A few words on “Low Flyers” painted in 2012
This painting, which I’ve called “Low Flyers”, had been festering in my mind for some time before I was able to capture it on canvas. I knew it had to be imposing and I wanted it to take the viewer through a varied range of emotions. The canvas needed to be large to make an impact not only when viewed but I wanted it to be ‘heard’ too. So deafening yet so humbling that it almost falls silent, begging the question, if a young girl screams excitedly but no one can hear her, does she actually make a noise? I chose a 2ft by 3ft canvas and had to force myself to find enough time to put aside to create this piece. This decision was helped along by my family telling me that putting it on hold was starting to affect my commissioned work and I was also becoming impossible to live with! Incentive enough!
Canvas primed and eagerly grabbing my oils and brushes I was ready to capture the feeling of speed and raw overwhelming power.
So here it is. Just as the boys and the girl think they’ve reached the edge of a full adrenalin rush in their hot rods suddenly from nowhere comes the almighty sound and overpowering presence of a B17 Flying Fortress bomber accompanied by a P51 Mustang and a P47 Thunderbolt!
Flicking through some photos recently I came across a rarity, for me, in the way of a set of progress shots on one of my paintings.
I always try and remember to take progress photos when I’m painting, they make for a great record to look back on. But I’m usually so lost in the moment I totally forget. This time I’d had the great idea of sticking a post-it note on my studio door in the hope that when I headed for a coffee break I might just notice my sign to myself that reads simply “Take a Photo!”
So here I can share with you the few photos I remembered to take on the progress of a recent commissioned painting featuring some real American Icons, a Mustang, an F150 Pickup and a couple of Harley Davidsons all resting at a classic Gas Station.
I had a good few photos presented to me from which I was able to choose suitable angles to work with …
The brief was to capture these two as the main feature and, although the setting was left to me, a Gas Station had been suggested. This was going to be a present for my client’s wife, she being the owner of both bike and car. Knowing him as well as I do I thought with only a little detective work I just might be able to get hold of a couple of shots of his bike and truck and slip them in to the background somewhere as a little surprise for him too. Good old Facebook didn’t let me down as a good source of photos.
So a few quick sketches were doodled for composition and Gas Station design (sorry I’ve no photos of those) and then I was straight onto the canvas …
You’ll notice I’d progressed quite well into this painting before remembering to take a photo! But you’ll see a strong underpainting in sepia browns that I usually let dry overnight before working, as always, from the back to the foreground. In particular here you’ll see I’m already adding the surprise bike and truck, whilst leaning on my trusty self-made mahl stick with tiny brush in hand.
Working on the building here and also defining the road on the left, including the white stripe that really helps to add depth to this composition as well as maybe lead your eye off to the distance to go exploring.
Big jumps in the progress of this as, like I’ve mentioned, it’s so easy to get so deep “in the zone” you forget you’ve told yourself to stop now and then to take a snap-shot.
Here I am getting lost in all the chrome and details of the Harley. Motorcycles can take so much time to complete, and get right! So there’s my tiny brush again working overtime.
And here’s the finished result from burning the midnight oil. It’s hard to get a good photo of a shiny Oil Painting under artificial light but I’m sure you get the idea …
I’ve resisted Zombies for far too long …
Scribbling away at trying to come up with a girl to feature in one of my paintings I was determined I didn’t want her to be obviously pretty and draped across a car, I mean, how often has that been done …
No, I wanted a character that left you asking questions.
Doodling frantically I was conjuring up a backdrop in my head, and the scene was quickly becoming rather apocalyptic. My ideas heading towards a gloomy uninviting American Diner with broken buzzing neons and unwelcoming signage. I was sketching an “Eat Here” sign and whilst going back over the lettering with darker thicker lines I stopped at EAT HER … and thought “Zombies!”
To The Canvas …
Although it’s not necessarily noticeable straight away, which is how I want it, the whole composition is based around the large image of a skull.
These early stages are always the trickiest ones where too much coffee is consumed and there’s a lot of sitting and staring …
As progress unfolds there’s something not working for me as I try to fit everything around the large skull hidden in the Diner …
At this stage I stop! … drink more coffee, stare and curse!
That skull just isn’t working where it is, it isn’t lining up with the car. But I’ve put so much work into it already. Yes, but it’s in the wrong place and also, those eyes are a little bit …. comical! Ouch, comical? Do I have to be so brutal and honest?! Well okay, you carry on then if you don’t want to hear it, but you’ll be cursing all the way through to the end of this one if you don’t do something about it now …
One more coffee and …
… and I have to admit that the skull was never going to work where it was, and okay it didn’t look angry it looked … comical
So I scrub it out and paint over it moving the skull just a little to the left so the top jaw and cheekbone lines up with the C pillar and roof of the Cougar and whilst doing so I work on changing the mood of the expression from, what I thought was, angry to a little more sinister …
Of course this is much easier said than done as I now have to re-work the Diner to suit. This entails subtle changes to the details, things like the corrugated iron, the layout of the windows, the doorway and the smoke coming out of the chimney. You’ll see I added another chimney …
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, things are lining up, falling into place and looking good. Another coffee I think, and then on with the details, like some neon signs and that area on the left where the light is coming through. It needs something, or someone, to just catch the eye …
Coffee break …
Painting a Portrait
So now I’m really getting into the details and focusing on the area that’s going to grab the most attention, the girl …
I find the subject of pretty girls one of the hardest things to paint. One little misdirected brushstroke and all of a sudden no longer is she pretty. The face I’m painting here is no larger than my thumb nail …
… just a little more close up work …
… and I think she’s done …
So it’s time for another coffee before taking a look at the canvas again as a whole.
The Final Run …
With the girl in place and the major details dealt with it’s time to work around the canvas adding and tweaking …
I pull out skulls from the shadows and contours of the ground as they almost seem to present themselves to me. And I tweak the lights, not only on the Mercury but also the neon signs and the lights inside the diner. Adding highlights, shadows and details that complement the overall composition, including birds on the wires, I stand back from the canvas making sure the major skull is not lost within the picture and yet still not too obvious. Just a few more brushstrokes, a little more looking, maybe one more coffee, until …
It’s finished! Almost an anti-climax as I stand there with a loaded brush and nowhere to offload the paint. It’s done. I didn’t decide it was done, it kinda decided for me.
So there you have it, the ramblings of mind and coffee as another artwork is produced and another image is set free from my imaginings.
Prints are available, click the image for a link:
I’ve recently finished this commissioned oil painting featuring The Crop Duster Funny Car and it’s companion The M&R Special Slingshot Dragster parked up in the Grove at Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, California. You may not notice at first that a crop duster light aircraft also appears in the artwork …
My clients for this one are long-term collectors of my work and now good friends. The brief was simple as they have come to trust in what I produce.
Working with a selection of their photos of the featured cars and plane and some of my own photos of the Grove at Famoso I was able to come up with a composition that not only worked well for featuring everything requested but, even at the rough drawing stage, excited me!
I was quick to grab a 20″ x 16″ canvas and set to work drawing up the composition in more detail and colour washing the canvas to get rid of the bright white background …
So here’s some progress pics …
I’m happy to say that my clients were very pleased with the results, as were the owners of the cars, and plane.
How I get from this 2 x 3 inch doodle …
to this 2 x 3 foot painting…
Here’s an example of how it all comes together.
I’d met Les, Ros and their little boy Sonny-Ray at quite a few car shows, and we’d talked often about having their cars and Sonny-Ray painted.
As always, I tell people I work from photos, usually their own, though occasionally I take the photos myself if the subject is close by. Les and Ros had the idea of capturing everything that was special to them in one big painting. So they sent me some photos of their cars, their home, two dogs, and of course Sonny-Ray.
Les & Ros knew the size they wanted but left it to me to come up with a composition. I usually doodle a few sketches when there’s so many subjects to capture, but with this one I could see a layout that would work straight away.
By placing the ’55 Oldsmobile Starfire center stage I had somewhere to put Sonny-Ray, and as it’s a convertible, there’s no roof to get in the way of their cottage. Using a rear three-quarter angle meant the windshield did not impose on Sonny-Ray and it also gave me the opportunity to show off that continental style rear end.
I drew a slightly more detailed sketch to present to Les & Ros.
They were pleased with the composition.
I had quite a few photos of Sonny-Ray to work with but the one I kept coming back to was of him in his cart where he seemed to be transfixed by something ahead. I had the idea of him and their little pug dog both looking at the same thing, my first thought being a butterfly. I had ideas of other things to catch his attention but I often find the immediate thoughts are the best.
So I was ready to commit my idea to canvas.
I usually start by drawing the composition straight onto the canvas followed by a wash of colour with hints of light and dark to get rid of the expanse of white.
Starting in the distance and working forward means the sky is the first area I work on. This sets the mood of the painting almost instantly.
The cottage is by the sea and when you’ve a low horizon to play with what’s nicer than a sunset? Not too late in the evening though because of Sonny-Ray’s bedtime.
Once the surrounding hedges are painted attention is given to the cottage.
With the canvas being so large these images don’t show the details
So here’s a close up of the area where the path arrives at the front door.
Having met both dogs this one, “Missey Mae”, is such a gentle giant compared to “Big Boy” the little Pug.
Now the lawn is complete the scene is set and work begins on the vehicles. I start at the back and give attention to the caravan (or travel trailer).
Here’s a close up of the Chevy. When a painting is created from several different photographs I like to try and tie things together. Here I had the chance to reflect the front of the Starfire into the Chevy’s hub-cap.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop when it comes to reflections!
Here’s a close up of highlights in the chrome and paintwork.
Having completed the old Chevy and caravan I am now putting the finishing touches to the 1952 Oldsmobile.
Work can now begin on the 1955 Oldsmobile Starfire. Such a beautiful blue and so reflective.
Again, these images don’t really give a feel of just how big this car is on the canvas
The closer you look the more you might realise how little blue I use. There’s quite a pinkish hue to the top of the trunk lid.
And down the side of the car the lawn is reflected.
For me the juiciest bit has to be all that mirror like chrome on the continental kit.
And now I start on the main center of interest within this whole painting, Sonny-Ray.
Even though he only takes up a small area of this canvas, all eyes fall on him.
And more specifically, it’s his little face we can’t help but zoom into. It’s this area that, per square inch, I spend most of my time.
So now the painting starts to get quirky as I turn my attention to the little pug and to what all the fuss is about….
A butterfly that probably sits within a two-inch square on this two feet by three feet canvas.
Having gone to bed thinking the painting was finished, I looked the next morning with fresh eyes and my attention was drawn to this area.
Something just wasn’t quite right, and after a cup of coffee, it hit me that the rear wing of the car was looking too simple because I hadn’t seen that the little pug and the cart needed to be reflected into the car.
I set to it and straight away everything ties together.
Now the painting is finished.
So how do I know when the painting is complete?
When there’s nowhere left to put the next brush stroke. I might be stood there with a loaded brush and it just subtly let’s me know we’re done.
This one took just a little over two weeks
So there we have it, a huge painting of a little boy who spots a butterfly, simple.
And if you’re left wondering what Les and Ros thought of their painting,
they sent me this to share with you…
Dear Ian –
As you know we waited patiently in line for our turn. At various car shows we supplied you with photos and wish lists with enthusiastic anticipation that our commission would include all the things that we hold dear. Our home, our classic cars, our American Bull “Missy-Mae”, our pug “Big-Boy” and most importantly our 3-year-old son “Sonny-Ray Peek” (he is growing so swiftly we wanted him preserved as our baby!)
We were glad to leave it to you to decide on the paintings content even suggesting that Sonny could be prominent or obscure (like Where’s Wally?) you were left to decide.
Your pencil sketch was well received but we never imagined just how fantastic the painting would turn out to be. As we said to you on the phone tonight we cannot believe the detail, the reflections, the sky, the realism, the proportions, the butterfly (we had 1000’s the same in summer) the…..
Les cried…. we cannot emphasise to you enough just how grateful we are. You are so talented Ian & if you are ever near Goldhanger come and see for yourself. It is perfect!
Thank-you so much 🙂 😉 😉