The simple objective for a war artist is to record a particular war. You could ask why film and photography is not enough. I think that due to the very nature of painting or drawing, one can exaggerate or highlight poignant themes, atmospheres, moods, and it gives a completely different slant. With mass media, you see so much, so many evocative photographs. We're inundated with news footage and camera work. So you see these remarkable photographs, and then we've forgotten them. But with a painting you can sit in a gallery, or open a book, and you can consider, and you can ponder what is going on.
Any preconceptions I had before I went to Afghanistan were based entirely on what I had seen in the newspapers and on television. But the reality was completely different. I arrived at Camp Bastion and then I was at Camp Shorabak, the main Afghan base. I had no idea what it took to keep 100,000 troops going, the vast infrastructure. Twenty-four hours a day there were convoys of hundreds of lorries bringing in concrete for building and the food that is required to feed all these troops.
And then there is the stunning beauty of the landscape. It's incredible. When you see the local people in their traditional garments, there is only one word to describe it – biblical. It's 2,000 years ago. So there is this weird contrast of stunning beautiful landscapes, and war, with all the arms and army. Constantly you are pulled between the two.
I thought it was important not to go with too many preconceived ideas. The way I work is very rapid-fire, quick sketches and drawings. There was so much activity going on that was the best way. I had to make quick studies and drawings, encompassing all I could see.
I was embedded with the 2 Yorks (Green Howards) whose role was to lead mentoring and liaison training. I thought they might be a bit sceptical but they really supported the idea, they thought it was wonderful that someone was there to record it.
On the little patrol bases at night, when there is very little to do, I would paint a portrait of someone, watched by all the soldiers. They always wanted to know if they were in the picture, so I think it was appreciated.
I got camp life, and portraits. I went out on foot patrol. That was the first time I've ever walked and drawn and watched my step for IEDs all at the same time – a quick learning curve. On one occasion, we ended up in a firefight. I was not in the thick of it, but my role was to make drawings. So I witnessed a three-hour skirmish. Two vehicles hit IEDs but fortunately there were no bad injuries. Though one person had to be medevaced and we didn't initially know how he was and I felt physically sick. On another occasion, at the district centre at Musa Qala, I was up on the rooftop and there was the most stunning view of the wadi and the mountains. I painted the landscape but it was so strange painting this incredible view and watching an amazing sunset with the sound of blasts and gunfire going off in the background.
I hope my sketches and paintings convey the experience of what it is like to be on the frontline, the elements of fear and energy, and equally the camaraderie and the determination of the troops. Because for every setback, for every friend injured, that makes them more determined to succeed.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the war, my objective was to study the British army in the theatre of war. I have so much respect for these men and women. They should be given full support for what they do.