This is Spitfire Pilot, one of my detailed pencil drawings, in progress.
When finished, this chap will be all of 12" tall, showing a full body view down to his flying boots in the grass. All
of my current drawings are done on 100 lb. Canson smooth bristol paper. I use four grades of drawing pencils to
achieve my effects: from darkest to lightest, they are: 2B, HB, H and 3H. I keep them finely sharpened,
and with a delicate hand I find that I no longer need a burnishing stump - the bristol paper takes the pencil that well.
I also use a kneaded eraser, which I shape to get the desired eraser effects.
Here's how I usually start a painting - a quick little
thumbnail or two or three. This one is done on sticky note paper. The small size keeps me from getting too fussy. This particular
composition is something I really want to do, but this sketch eventually evolved into Eagles of Thunder, which
shows a gaggle of four 4th Fighter Group kites airborne on their way to engage the wily hun. A ground shot does intrigue me,
though, and I hope to do one soon.
This is how One-Man Air Force was conceived.
I can tell I'm getting serious about a composition when I start writing notes all over my studies. The final outline
drawing has notes all over the place! What I'm doing with my notes is brainstorming and reminding myself of things to
look for as I develop the composition: aircraft details to remember, lighting notes, etc. Notice the similarity of this
layout to the one in the final painting . . . they're very similar. Note also how I've drawn lines to represent where the
airplanes came from just before they entered the picture plane (the painting's viewable elements). This aids in getting a
more realistic and believable layout. Look closely at some paintings, and if you imagine where the planes were moments before
the action depicted, you might discover that they collided 10 seconds before they entered your view!! It's work, but there
is simply no substitute for prior planning and thinking. By the time I actually get to the application of
paint to the canvas, I'm sort of relaxed because most of the work is already done. As I used to tell my primary flight students,
"A good approach usually results in a good landing". Same thing with the planning and then the execution of aviation art.
Here is the Descriptive Geometry plot for the P-51 view.
The resulting little drawing is an accurate 3-point
perspective view of the Mustang from the chosen distance and angles. The exact plot distance from the aircraft was chosen
after figuring out how much space the Mustang would take up in the final composition. The angles were chosen to show off the
left side of the kite and the pilot, plus enough of a high aspect to show the tops of the wings and tail. This drawing was
enlarged, and then the most time consuming process of the entire work (by far) started - filling in all the minute details
Detail of the final outline of the cockpit and fuselage
areas of Gentile's Mustang. This was all done freehand using my training in drawing and perspective. While doing this, I was
looking at tons of reference material to get all the details right, such as the relative sizes of the pilot's head in the
cockpit, etc. Even this drawing wasn't done full size. It was only done big enough to comfortably add all the details. It
was then enlarged to fit the exact dimensions I had chosen the P-51 to be in the final painting. THAT enlargement was then
hand transferred to the painting surface using graphite transfer paper. Referring to my tonal studies as I painted, it was
then just a matter of "paint by number"!
One-Man Air Force mockup.
I used this to calculate sun direction for my individual tonal studies of each element in the painting, while at the same
time maintaining the continuity of one sun!
Here are the resulting tonal studies just tacked up
on the unfinished work for the photo. Notice the distant P-51 at upper left is complete. I treat these studies very seriously
and refer to them constantly while painting. As I'm applying the paint, these studies aid tremendously in laying out the five
tones of any object hit by sunlight, and they are: Highlight and Halftone (the warm side), and the Shadow Edge, Reflections,
and Cast Shadows (the cool side). Notice very detailed or complicated areas, such as the P-51's cockpit in this example, usually
requires extra attention, such as the enlarged cockpit tonal study at the bottom right. Look closely and you can see the ghostly
image of the FW-190 I'm about to start applying paint to at the upper right.
Close up of the fuselage in progress. At this stage,
I'm just about to add my warms near the fuselage spine. My initial effort, as you can see, was rather flat and dull.
That's the beauty of acrylics - you can immediately paint over your mistakes! After 'laying in' the colors where I want
them, I 'top it off' with carefully mixed glazes along the warms, which helps to make things look blended. You don't get the
beautiful blended look with acrylics like you get with oils, at first, but after glazing, your eye attenuates the colors into
the desired blended effect. Lots of fun!
'One-Man Air Force' (detail)
Here's my final "mock up" for Black Knights at Nellis. I took a picture of a
desktop model to use for positioning and basic sizing relative to the planned 24 x 36 canvas. I used this basic layout
to determine that the preferred viewing distance from the canvas will be 45". The "preferred"
viewing distance is that one point from which all objects in the painting will appear in correct perspective. Using
this information, I will use Perspective Projection by Descriptive Geometry to plot a projection
of the T-38 as seen from the preferred distance. The aft end of the Talon's image will be just touching the "transparent"
picture plane (the canvas surface).
This is the perspective projection, by descriptive geometry, of the main T-38C with the viewer's
eye 42.6' aft of the exhaust nozzles, 11.5' left of centerline and 20.7' above the aircraft centerline. This plot
is essentially a frame which I will use to "build" the aircraft's visible surface, including all complex exterior shapes,
parabolas, etc. This "fleshing out" of the plot while referring to detailed reference pictures is the most labor-intensive part
of the entire production process for me.
I took the initial projection to the local copy center and enlarged the image to make it more
workable for the next step. I also lightened the image a bit so that most of the "clutter" dropped off and I was left
with very faint lines and "dots". Using the dots (plotted Descriptive Geometry points of interest) and faint lines,
I can now draw in the basic structure and panel lines as shown above "in progress". Notice the student and instructor's
helmets in place as circles. After the rest of the jet is outlined as above, I will then photocopy the image again
and then draw in all the markings and final details.
The basic structure is finished now. Next step is to run back to the copy center and
enlarge (and lighten somewhat to get rid of all the clutter) this view as much as possible so that I can reline all the
lines you see here plus add all the minute final details. Notice the stick inputs: right and back. Unlike most
airplanes, you do not use the rudder to correct for adverse yaw when turning this jet; you just bank and pull it around.
I've enhanced the pencil lines a bit in this handheld photo so you can see them better.
After filling in details on the main jet, I finished the outlines of the three smaller
aircraft in the painting (two F-15Es and another AT-38C). After choosing an appropriate background, the thing to do
now is a smaller scale (14.5" x 21.75") pencil study of the entire scene. While lacking much of the precise detail
resolution of the final work, the pencil study will be followed carefully while I am painting. This preliminary
study is basically a learning exercise in that I have to figure out, understand, cement in my brain and then apply the why
of how the lights, shadows and reflections are falling as they are - these define the shape of the jet. This is truly
where the real "art" is done. Once I am happy with the study, the actual painting can be tackled with a high degree
of confidence. With the studies, I always do the main aircraft first (the reverse of my painting procedure) so that
I may concentrate totally on getting it right. This is because everything else in the composition, in tone and saturation,
will "flow" from the values as seen on the main jet. Here is an in progress view of the main T-38.
Finished with the main jet. If you look very closely, you can see the faint outlines
of the distant mountain landscape, and the front of the other T-38 at the far left. Now on to the smaller aircraft,
then the background. Oops! As I was looking at this image I noticed my first mistake - the small "USAF" on
the right wing should have been in light gray (same as the national insignia on the top of the left wing). Ah,
I'm not too worried about it as this is the time for mistakes. The challenge is catching them!
The landscape is beginning to take shape. I'll add the desert color when
I'm finished with the scrub . . . for now, the white areas look like snow. Notice the blur effect due to the jet blast.
Details like this add motion to the composition.
Here the sky is complete on the 1/2-scale (12" x 18") study. I've started doing these
finished color models for several reasons. First, I find that I am much looser and apt to boldly experiment
with the smaller work, resulting in a better final result. Secondly, I approach the full sized work with much greater
confidence having "practiced", and finally, as a reward for all the efforts I put into the entire process, I have yet another
original painting to show long after the full sized piece is gone - for just a few days more effort.
This is also another opportunity to bring the work closer to the perfect image I have in my
head. To that end, I lowered the nose of the far T-38 - to avoid a possible collision a few seconds later with
the main jet!
Background's complete on the 1/2-scale oil study! Now I've got to dig out my reference
material and get to the smaller jets first, then the main jet.
8/17/2004: Landscape's almost finished. Now all I have to do is a little tweaking
to those clouds and it's on to the aircraft.
8/26/04. Good progress on the main jet. Once I had the complicated exhaust
nozzles done, I could relax a little. Only "hard" part left is the cockpit area. Should be finished by tomorrow,
8/26/04. Working on the spine area. This curved area shows all five of the tones
of color (Highlight, Halftone, Shadow Edge, Body Shadow and Cast Shadow), and keeping the subtlety of these
tones as the spine receded from the viewer was loads of fun (wink).
'Black Knights at Nellis' (detail)
This is the perspective projection plot by descriptive geometry of the main AT-38C for High-Angle
Gun Shot to Separation. The size of the jet in the final oil painting vis-a-vis the size of the canvas (24" x 34"),
combined with the preferred viewer's distance from the painting, determines the proper plot
distance from the jet, resulting in the perspective view seen here. As usual, the subtle curves and many details
of the jet will be carefully added to this "framework" while looking at numerous pictures.
Close up of the final outline drawing of the main jet. The student and instructor have
their heads locked on the bandit.
Working on the rear fuselage. I had some very accurate drawings of a T-38A to use for
my Descriptive Geometry plot, but the final result is, as you can see, a T-38C (new exhaust nozzles and intake inlets, mainly).
How did I do it? Eyeball Engineering!
Tail's complete. Now on to the very complicated mid-fuselage area . . . but first - hmm,
what's on TV?
The mid-fuselage and right wing are done, now on to the home stretch - the forward fuselage.
When doing each section, especially the complicated fuselage area, I always paint the darkest thing first, such as a cast
shadow. That gives me a set "darkest value" to judge all other tones by. The careful artist will note that the
darkest values get lighter even over short distances. For example, when mixing paint for the mid-fuselage cast shadows,
I was careful to make them a little lighter in value than the strong shadow cast by the aft edge of the rudder.
"Mission from Debden" underway . . .
This is me . . . in progress!
Keith Ferris points the way for yours truly during a color class at an art forum in Macon, Georgia.
I took my second Ferris class in 2002. The learning never stops!
Spirit of the Shogun halfway done. This
was my first major aviation painting, and I was really stumbling along. I thought seriously about going back to pencil exclusively
(see my pencil prints page on this site), but my wife made me stick it out! Behind every successful person is somebody who
pushed them to do more than they thought they had in them, I believe. My wife Maria is that person to me, without a doubt!
And here she is about 99.99% completed. I was pleasantly
surprised when this piece was accepted into the 1998 Juried Exhibition of the American Society of Aviation Artists' Forum
in Wichita, Kansas. However, I still didn't know what I was doing . . . my next piece, a P-51, was full of mistakes, but that's
the one I brought to the 1999 Forum in Macon, where I took Keith Ferris' color class. Man, they chopped me to ribbons with
the critiques. However, I loved it, because they were telling me, in essence, how to paint! That's the attitude
I took, and I solicited many critiques from some of the best known aviation artists in the business. Not surprisingly, they
all had basically the same things to say, so now I knew what I was doing wrong! These private evaluations
of my P-51 piece, plus Keith's color class, set me on the right course. I was about halfway through Chico the Gunfighter
when I got home from the Forum, and I finished Chico with my new knowledge in hand. When Chico was finished,
I re-did the P-51 Man O' War painting (you can see the newer version on this site) to show those guys that I listened
to them! It's all in your attitude . . . ask artists
you admire to critique your work and learn from their accumulated experience. It works!
Late August 2002. 8-3/8" x 11" oil on canvasboard of a P-51D Mustang.
I glued Portrait Grade (smooth) canvas to a piece of artist's canvas panel found in any art shop. The typical
canvasboard comes in a finish which is much too rough for my taste (too much canvas weave). So, for the smaller pieces,
I use bookbinder's archival glue and just attach the smoother grade canvas which I cut from a big roll. For the bigger
paintings I substitute my old standby, 1/4" tempered Masonite. Why? I get the best of both worlds - a smooth grade
canvas which the oil paint really likes, and also the firm substrate, which I really like . . . I absolutely cannot stand
the "give" of the traditional stretched canvas. The inevitable "sag" in humid weather feels cheap and fragile to me. Here,
the sky is finished, and the groundwork is next. The sky is a combination of several different cloud formations I
photographed in England. Smaller paintings are fun and relaxing.
October 2002. The landscape behind the Mustang is finished, and the asphalt has
been blocked in. Notice the water puddles in the grass, the result of recently passed thunderstorms. I will add
some water puddles to the asphalt to "wet" it a little. I still have to start on the grass in the foreground, which
will be slightly more detailed. The rest of the P-51 will be saved for last.
Here's my final thumbnail for Pressing West at FRISCO. The lead jet's image
will be 27" wide. Mad Duck IV will be ~ 6" wide. The canvas will be 34" wide. I'll wait until I
get both jets completed in outline form before I decide the canvas height. The light will be coming from the jets' 12:30,
Early days on Shangri-La II. I tend to do my aircraft outlines in layers.
For example, with this first layer I'm concentrating on just the major panel lines and shapes. After the entire
jet is done with the level of detail seen here, I'll photocopy this image and then work in the final details (cockpit details,
bomb details, remaining markings, etc) on the photocopied image. That way, when I erase, I won't erase the first layer
of basic panel lines.
Whew! Hard part's over - so far. This is a view of the main ordnance which will
be visible on Shangri-La II. On the date of my painting, Shangri-La II and Mad Duck IV carried
the same loadout:
2 x GBU-12 on the left CFT, forward two stations
1 x GBU-10 on the centerline station
3 x Mk 82 with gray fins on the right CFT, bottom three stations (not visible)
2 x WRM (War Reserve Material) light gray 600-gallon wing tanks
2 x AIM-120 AMRAAMs on the outer wing stations.
(Some details, like the GBU-12 Seeker Heads, will be added later).
Completed Mad Duck IV outline. This jet will be ~ 6" wide on the canvas, and
won't show near the level of detail shown in the much larger Shangri-La II. The artist must use recession
techniques like this to "force" distance in the work.
Here's a quick handheld shot of the nose art on the full sized SL II outline. This is
typical of the level of finish I use when drawing complicated items at the outline stage. For example, it would do me
no good and waste a lot of my time if I drew in each of the fins on the bomb symbols to the right of the nose art.
Tiny details like that don't transfer well to the canvas (number one reason not to draw them at this stage). The necessary
"finishing touches" will added while painting. With this outline, I'm establishing position and basic form only.
Working on the cockpit area. In cockpits, I always start with circles for the approximate
size and position of the helmet(s). From there, I freehand everything using multiple reference pictures for appropriate
detail. There is an inherent danger in using photographs which show crew members "close" to your desired view of
the crew. The inexperienced artist will tend to copy the photograph's body position without adjusting the image for
your view of the aircraft, and while you'll end up with a nice copy of the pilot in the photo, in
your painting the figure and his ejection seat will be sitting at an odd angle! Constant
checking in the mirror and holding the outline backwards up against a light will catch errors like this.
Finished cockpit area.
Final full-size mock up showing aircraft and horizon positions. As determined by this
mock up, the final canvas will be 19.5" x 34". Next step is a 60% scale pencil study.
Here's the pencil study (11 3/4" x 20 3/8"). While this lacks the level
of detail found in my "serious" pencil drawings, it fulfills a purpose, i.e., with this particular composition, I really wanted
to see how a "dark" jet would appear set against a dark-toned background. The highlights on the main jet work fine,
but when I do the color study (see below), I'll go a bit lighter with the "dark" background. Where's my paint?
Background and the smaller jet are complete on the 11 3/4" x 20 3/8" color study.
The medium tones of the background serve to support the darks and lights of the two jets. With the smaller
jet, I had to be careful to reserve the lightest light and darkest dark in the entire painting for the larger jet - the
center of interest. Also, the smaller jet's hues are subject to greater atmospheric recession, i.e., a
relative loss in tonal contrasts, color saturation, and values.
Detail of the far jet as seen in the oil study. Seen here, this little jet's image
is only 3.5" wide. Notice the canvas grain and lack of detail. Looks kind of sloppy, doesn't it? It's important
to remember that this jet is nearly 400 feet away from the viewer of the painting. Accordingly, while this jet
will be larger (5.75") in the final work, the increase in physical size won't allow me to add more detail
- I need to maintain the illusion of depth in the painting - but I can clean up the lines
a bit. However, in this size the overall effect is just right.
Day one on SLII (study version). Lots of tweaking to do, but the general pattern of lights,
darks and temps have been established.
The full size canvas in progress. I've incorporated two major changes from the color
study: a more subdued background and a slightly lower horizon line to get the jets more "in the air"
to add to the "feeling of flight". The dominant value is definitely "light", especially at this stage, but when that
big dark jet is complete, I think a nice balance will be achieved.
The finished Mad Duck IV. It's about 6" wide.
Finished cockpit area and forward fuselage. When the completed oil on canvas is viewed
from the "preferred distance" of 42.5 inches (an ideal, yes, but at least there is one!), the planned
perspective view of the two jets puts this front seater's helmet 62 feet from your eye - in 1/12th scale.
I plan all my paintings this way: 1 inch = 1 foot (1/12th scale) murals! In other
words, if this were a 19.5 foot x 34 foot mural (exactly 12 times larger than my painting), and you were to
stand dead center looking at the painting from a distance of 42.5 feet from the canvas surface, this is exactly
how real F-15Es would look, in size and perspective view, if they appeared "this big" in the window (the canvas). The
ability to plan perspective projections of objects from any distance and attitude the artist chooses is made possible
by Descriptive Geometry.
Pressing West at FRISCO (detail)
Background complete on the 24 x 32 Fighting 17 final canvas.
After one day on the airplane. Fuselage is next . . .
Fuselage is mostly complete . . .
Fighting 17 (detail)
Enter the Dragons. 8 1/4 x 11. Oil on panel. It's easier to visualize and paint the clouds without the "distraction" of the airplanes, especially at this small
size. I'll wait a few weeks before adding the airplanes to this panel.
Here's an in-progress view of Enter the Dragons as the planes are added.
(Above and below) In-progress views of Twin-Tailed Dragons - 24 x
Mustangs at Dawn (detail)
Chico the Gunfighter (detail)
This is a small oil I'm doing for one of my collectors. Here's a detail shot of the 6.5" x 14"
canvas. I like doing these smaller ones, usually done from wartime black and white photos, as a way of relaxing
between major paintings.
Col. Don and SSgt. East in progress
Here's my final thumbnail for Eagles of Thunder. It
was done on sticky note paper to keep it small and quick. This was my third or fourth sketch, and most closely matched the
image I had in mind as I started. I want the viewer to feel like the "fifth" P-47 pilot in this formation. Notice I
have sketched only basic shapes and positions. This establishes the validity of my composition, or the relative placement
of the objects within the picture plane. If it doesn't look good here, it won't get any better as it gets bigger!
This is the background oil study, done on canvasette paper. It's 6.25" x 10.25", small enough to get
the colors down (which I'll try to carefully duplicate when working on the final painting), while carefully preserving the
24" x 40" final proportions. It's very appropriate that this scene was taken from a photograph I took last summer when
we were about two hours from England - the lengths I'll go to to get it right! I ran across this photo in my scrapbook,
and at first I thought everything looked too 'distant'. However, remembering a trick I learned from Keith
Ferris about using your own photos, I took what seemed to be an uninteresting skyscape and cropped in to what you see
here. This gave me the masses of shapes I was looking for to complement the mass shape of
the four P-47s. This is a MAJOR step forward in the progress of the painting. The lighting will be coming from
behind us and to our left (about 45 degrees), which should light up the sides of the aircraft (see pencil study of one
P-47 below) with a warm morning "glow", and give us some nice rakish shadows across the mid fuselage areas. The
design seems very simple, but that's necessary because the P-47s will take up a lot of room, and the background is really
only there to support the aircraft, offer tonal and temperature contrasts to make the planes stand out more, and set a certain
This is the Perspective Projection by Descriptive Geometry plot
of the closest Jug. It's about 4.25" long. This is not intended to be a final outline. I will enlarge this drawing and
basically redraw this view by correcting and refining shapes and adding details as I go while looking at detailed reference
Compare this detail view of the finished outline, ready for transfer to the canvas, with the Descriptive
Geometry projection just above. This will be the closest (biggest) Jug in the painting - about 22.5" long! It
will be Jack Raphael's P-47C-5-RE, 41-6529, VF-M, Eager Beaver. See the "Raphael Collection" pages on this
site for good shots of her. As I paint each section I'll lightly sketch, on the canvas, the underlying structure
of the airframe. This will allow me to hint at the subtle undulations of the surface often seen on structures
under load. Getting close to the fun part, finally!
This is the perspective projection of the lead P-47 in the closest element - identified as "G" in the yellow
rough sketch at the top of this page. This drawing plots landmark points, which will help me locate those key points
as I freehand the final drawing (see below for the near-completed final outline drawing).
The plethora of vertical lines are parallel azimuth lines perpendicular to the horizon, and serve only as
left or right position lines relative to the center of vision. Elevation measurements, plotted separately,
locate the precise spot that specific points of interest lie along these azimuth lines. The aircraft's
vertical lines actually converge to a point above the aircraft. I will have to account for this when
drawing vertical lines or forms on the aircraft.
Three-Point Perspective is necessary when none of the three axes of the aircraft (longitudinal,
lateral or vertical - also known as sets of parallel lines) are parallel to the picture plane, which is assumed to
be perpendicular to the centerline of the cone of vision. If this is the case, then in perspective each
of the three sets of parallel lines will converge at a vanishing point. For example, we can assume the paper
here is the canvas, or "picture plane". Notice that we are below the elevation of the aircraft, relative
to it's wings. This banks the aircraft (relative to the viewer), and means the vertical axis is tilted, and not
parallel to the picture plane/canvas. Furthermore, this is not a precise side view of the plane, so its longitudinal
axis is not parallel to the canvas either. Finally, this is not a dead-on front or back view of the aircraft, so the
lateral axis is likewise not parallel to the picture plane. None of the three major axes are parallel to the
picture plane/canvas, so by definition a precise drawing of this airplane in perspective will require 3 vanishing
points. This is where Descriptive Geometry (DG) comes into it's own. DG allows an intuitive way
of precisely relating multiple aircraft perspective projections to each other, while fully considering the
size of the canvas, and the distance of the viewer's eye, as he or she looks through the window (canvas/picture plane),
from a preferred distance, at the planes. This "preferred distance" can be adapted to a comfortable viewer's eye
distance from a magazine, book, hallway in the Pentagon, art gallery, or even a large mural in a museum. The Center
of Vision in all cases is based on the canvas itself, not the individual aircraft. This is the difference between
the manual form of Descriptive Geometry and those computer programs which can give you "perspective" views of aircraft.
The latter will give you a nice outline, but they cannot relate the projection to a changing viewer distance
and the canvas size, which is also a flexible variable. Using D. G., the result is a fairly precise unified view of
all the elements of the painting, just as if the canvas were a clear window, which is just the effect the aviation
artist is trying to achieve.
Notice that the wing is only a flat plane as seen here - I will have to account for
the airfoil shape in the final drawing when adding details such as the national insignias, and shell ejection ports and flap
and aileron outlines, etc. You can get a good idea of the small size of these initial projections by comparing
the sketch with the 1/4" blue squares of the sectioned paper.
Compare this detail view of the near-finished outline with the small Descriptive Geometry plot directly
above (I would have shown you the whole P-47 here, but my scanner is too small). Notice everything appears to be
done except for the 108-gallon drop tank. When I'm satisfied with this basic outline view, I will photocopy it.
Then I will draw in the remaining details such as aircraft markings, the pilot, etc. Doing the latter on the photocopied
view allows me to erase (I do that a lot!) without destroying the precise detail you see here.
This is the third P-47 (relative to the viewer) all ready to take her place in the composition. Flying
wing in the far element, this is Capt. Lee Gover's P-47D-6, VF-G 42-74688, Miss San Carlos. Notice the
60" oversized national insignias on the wing undersides. You P-47-o-philes will have already noticed that this kite
has the whip antenna rather than the rigid mast. Luckily, I have a really nice 8" x 10" shot of the nose art.
I'm saving the two bigger (closer) planes for last, when I'm really in tune with the details of the complicated P-47.
Currently, I'm working at getting to this point with all four airplanes. After that, I'll position
the airplanes on the canvas based on my Descriptive Geometry plot layout. Satisfied with the arrangement of the airplanes
relative to each other (they should be flying the same heading!) and the background, I will then proceed to do a
detailed pencil drawing of the entire scene to layout the tones and values. Finally, I'll do the full sized piece.
Lots of work, but the results more than pay for themselves. As I've learned, unless you are just really blessed with
special artistic abilities (I am not), then you have to do things the hard way: one step at a time.
This is the fourth (furthest away from the viewer) kite. Lt. Louis H. "Red Dog" Norley pilots his
P-47C-2, VF-O, 41-6183, Red Dog. This airplane will be 5 1/2" inches long, nose to tail, in the final painting.
It's hard to do, but this airplane will (must!) display less detail, saturation of color, lighter and cooler values and
less crisp edges than the closest airplane. There are other things that happen to objects with "distance", but these
are the biggies.
All these things contribute heavily to adding depth to a flat surface. Adding detail "for details
sake" in distant airplanes is unnecessary and unintentionally focuses the eye "back there". A big part of the artist's
job is to lead the viewer around the painting by manipulating edges, color and detail. In other words, if it's supposed
to be far off in the distance - keep it there!
To break up the monotony of the tedious process of adding details to the outlines of all four airplanes,
I did this small pencil study of aircraft no. 3 (2nd smallest aircraft in the yellow sticky-note thumbnail). It's sort of
a "proof of concept" drawing validating the image in my head as far as the look I am going for - I think I'm on the right
track with these morning low-frontlit P-47s against the dark background. Before mixing paint, I'll do a similar pencil study
of the entire painting - probably around half size. That way most of my tonal/value problems will be addressed beforehand.
The pencil (value) study is a half-size black and white version of the entire painting. The purpose
of this study is to figure out the proper distribution of values as distributed among not only the surface of
each airplane, but each P-47 relative to the others. First thing I did on the pencil study is this P-47 (Eager
Beaver). This will be the closest Jug, as well as my center of interest, so the darkest darks, lightest lights,
brightest highlights and most saturated colors will appear on this ship. These elements need to be established from
the beginning, so as you can see, it's the first thing I've done on the pencil study. Full size she'll be about 22.5"
long, but this cropped-in drawing is about 11.25" long. I'm not at all concerned with detail here - that will
be added on the final work. After finishing all four airplanes, I'll work in the background values.
After finishing all four P-47s, I got my first real look at the airplanes flying together, that is, all
four were lit by the sun for the first time. Now comes the fun part - adding in the background. This is the first
integration of subject and background, and will hopefully match the picture I've had in my head for quite a while now.
Here I am just after starting to lay in the first backgound tones - it's amazing to watch everything come together at this
stage. The artwork literally comes to life right before your eyes! This pencil study measures 12" x 20", half
the size of the final painting.
Here's the completed half-size (12" x 20") pencil study. Not only does this give me an excellent idea
where I'll end up, but it allows me to literally "study" the final work before I even start on it. The more I looked
at this after I finished it, the more I realized that while I really like the overall composition, and especially the feeling
of flight and also the sense of speed and forward motion I get with the aircraft contrails, I sensed something was lacking.
The upper left corner of the canvas needed "something". There are only two things I could put in there without reconsidering
the entire composition: a relatively bright area hinting at the sun's light (nope - sun is too far off our left
shoulder to make that much of a difference), or . . . more contrails! But, of course! A few quick
swipes with the eraser, and viola! "Contrails", from a just-passed section of Jugs.
After marking off the precise location of each P-47, I then use drafting tape to secure the image, then
slide a small sheet of graphite transfer paper underneath it, and retrace every line. This leaves a ghostly outline
on the canvas. You can see the faint image of the largest P-47 just in front of my forehead.
After transferring all four P-47s, then pencilling in the contrails, horizon and cloud outlines, all that's
left to do is lightly go over each pencil line with a kneaded eraser to pick up as much graphite as I can. After a quick
dusting off with my 'art brush', I'm ready to start mixing paint! Here I am blending the last bits of contrail.
Next step is to work horizon down on the background, then start on the airplanes . . . can't wait for that! Notice the
ever-present pencil study. It and the half-completed color study I did (not shown) are my 'weathervanes' for tone, value
and color. They serve as 'guides' more than anything else, and as long as I glance at them every once in a
while, especially as I begin a new area on the painting, I feel like I know what I'm doing, and the confidence level is greatly
increased. Prior planning pays off!
To make a long story short, after spending all afternoon on the sky, I decided that I didn't like it!
So, making a command decision, I wiped it off. I decided to begin anew with the center of interest of the entire piece,
the largest P-47.
What you see here is the in-progress application of the "base coat" of oil paint. Relatively loosely
applied, the base coat allows me to play with values and temperatures without spending too much time on final details.
Later, I'll come back and, panel by panel, sharpen up edges, add oil stains, rivets, dzus fasteners, paint chips, etc, and
adjust areas of value and temperature (if necessary). It's easier to add these finishing details after the base
coat is pretty much dry. Notice that I laid in a little background sky color to provide a little contrast to the airplane.
Even though I refer to my pencil study (see above) constantly, it's really hard to judge the work so far without that big cast
shadow on the fuselage . . . that's next!
I really liked the progress of the main Thunderbolt, so I decided, on a whim, to play with some sky/cloud
color mixtures, and before I knew it, I was painting the sky (again), even though I was going to save the background until
later. Here I'm laying in some very subtle warm cloud color against the fuselage spine. I'm very happy with the
overall effect, which includes the noticeable, but not over-rendered, contrails. This soft hued background will
contrast nicely against the sharper airplane tones. I think at this stage that I'm going to go ahead and finish the
background completely, then come back in and work the airplanes.
After fiddling with it for almost too long, the background is now complete. Next, we have to
let the whole thing dry for several days before coming back to the main aircraft.
At this point, the main P-47 is fully blocked in. It looks complete at first glance, but a lot
of detail work, and some "tweaking" remains. However, the "hard" part is done. The all-important pattern
of lights and darks have been established, and experience gained here will speed things up on the other Thunderbolts.
Notice that I saved the nose art till now, as I wanted to put it up against a "finished" engine cowling.
Here's a detail shot taken around the same time as the one above it. The nose art is "in progress".
Aside from the nose art, the engine cowling and the small part of the fuselage back to the leading edge of the wing is
finished, complete with rivets, paint chips and oil stains. The rest of the airplane and drop tank are "base-coated"
only. The temptation is to depict every scratch and chip possible, but that rapidly produces an overworked effect -
dull, flat and uninteresting.
Lead ship (Gentile's Donnie Boy) is finished - only two to go! If you were to see the original,
you would notice a "toning down" of not only the color values and saturation, due the effects of atmospheric perspective (distance),
but also much less definition and detail than in the larger Thunderbolt. All this, and a little magic wand, AKA my paintbrush,
(hopefully) aids in the illusion of depth.
Three done - one to go! This one was a challenge because he's half-behind the contrail from Gentile's
'Eagles of Thunder' (detail)