and Guns, Semper Fi".

What an honor, to be mentioned in the article. It's a motivating feather in the proverbial cap

(I still have yet to clip it out, frame it, and put it on my "I love me" wall..!).

Gadzooks! A Wiki Page!

I was just looking for the article about the Combat Art Program that appeared in the New York Times in  July, when I found out I have a Wikipedia page(!)

HOLY COW, Martha, what's goin' on here?!

Thanks to the person out there who made the page.

I appreciate it

(Hey-- email me and I'll provide more photos and stuff for my now virtual "'I love me' wall"! Watch out, my artist's ego...!).

Fleshing it Out

It's been too long since I've posted--  computer issues as well as Operational Tempo have conspired to keep me away from the blog.

I've been a busy beaver lately, with Mountain Warfare Training Center in June and Sergeants' Course in July, and now the rifle range in August.

But the computer issues have been solved, and now I have access to the use of Blogger and a photo card.

I've been trying to finish a lot of  projects, as my remaining time in the Corps is in flux (orders and promotions issues). So much to do, so little time!

One project I started months ago, you may remember, was the sculpture of two Belleau Wood Marines-- I'd finished the armatures in wire, and brought the rifles to a moderate level of finish.

This week I was able to begin to "flesh out" the armatures, or rather I should say "bone out" the armatures, to begin the basic Ecorche process of developing the figures from skeleton to flesh and bone to clothing...

Here are the basic armatures I began with:

and the rifles and hands:
And here are the two armatures which will one day become Marines in the fight at Belleau Wood:
The Marine Leaping Forward in the attack

And the second figure, firing to cover his fellow Marine moving forward:
AND NOW, the WEAPONS! (Springfield 1903s-- they'll also have M1905 bayonets)
Bear with me-- I know they look like something out of Jason and the Argonauts, but soon they'll be muscled and fleshed out and in their proper combat uniforms...