Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blasts From The Past

I've been looking through my "catalogue raisonne", and found some of my old sketches I thought I'd post again...

Studies for "A Little Light Reading":

Sketch from the flight out to the USS Wasp:
Sketches from Mojave Viper:

I had a blast doing each of these sketches, and wanted to show them again to all who might have a blast viewing them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tea Party

No, not the new kind of tea party... the good ol' fashioned kind!

Enjoying the day off with family, having been invited to a tea party by my eldest daughter...

Good times.

This may also be seen as a hat tip to all of our British brothers in arms on this Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day, to all who have served the United States of America.

And may the blessings of Liberty and Prosperity be upon all who live in this, our fair nation.

A special remembrance also for those who fought in the Great War so long ago, from whence this holiday originated (known then as Armistice Day):

(Some cool combat art from those days-- from Georges Scott and Harvey Dunn):

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Marine Corps!

Happy Birthday to all Marines, past and present, who've worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor in service to the United States of America in peace and war.

OohRah and Semper Fidelis!

It's a Lance Corporal's War

Here's an oil painting of a Marine leading his fire team on a patrol near Delaram, Afghanistan back in July.

It's called "the Strategic (Lance) Corporal-- Wagner Places his Team" and shows a certain LCpl Clinton Wagner, a fire team leader for second squad, 3rd Plt, Echo Company, 2nd Bn 3rd Marines, giving direction to his fire team, just after the patrol crossed a river near Delaram.

One might think a fire team leader is supposed to be a Corporal.  But in many a squad out there, "Lance Coolies" are doing an NCO's job-- leading Marines in combat situations. And the success or failure of the Campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are in their hands, in a direct, tactical sense. Though they don't decide the big picture stategy, they affect people and situations around them, each and every day, in a thousand little decisions.

The "Strategic Corporal" is a term coined ten years ago in a paper by Gen Charles Krulak, and is still relevant today. Yet in today's campaigns, as perhaps ever, Lance Corporals are filling those boots, of making decisions that can have Stategic consequences in the war as a whole.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Work in Process!

Here is another painting, in process, oil on linen mounted on MDF panel.

The subject is a Marine patrol from Golf Company 2/8 departing Patrol Base Hassan Abad in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The scene is rather exotic, given the Hesco Barrier walls, the guard tower, and the comparably fertile landscape of the area. I also was drawn to the narrative, telling the story of a patrol heading out into the unknown.

I started with a sketch, laying out the basic composition:
Then, a wash of faint tones is applied:
I begin adding details with broad, simple strokes:
Beginning to refine some of the details, still aware of overall layout and color relationships:
The next step will be to go from area to area, adding detail and refining color, while trying to maintain the immediacy of brushstrokes obtained in the early stages of the painting. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Works In Process Update

Here is the oil sketch in process I mentioned in my last post:
The subject is the long wait we had one day on a convoy, when one of the vehicles got stuck on a bridge, half hanging over the edge, which delayed our movement for nine hours. We sat in the vehicle, stuck in with our gear, trying not to be bored out of our skulls, and sometimes trying to sleep. Here is pictured HM2 Amesquita, Cpl Rogers, and Sgt Miller of CLB8, trying to sleep. The jumble of Marine and gear lends itself to a sketchy process, with the paint and strokes as jumbled as the gear..!
First, the rough sketch (with enough detail to make the composition a success). It's on toned, gessoed Arches 300 lb. watercolor paper (a great weight for watercolor as well as oil sketching);
In process, the roughing out, or "blocking in"-- at this point I try to keep what works, expressing in as few strokes as I can, as much detail as possible. It's really all about suggesting rather than slaving over detail. A good sketch is a collection of "happy accidents". Also note that I applied an overall Imprimatura of a warm earthy tone before blocking in.
Final stage: Note, it's not fully detailed, but some is left for the viewer to put together...
Here is a detail of the window, with the light coming in-- notice the suggestion of detail, and the attempts at making the image have a little life and freshness by not over-working the detail...
Detail of Sgt Miller: Note that the hand and face are just a set of simple strokes jumbled together to suggest detail.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Works In Process

I've been busy in the studio, trying to get as much work done as I can, to make the Marine Corps' money worth its while...

Here are some photos of some works I've just begun, and a sculpture maquette I've worked on for some time now...

The sketches are done in water soluble pencil, and provide basic detail for the composition, and make the execution of painting a lot easier. I've found that an accurate drawing is more important than an overly-detailed drawing, in providing the framework for a successful painting.

An scene of a patrol leaving the wire at Patrol Base Hassan Abad, Afghanistan:

The drawing of some Marines asleep in the jumbled interior of an MRAP:

This maquette is made of wax and will (I hope) be cast in bronze, and sit on some general's desk someday! It shows a fire team leader next to a SAW gunner, in an assault. I am using photos and sketches I made while at Mojave Viper in 29 Palms, CA last summer. Though the references come from a training exercise, the object itself is meant to be an archetype of all such assaults, by all such Marine fire teams.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MET, MOMA; at the Guggenheim

My Ode to Norman Rockwell's piece, "Abstract and Concrete"

Hey, almost forgot the great time I had with my wife a couple of weeks ago, right when I got back from Afghanistan, when we went to NYC.

As an artist, this was almost a religious obligation-- New York has been Art Mecca since WWII.

We visited the MOMA, the Met, and the Guggenheim. I saw so much art-- and I mean good, "hey I've seen that a thousand times in text books" art.

The only negatives of the whole experience were 1) the cost of admission. Each was $18 to $20 per person...! and 2) the MOMA was at first a total diappointment when I toured the first few floors, which showcased all of the contemporary, "hey, I got a piece my art in the MOMA and all that I did was scratch color on a piece of copy paper" type of modern art. Pointless, useless --except as a nice joke in a lower-level art or design class.

The upper two floors more than made up for it though, as I saw Picasso, Dali, Wyeth, Van Gogh, and other really excellent true Modernists that I'd only seen in books up to that time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Walk About

Crossing the River Near Delaram

When people ask me what it's like going on a patrol, I usually remark about the strange slowness of the movement, and the almost surreal normalcy of it all. If the weapons were absent, it'd look like a casual walk in the desert or about town (until something happens to disrupt that walk about, of course).

What a strange feeling it is, to be so exposed, and yet to move do deliberately, all the while under the potential eye of the enemy. That exposure is made more stark by the vast expanses of the open desert. The watercolor sketch above portrays the feeling of stark beauty of the desert in Afghanistan, especially when there's a river there. It also addresses the lonely nature of walking around on a patrol, even if you've got a whole squad with you.
The sketch above is a watercolor I did while I was in Afghanistan, and it's of a Marine from 2/3, on a patrol near Delaram. He's against a wall, being watchful during a pause in the patrol. He doesn't seem particularly excited-- minus the weapon and gear, he could be any youth hanging out on the street.
But the calm demeanor belies the inner awareness of a person who's gotten used to this kind of casual readiness. Though relaxed, he is poised to respond should it be required of him. He can't afford to be complacent, because a firefight could come at any moment. But he can't maintain a constant state of hyper-alertness, or he'll burn out.
I'm sure someone could do a doctoral thesis on this phenomenon in human nature.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Standing Watch

This is an oil sketch on panel, about 10" x 8", depicting a Marine standing post in Afghanistan.
Specifically, it is a Marine from H&S Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, standing watch on Post #3 at Forward Operating Base Delhi, near Garmsir, Afghanistan, in July 2009.

It could be Anyman standing Anypost, though.

I think that when we combat artists paint things, we try to make images that not only are historic records of an event or activity, but also stand as archetypes or allegories.
The reason a painting may strike a chord is that it's somehow connected to a shared experience. Even if the subject is something commonplace, it somehow connotes or denotes something significant.

The Sentinel Standing Watch has been a significant symbol in every culture, throughout all of history. And the role of watchman has been a significant job as well.

This painting, in its Subject, is a narrative, illustration, and allegory . But in its being, Per Se, it is more. It not only depicts, but it stands in for, that which it depicts.
On one hand it reminds us of those who stand watch over us, each and every day, faithfully and thanklessly, guarding our safety and liberty.
But this little painting, in its own little way, also stands itself as a sentinel-- it calls out to us, and asks us to identify ourselves, friend or foe; and reminds us that we too must do our duty as a culture-- we must stand fast, remain vigilant, and resist the urge to fall asleep or falter when we need to persevere.

We're the Entertainment

The Future of Afghanistan watches us on every patrol.

Tomorrow's City Council is in session. The panel of judges is making its decision!

What, do you suppose, are they thinking about us? We are an enigma, perhaps; or a moment's amusement.

And how will they feel about us years from now? How will the choices "Strategic Corporals" make today affect the relationship between our countries tomorrow?

I painted this quick oil sketch because I loved the subject matter, some Afghani kids perched near a house, watching us as we pass by on patrol, like we were a circus act or street show.

Kids are the same everywhere.

The color was another thing about it that made me paint it- it's bold even though it has a lot of earth tones, and the white areas contrast with the greens and browns with a rich effect.

I applied the paint loosely so I could sort of add to the bold nature of the color and perhaps suggest the activity going on in the subtext; in the boys' thoughts as they see these exotic, strange Americans walk by...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Put Me In, Coach!

I spent some time with the arty guys from 3/11 in Afghanistan-- one battery at FOB Dwyer and another at Fire Base Thunder (now called Fiddler's Green). The above pencil sketch was done at November Battery 3/11 at FOB Dwyer-- it's a "Triple Seven," one of the state-of -the-art(illery) pieces currently fielded by the Corps to reach out and drop a world of hurt on the enemy with just a call.

The 3/11 Marines were stoked, waiting to get into the fight, as Operation River Liberty had just kicked off. They'd prep'd theirs guns for a mission, but were not getting called to the dance! They'd expected a lot of activity, but so far hadn't gotten a mission.

The arty guys are a proud and confident bunch, and the men of 3/11 were sure they could do some good damage to the enemy, if called upon. Hence the title, "Put Me In, Coach!" for the sketch.

I, too, was hoping for them to get a mission, so I could get some video and photos of them shooting, but it never happened while we were there. One night at Fire Base Thunder, however, I was asleep under our cammie net hooch, when awoke to shouting from the vicinity of the gun line... and then a BOOM! Darn it, I missed the shot-- heck, I couldn't film or sketch it in the dark anyway, but what a bummer! And yet I was elated that they finally got to get into the game.
Click here for more on the Arty Marines of Afghanistan...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Slice of Life at an Outpost-- Helo Comin' In

(FOD at a FOB)
This video was taken in July at Patrol Base Jaker, near Nawa in the Helmand Province, when we were preparing to take a helo ride back to FOB Leatherneck. A group of soldiers from the Afghan Army had dibs on the first helo, so we had to wait for another one...

I post it to show how much dust and debris can be kicked up when a helicopter comes in to an expeditionary LZ. (see retated term FOD...)
(Forgive the hand over the lens, but I had to cover it from small flying rocks, which kick up violently when a CH53 comes in to land. Consider it a Surrealistic element in an art film... at the end is the helo beginning to take back off-- I wish I'd kept filming)!

Me, standing in front of the guard post shown in the video, waiting to get on one of the helos that were coming in that day...
Strange semi-related Tangent of the Day: ..."Very Small Rocks!"

Friday, August 07, 2009

FOB Architecture

In the wild west, they had wooden forts-- today, in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have the HESCO FOB.
Golf Company 2/8 Marines depart on patrol from PB Hassan Abad, Garmsir District, Afghanistan

In my travels to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have always liked the many creative ways the HESCO barrier can be used, and how Marines make FOBs, PBs, and guard posts out of them. And I have always loved to see and draw ruins also, whether the Alamo, or the Alamo-esque buildings used to form much of FOB Delhi near Garmsir, Afghanistan.

A shot-up archway at FOB Delhi, near where they kept the cold water, and had the improvised chow hall...

Post #3 at FOB Delhi (the cammie netting which hung about it had an organic quality, and reminded me of webs and Spanish Moss):
Post #5 at Delhi (I was drawn to draw the post because of the improvised stairway, and the HESCO stamp on the barriers...)
Here's an old drawing I did of a post in Saqlawiyah, Iraq; interesting because of its ingenious use of stilts and several kinds of barrier, including Jersey walls, HESCOs, and good ol' sandbags.

Moving Up in the Dust (of a Thousand Years)

Here is a watercolor sketch I did when I was in Afghanistan, depicting Echo Company of the 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment moving up to the LZ at FOB Dwyer to kick off Operation River Liberty (see yesterday's post for video and photos...).

The dust kicked up by this large column of Marines made me think of ancient Greek phalanxes marching in Persia, or of Napoleonic formations positioning on some battlefield. It was a timeless image in that way.

That is the silver thread that connects combat artists depicting war throughout the centuries, with those who practise war. The timeless nature of war as human experience, and the need for humans to express themselves and make a mark on history, has formed a profound and lasting connection between art and war, creation and destruction. It is a bond which will last until Image and Sword are drawn no more.

Note: I am planning to execute a larger oil painting with similar composition and layout, which will be partially inspired by John Singer Sargent's oil painting, Gassed, in the Imperial War Museum in London.

The glowing yellows, pinks and lavenders (as well as the umbers and ochres) are the same today in Afghanistan as Sargent depicted them on the Western Front in 1918.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The UN-Civil War

During my deployment, I was fortunate to carry 32 books with me-- though not physically with me, really. I had a Kindle, the device from Amazon which holds up to 1500 books, digitally. I kept it free from dust and out of the heat and direct sun as much as possible, and it served me faithfully (I highly recommend getting one, if you can).

Two of the books I was reading were the Personal Memoirs of Gen. P. H. Sheridan and the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

In both of these works I gained an appreciation for the brilliance of these two shining stars of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Below are two excerpts which exploded from the page (no pun intended, considering the subject). They have to do with certain devices of war we usually consider modern and even contemporary, these being land mines and IEDs.

Little did we know, it seems that the Confederates invented them both (not very Southern-gentlemanly)!

(Note: text in italics, emphasis mine...)

From Grant, about Sherman's March to the Sea:
"No further resistance worthy of note was met with, until within a few miles of Savannah. This place was found to be intrenched and garrisoned. Sherman proceeded at once on his arrival to invest the place, and found that the enemy had placed torpedoes in the ground, which were to explode when stepped on by man or beast. One of these exploded under an officer's horse, blowing the animal to pieces and tearing one of the legs of the officer so badly that it had to be amputated. Sherman at once ordered his prisoners to the front, moving them in a compact body in advance, to either explode the torpedoes or dig them up. No further explosion took place."

From Sheridan, after the defeat of J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern:

"The enemy, anticipating that I would march by this route, had planted torpedoes along it, and many of these exploded as the column passed over them, killing several horses and wounding a few men, but beyond this we met with no molestation. The torpedoes were loaded shells planted on each side of the road, and so connected by wires attached to friction-tubes in the shells, that when a horse’s hoof struck a wire the shell was exploded by the jerk on the improvised lanyard. After the loss of several horses and the wounding of some of the men by these torpedoes, I gave directions to have them removed, if practicable, so about twenty-five of the prisoners were brought up and made to get down on their knees, feel for the wires in the darkness, follow them up and unearth the shells. The prisoners reported the owner of one of the neighboring houses to be the principal person who had engaged in planting these shells, and I therefore directed that some of them be carried and placed in the cellar of his house, arranged to explode if the enemy’s column came that way, while he and his family were brought off as prisoners and held till after daylight."
I make no commentary on these texts, except to say that 1) there is nothing new under the sun, 2) Americans, especially Confederates, are very creative people, and 3) these two men dealt with their problem in a very old-school sort of way, needless to say (I wonder what would happen today if these men were alive and handling things this way in Iraq or Afghanistan... talk amongst yourselves...)

Operation River Liberty

Here is a video I took in Afghanistan on the 2nd of July, when Marines of the 2nd Bn 8th Marines (specifically Fox and Echo Companies) boarded CH53s at FOB Dwyer and kicked off Operation River Liberty (AKA Operation Kanjar) the mission being to occupy key points in the Helmand River Valley, provide security and stability to the civilian population, and deny the battlespace to the Taliban.

Note: while watching the video, notice how much gear the Marines have to carry. It's a lot heavier than it looks, especially when you add up the weight of the body armor and helmets, the ammo, food and water, and their packs which contain all the necessities of living in the field. It's not too bad if you're young, and if it's in the winter months, and you can put your gear down once in a while...!
Here are some photos of Marines from Echo Company 2/8 as they geared up and boarded the helos for Operation River Liberty a little later that morning, July 2, 2009:

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


"Some Things Never Change"
This is an old adage, as well as the title of the above watercolor by Marine Combat Artist Mike Fay, depicting Marines in Iraq burning fecal matter in barrels to maintain sanitation.
(I reprised it with my own version of that theme below):
Marine burning the sh#! in barrels at Fire Base Thunder

As I travelled around the AO in Afghanistan and witnessed various methods of dealing with sanitation in a combat zone, I couldn't help but remember that, yes, some things never change.
Today's military uses Port-A-Potties quite often, and it usually doesn't take long at any FOB for permanent bathroom facilities to be brought in. But due to the expeditionary nature of the situation in Afghanistan, many locations utilized some tried and true ways of disposing of waste and filth...The "facilities" at FOB Delhi
Burning the Trash near the perimeter at Fire Base Thunder

I thought it'd be good to capture in watercolor these old ways of doing things, as an historical record of the present and especially as a tie to our past.

The above sketch is of a make-shift shower at FOB Delhi (where the British were for years before the Marines got there). I depicted it because of the sign on it which read, "Short Arse Shower". I guess it's for those of smaller stature...!