Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sketching from Life is Truly Living

I'm posting a few of the sketches from my recent deployment to Iraq- the veritable resort area known as Al Anbar Province(!)-- specifically, the sketches I did from life, as I was seeing it...

Many artists work from photos, and that is useful (much of my oil painting is studio-done from photographs I've taken)-- but there is nothing quite like getting out, getting a life, and sketching it!

If Drawing is truly the Mother of all Arts, then Sketching is the Grandmother! All art comes ultimately from the Sketch. If you can get yourself out into the world, sit in front of an interesting subject and sketch it, your art will strengthen, sure as shootin' (no pun intended from the combat artist!)

Many times your sketches may not be perfect-- proportions are a bear! But sometimes these imperfect sketches have a life to them that's worth showing. So get out there and sketch!!

Charcoal sketch of Marine on improvised Rifle Range (elevator of USS Wasp)
Ink drawing of LtCol LeBlanc as he gave a pre-flight briefing in the Ready Room of Wasp
Pencil Sketch from the jumpseat of an Osprey, as LtCol LeBlanc taxis at Al Asad air base in Iraq
Pencil Sketch of VMM 263 Marines on the flight out to the USS Wasp
This pencil sketch of Marines being transported in Al Anbar isn't too well-done (I mentioned proportions earlier) but I find it interesting nonetheless.

Ink sketch of Ospreys on the Flight Line at Al Asad

Pencil Sketch (note the smudges from vibration of aircraft!) of crewman Cpl Cowan, waiting for takeoff at Al Asad
Ink sketch of Sgt Aguilar on a flight from Korean Village, Iraq

Ink sketch of LtCol Rock as he watches flight operations on deck of the USS Wasp

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ospreys are Deployed!

Greetings, fellow Marines, art lovers and Internet Raconteurs!

It's been a while since I last posted, but there's been good reason.

In September, I deployed to Al Asad, Iraq with VMM 263, the Osprey Squadron, on the beginning of its historic deployment-- the first deployment of the Osprey to a combat zone.

They are an incredibly professional bunch of Marines, aware of their place in history and the role they play in Marine Corps aviation. They are a serious group, and do their job well -- but they are also a friendly bunch of Marines. They really made me feel welcome and part of the group from day one.

I hitched a ride on one of their birds out to the USS Wasp, where we floated across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, through the Suez, and eventually flew into Iraq.

I sketched and painted my way with them, and became an honorary "Thunder Chicken."

Here is some art of mine from the deployment (more to come):
This is an oil sketch on paper, of a civilian contractors working on the nacelle of one of the aircraft, before we flew out from New River, NC.
This is an oil sketch, done from a sketch I made and photo I took while on our flight out to the ship we sailed on to Iraq. These gentlemen are members of VMM 263, who are part of the contingent that traveled by ship across the proverbial pond: Mitchell(not visible, except for the top of his cranial helmet) Wearmouth, Kinchen, and "Doc" Jones)...
Another quick oil sketch on paper, of "Doc" Jones looking out the back hatch while in flight...

This is an Osprey with its wing rotated in line with its fuselage, while it sits on the deck (and let me tell you, it's hard to sketch on the deck of a carrier!)I sketched this "60" while it sat in the hangar deck of the Wasp-- it's India ink wash on watercolor paper.To get to Iraq, we sailed into the Mediterranean, and thus passed by the Rock of Gibraltar-- I sketched it as we went by, and watercolored it later, below deck...)This is a symbolic sketch, of one of the CH53s from the departing squadron, as the Ospreys came on board for duty in Iraq (note: I was told by the squadron that this particular CH53, #20, is the oldest one in the fleet, originally being delivered to the Corps in 1967-- one year before I was born!)These two oil sketches are of Cpl Cowan, on of the flight crewmen, done from photographs I took while we were on a flight out to points West in Al Anbar Province...

This is one of the "Thunder Chicken" pilots (aviators!) Capt Arnold... It's hard to tell who it is, due to the helmet and visor, but it still was a fun sketch to do.

It was a great deployment, and I'm glad to be safe back home, where I will work on bigger oil paintings of the images I gathered while overseas. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Making the nightly news (but in a good way...) UPDATED!

Recently I was honored to be a part of an ABC News interview for Persons of the Week, which focused on four Marine Combat Artists, two of us still working, and two retired. CWO2 Mike Fay, retired combat artist Charles Grow, Col. Charles Waterhouse (retired combat artist and the former Artist in Residence of the Marine Corps), and myself.

We went up to Col. Waterhouse's studio and museum in Toms River NJ. He has a great collection of works in his museum- from an art career that has spanned over 40 years, and a Marine Corps career that dates back to WWII (see his bio).

We sat and talked about what it was to be a Marine Combat Artist, and they filmed us and used our work for the piece, which aired tonight, 7 September, on World News with Charles Gibson.

It's currently on their website for this week-- check it out if you'd like to see us gab...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Up a Certain Proverbial Creek

This is an ink wash I did from photos I took back in Dec 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq. I used India ink, brush, and watercolor pencil on Arches watercolor paper.

We went out to see COP Falcon, one of the Combat OutPosts in South Central Ramadi, and we noticed a lot of muddy water in the streets at that time. It really made an interesting visual element, with the reflections and play of light, and I felt compelled to draw the scene, even after I found out the source of the water and its color (hint: they called the stream "S*#t Creek"...)!

I also found the sign on the back of the Humvee instructive, and I kept it in color to emphasize the feeling of intense alert one gets when in or near a convoy in a combat zone...

I very quickly came to admire these kids -- the Marines who regularly ventured into such challenging places as Ramadi and helped further the security and stability of Al Anbar.

Look, Ma, I made the cover!

I am about to have one of my works on the cover of Fortitudine magazine, the bulletin of the USMC Historical Program, produced by the History Division. It's a great honor.

The image is an oil painting I did of a MV-22 Osprey from VMM-263 as it is taxiing on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station New River, NC.

As many of you may know, the Osprey is the "new wave" of Vertical and Short Takeoff and Landing aircraft, and is being used by the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
The aircraft will soon have its debut in a combat environment, as VMM-263 is expected to deploy to the War on Terror sometime in the near future.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Portaits R Us

John Singer Sargent was once reported to have said, "A portrait is a painting with something a little wrong with the mouth."

How true.

I have been working on a set of portraits of Marines I met in Iraq during my deployment.

Two of them I have signed, and the third is nearing completion, though I could paint forever on them (someone else said that a painting is never finished... that is also true)...

I am always excited when a painting comes to its completion--if it can survive over-working-- because as it matures, the colors and values all begin to resonate in harmony, and the time of ugliness is over for the piece (I have a theory that all paintings go through an "ugly adolescent" phase before they grow up and are let out of the house)!

I love Alla Prima and direct painting, as I have stated in previous posts, but there is definitely a richness in the classical methods of painting, in which layers of color and glaze are applied over an underpainting, slowly bringing the surface to maturity.

The hard part is that one can too easily get stuck in a painting and over work it. Also, an artist's production is drastically slowed with the more "Academic" methods.

Portraiture, with all its demands and difficulties, also has an inherent power, in that the viewer sees the arrangement of form and color that you've created as a personal object-- that is, when you paint a person's image, people relate to it more deeply-- especially if you've rendered the likeness in a pleasing way.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

These oil sketches are studies, once again, for larger paintings I'm going to work on.

The image of the Marine on the radio is one of Capt. OJ Weiss, whom I'd sketched in pencil as he called in fire on an insurgent house back in November 2006.

The two sketches of Marines reading are from a series of photos I took while spending time with the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment near Habbaniyah. They may not be scenes of action, but they are part of a series I've been doing, of images that emphasize the more banal aspects of Marine life in a war zone.

I'm learning a lot about quick rendering, and direct painting, from these studies. I believe that the techniques learned in these will spill over and bear fruit in the bigger works.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Another Oil Sketch!

This is the latest in oil sketches and portrait studies I've done, and I'm pleased with it, as this one was done Alla Prima, sometimes called Au Premier Coup-- that is, in one setting, in one layer of paint.

It was done from a sketch I did and a set of photos I took when I was in a small Iraqi town called Anah. The 4th Civil Affairs Group was conducting a CMOC, and the Iraqi people were coming in, and the Iraqi Police and Army were doing security along with the Marines.

I saw this Jundi/IP sitting on a bench, and I talked with him (brokenly) and sketched him in pencil, just before he had to leave on a patrol. I took some photos of him, too, and decided recently to do an oil portrait of him.

The above is the result-- it's not a highly finished oil portrait, but I feel that it came out really well as an Alla Prima work, which was creatively "therapeutic" for me. I am moving more toward this kind of direct painting, because when done right, the paintings have freshness that more classically finished paintings sometimes lack (and you get more of them done in less time!).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Oil Study-- "Sleeping Terp"

In a couple of weeks, I’m going to begin a painting, based on an experience I had in Western Iraq back in January.

I was riding in an LAV going out to Rutbah—which was an interesting ride, in and of itself. Riding in the LAV were the crew, some other Marines, an interpreter, a civilian contractor, and all our gear. We bounced about for quite a while, with the dust flying, trying to keep our balance and sanity.

As an event, it pointed out to me for me the unique non-traditional aspects of OIF. The work is not just done by people in uniform, as there are so many non-military aspects to winning the peace as well as the war. As a scene, it was very interesting from a formal, visual/artistic perspective.

Above is the oil study I did recently of the “Terp” (as some call Interpreters), as he tried to "catch some Zs" as we rode along.

I am beginning to appreciate some of the reasons classical artists did oil studies of figures they were putting in larger paintings.

My sense is that a Study allows the artist to solve the problems of rendering the figure, before placing it in the composition, and enables the artist to develop the “muscle memory” of how the paint goes down as the figure takes shape.

It’s been helpful, and I will do studies of the other figures in the project as I go along...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Simple Pleasures in Life and in Painting

I've been working on a whole series of oil paintings, as you know, based on my recent deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

One of the works I began in Iraq, and on which I painted when I could in my "studio" in Camp Fallujah, was a small oil on panel titled, "The Chess Game at OP Steelers."

I've worked on it every so often since I returned, though my focus has been other larger format oils.

The painting is coming along, however, and is really close to completion, with only some details to be finished on clothing, equipment and faces... a painting is never done, as you know.

The Marines depicted were playing chess in a room being used as a makeshift sleeping quarters. It was Thanksgiving day, and they just got back from patrol-- they are Combat Engineers, and they just completed an IED sweep of the area, specifically the main route through their AO (Area of Operation).

It was a great scene, and they let me do a sketch of them, and I also took photos of them as they played.

Later, we had hot chow trucked out from the base to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We talked and joked, and had a good time. And, believe it or not, when I recommended that we each go around the room and mention one thing we were thankful for, they each opened up and shared what they were thankful for (of course it was mostly for family back home...)!

It's scenes like this one-- depictions of seemingly banal activities in daily Marine life on the front lines-- that connect with folks back home, and show the human side of war. This scene captures something for me, and I hope it does the same for you.

Semper Fi

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Corner Office, Painting continues...

Here's the oil panel of the scene mentioned in the previous post, in process...

Note: The Marines made this guard post almost completely out of plywood, put it on a big steel-girder frame, and surrounded it with sandbags and HESCO barriers. They topped it off with bullet-proof glass panels, and made a screen out of netting to conceal Marines' movement as they ascend and descend the ladder.

Good ol' American ingenuity!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The "Corner Office" at Saqlawiyah part two

This sketch I did today is a study in ink wash, for an oil painting I mentioned last week titled,"The Corner Office."

Doing a smaller study helps me with the drawing and details of the larger work, as well as the value scheme. As I do the study, I become more acquainted with the territory of the image-- that is, my mind better knows what the subject really is, and it helps me have a more confident brushstroke as I paint.

From ArtLex, the online Art Dictionary:

study - A preparatory drawing, related to a sketch.

value - An element of art that refers to luminance or luminosity -- the lightness or darkness of a color. Value is an especially important element in works of art when color is absent. This is particularly likely with drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, and photographs. It is also true with most sculpture and architecture.

Smoke and Fire

I just finished these two India ink wash sketches, which come from an experience I had while out on patrol with Marines and Iraqi Army forces in November 2006. The Marines were in the process of transferring control of the AO (Area of Operation) to the Iraqi Army, and showing them the proverbial ropes, and giving them an idea of what the area looked like, etc...
Both the sketches depict the same event --an insurgent car burning. One sketch also shows the patrol as it heads away up the road and back to the Patrol Base.

I used India Ink and watercolor on these, because India ink has a great range of value, and the little bit of color in the fire contrasts the graphic nature of the smoke. Most of the application was with the brush, and bits of line were added with a quill pen.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

In the Words of Other Combat Artists

I just listened once again to an interview online I'd heard in the past, from the radio program Open Source that's worth a listen:

It spends a lot of time talking with several seasoned combat artists--two marines and one civilian: Col. (Ret.) Avery Chenoweth, Steve Mumford, and then SSgt Michael Fay (who was in Iraq at the time) .

They really paint a fuller picture on what combat art is than what I could say. It's worth the time.

You can also look at some of the work of these artists on the Open Source website.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Civilian Combat Artist to See

This is an excellent video featuring a civilian combat artist, New York artist Steve Mumford, who has spent more than ten months in Iraq over the course of 5 trips, embedded with the US Army.

I've had a few email conversations with him in the past, and find him to be an artist who knows his combat art history as well as his combat art. I think he explains the role of the combat artist well in this clip.

You can find out more about him and his work on the web:


It's good to see an artist truly dedicated to authentic art-making-- so much so that he will risk life and limb to go to a war zone to create that art. He is dedicated to telling the story truthfully, and with a fresh artistic style.

I think you'll find that his work-- especially the ink washes-- has an immediacy and freshness that is invigorating.

Carry on, Steve!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Role Models...

author's note: this blog entry originally posted in July of 2006. It has since been edited for form and content from its original posting, and re-posted here.

Back in July, I was researching a rather unpleasant subject (involving a controversial photo published in a major newspaper) During my research, I came across something I thought was uplifting and positive:

The comments section on one of the blogs included a great link to a site about Ernie Pyle, and his days as a WWII correspondent.

I also saw a photo on that site about Bill Mauldin of Willie and Joe fame, and it reminded me of his wonderful cartoons that inspired me as a young artist and history lover.

These two men, Pyle and Mauldin, really set the bar for all who take up pen (or brush!) to document war. They are truly role models that deserve our respect and emulation.

These men risked their lives (all of the journalists and correspondents in those days did). Some gave their lives. They all, however, lived their lives and careers fully and with intense national patriotism. And the fruit from their labors was real and sweet.

May America remember the real work of these authentic men-- and may the men and women of this generation take up the standard and carry it forward in truth, honesty and pride.

Responsibility in Art

I just got back this afternoon from an interview on NPR, at their main office in DC. It was a taped interview for the show, "On the Media" and should sometime soon .

UPDATE: the interview will air this weekend, but you can already hear the interview if you click on the link on their web site here).

Altogether, I think the interview went well-- during the interview, however, some of the statements I made in my earliest posts were referenced, seemingly with an eye to highlighting political controversy-- I have since edited those posts, and moved them to another blog, to hopefully eliminate any such controversy, as my goal in this weblog is not to be a political blogger, but to do what I stated in my first post:

"I will endeavor to show a realistic view of the war through the eyes of one on the ground, while also being truthful to the long, rich history of combat art and the art of picture-making itself."

In another part of the interview, some questions were raised as to the artistic guidelines for my work-- what I choose or don't choose to paint about, and why or why not I might paint about certain things. (For example, why I didn't paint a picture of the dead insurgent I saw on one patrol, and why I don't tend to show any negative images, etc...)

I explained in the interview that I believed all artists had a responsibility to be professional and responsible in what they produce, as well as to be faithful in accurately portraying Reality with their work.

Combat artists are not in the business of propaganda, nor do they have any political axe to grind. Rather, they are given the task of going to war and portraying that reality through traditional artistic media.

I think perhaps a lot of people are unaccustomed to what combat art is, and have certain presuppositions about Marine Corps Art and Marines in general. It also seems that some people believe that combat art isn't about truth or accuracy. The body of work in the Marine Combat Art Collection certainly gives no evidence for that assertion. (See other examples here).

And I hope that my answers in the interview, as well as my continuing body of work, will disabuse people of any false presuppositions they may have about combat art.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another Work in Progress

The Corner Office

When I was in Iraq, drawing and painting, one of the things that continually fascinated me was the youth of the marines I saw, and also the working conditions these marines faced day-to-day-- those "obscene amenities" once mentioned... (I know it's cliche to say "they're just kids", but the older I get the younger 20 years old seems!)

At one outpost near Saqlawiyah, I met some marines from "G" Co of the 2nd Bn, 8th Marines, as they were on post guarding an intersection at their Outpost...

These marines had to sit in this guard shack, a little plywood creation on stilts (crude but ingenious) and watch for insurgents who would do them or the local citizenry harm. They were good-natured kids, and I talked to them and took pictures of them while they worked.

I also did a quick sketch of it while I was there, and cut it short due to a fear (i.e. rational concern!) of snipers. I had to do the scene in oil when I returned home, it was such an interesting place.

Here are the preliminary underpaintings/color block-ins of this piece, a Tryptich I call "The Corner Office" (I'll post more photos as the project progresses):

I'm painting them in what I call a Schmidian fashion, after the famous painter Richard Schmid, who has a way of simply and beautifully rendering detail in a painting. I don't know if these paintings will end up beautiful, but I hope the subject will at least be beautifully rendered!

The Not So Empty Canvas

I've been busy on several paintings lately (I'm currently working on nine canvases, in various states of finish!).

Here's series of photos of a large piece (60" x 30") I've recently begun. The photos will give you a look at how I am crafting the piece, to show an in-process view of one of my paintings.

There are many ways to begin and develop a painting, but in this case I'm trying to be as painterly as I can be, so the finished painting will not only stand as a representation of reality (here, a meeting between Civil Affairs Group and Recon Marines and Iraqi citizens near Korean Village) but also as a painting to enjoy.

Blocking In:

It starts with a gray toned canvas, and a succession of areas and colors placed roughly in. This first layer is called the underpainting, or Blocking In.

From ArtLex art dictionary:

blocking in - Laying down the initial statement of a picture by a broad indication of line, color, and tone. After blocking in, artists typically develop their compositions from general to particular by ever-increasingly refining shapes, colors, textures, etc., until an artwork is finished. Also see abbozzo, sketch, and study.

underpainting - The layer or layers of color on a painting surface applied before the overpainting, or final coat. There are many types of underpainting. One type is an all-over tinting of a white ground. Another is a blocked out image in diluted oil paints that serves as a guide for the painter while developing the composition and color effects. Also see abbozzo, azurite, grisaille, pochade, and sinopia.

Here are the Step by Step photos (please pardon the poor quality-- I've got to get a better camera):

The first area is the sky and background. You can see the toned canvas with basic shapes of the figures. Hopefully, this will show a good relationship between positive and negative shapes.

The figures are then roughly blocked in, though not haphazardly-- it's important to me to maintain proper color and temperature, while establishing value relationships as well. If I can get it right now, then I will have less to adjust later, and the painting will also maintain a good "painterly-ness".

The figures take more shape...
More and more of the Blocking-in comes together:
Some details of the figures on the left:

Some details of the figures on the right:

I'll keep you posted as the blocking in progresses, and I'll show the middle and end-game steps in the painting process, so you can see the whole thing from start to finish.