YAH-64 Airbrush Rendering


YAH-64 Airbrush Rendering

While waiting for the outcome of my medical grounding at flight school I spent my time working at the U.S. Army Aviation Digest. I was blessed with a wonderful boss in Dick Tierney the editor there; he knew the strain I was under “waiting for the executioner” so he was pretty flexible with my duties.

I’ve always loved aircraft profiles and while I was at the Digest I had the time and resources to try my hand at that very exacting form of illustration. I chose the prototype for the AH-64 Apache ( you can see some differences) but for some reason they didn’t want me to show the entire aircraft.

I had to leave the original art when I left the Digest when I found out that as a commissioned officer everything I had created while I was there was technically government property. As I had a good image of this piece I gave it up as a diversion while I snuck out the back door with the Cobra Up-date art.

Maintenance Article: U.S. Army Aviation Digest


Maintenance Article: U.S. Army Aviation Digest

Another one of my early “LT Moonlight” illustrations for which unfortunately I cannot remember the title – though I can recall that it was done during down time between primary flight training and UH-1 transition during flight school. I also had a wretched upper respiratory infection with fevers that spiked at 103…so maybe I can be forgiven my memory loss regarding the title.

I do remember the article though – it was about the dangers of skipping over maintenance records before flying. The helicopter in question had a defect that almost killed the pilot/author. Since I came out of the conceptual school of illustration, I pursued a symbolic approach rather than something strict narrative or literal and as aviators tend to be very exact about things I expected some “guff” about it. However, the tide of approval was overwhelming in favor – as one crusty CW-3 put it “There’s no (bleep) way that you can misunderstand the point of this story. You got the (bleep)ing point across great LT!)

Monday morning quarterback time – there are two things I’d do differently now 1) I would have left out the standing figure in the middle. My idea was to emphasize how the pilot was torn between a sense of urgency and safety but I think the two side-profile busts would have even been more effect just the two of them together. 2) I wish I’d have gotten an actual Uncorrected Fault Record and physically cut-and-paste it into the art rather than draw it.

Gun Kingdoms I Cover Art


Gun Kingdoms I Cover Art

With all the emphasis on our new book (Airship of Fools), I thought it would be nice to show the cover art for the first book. This will also give most of you a chance to see the entire painting as well; by the time the text lines and graphic devices were added, 15%-20% of the image was lost.

I loved doing this painting because it was created with my old process (airbrush/paint/pencil) that actually a lot more fun to do with the wide variation in tools and activity. I think that this process also makes a painting with a bit more “pop” to it.




My signature piece during the late 1980s. Airbrush, acrylic and colored pencil on hot-press watercolor board. I don’t have the dimensions handy but I am thinking it’s about 24″H X 20″V.

Looking at this painting conjures up some very conflicting memories. I did it in the late summer of 1986: I was suffering through the initial onset flare of ankylosing spondylitis which brought with it chronic severe back pain interspersed with spasms in my chest and an elevated sedimentation level in my blood that had the doctors considering rheumatic fever at first. We were living in Orem, Utah so it was very hot – but I did have a second story studio over the garage which provided me with a nice cross breeze. I was listening to John LeCarre novels on books-on-tape and I was extremely homesick. I had been able to fly north for my sister Robin’s graduation the previous spring but the visit just wasn’t long enough for my taste

So, I look at this and think of homesick spies with back-aches sweating in 90 degree weather with 0% humidity….

Creative Curmudgeon Commentary 3: No Golden Tickets.

 I’ve been teaching since 1988 and during that time I have seen an unfortunate trend growing – the idea of the “golden ticket”. Other than being a major plot point in the sadly misunderstood Arnold Schwarzenegger 1993 action flick ‘The Last Action Hero” a “Golden Ticket” is something – a tool or qualification that will inexplicably grant you incredible success by merely being in your possession. Aladdin’s Lamp. Green Lantern’s ring. An airbrush. A Waccum tablet.

 Or a degree.

 It’s sad because students pass through my classes now with absolutely no desire to actually learn anything. They seem to be there solely to pass the class with as little work and as high a grade as possible in order to check off a box on the way to a degree which they assume automatically qualifies and entitles them to an extremely well-paying job. I can understand being pragmatic about school but I still think it’s sad – they miss so much during school and crash so hard when their entry-level job does not come with a corner office and a six figure salary.

 I worked my way through undergraduate work before there were Pell grants and it took me twelve semesters to earn a Bachelors of Arts (BA) degree in April of 1979. Not many people on either side of my family had earned college degrees, but I felt bad because it was getting a BA instead of a BFA – a bachelor of fine arts that was a bit more specialized and a notch up in status. Unfortunately there were a number of my fellow students and faculty members that made sure I knew the difference. I mean really, really really made sure that there was no question in my mind that a simple BA was just barely above “wash-out”  

 There wasn’t much I could have done differently:

  • I was attending schools located 3000 miles away from my home and support system.
  • I attended three different schools,
  • I made a drastic change in my major (pre-law to art) and then changed my area of emphasis within my major.
  • I was extensively involved with ROTC
  • I took a two year break right half-way through and also went to school part time for three other semesters as well.  
  • I was married for the last two years of school
  • My summers were not available for internships – I worked as a roustabout in an oil field.

 My insecurities were eased a year later when I was working at The U.S. Army Aviation Digest. The officer in charge at TSC (Training Support Command) had seen my work, liked it and invited me down for an afternoon to look around his facility.  This was long before computers or PowerPoints so instructors used slides to accompany lectures – and the slides were produced by a stable full of civilian illustrators at TSC.

  Please excuse the horrible pun but the visit was an illuminating experience for me.  I looked through the building I noticed that there was a common decorating motif in all the artists’ cubicles. Hanging on the walls would be:

  • Sketches and reference material for their current projects
  • An outside “signature piece” –something done outside of work that the artist felt represented their talents better than the little pot-boiler lecture slides they were doing for TSC
  • The artist’s framed diploma.

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. While close to 100% of the framed diplomas were for BFA degrees, 75% of the artists working in those cubicles were “not-very-good” artists. I won’t say bad – because there were a couple of nicely rendered spots in some of the slide illustrations that people were working on that day, but most of the work there was several levels below what I had been led to expect out of someone holding a BFA degree.

It was my first lesson about golden tickets…

…but you know the door often swings both ways. In our last episode of CCC I talked about not chasing clients and how there are some people who will lead you on for years…and as I inferred this has happened to me. In my case the person in question also suggested that I go back to school and take some figure-drawing lessons. Why the nerve! I was a successful freelance illustrator with an appropriate level of awards and recognition for the stage I was at. I judged the comment to be another one of those Manhattan thumb-to-nose gestures given to”flyover people” and moved on with my career without that client.

…but a decade later the issue came up again, though the second time it was me talking to me.  As I was closing in on 50 I had to admit that my figure drawing needed improving.   I had plenty of tricks to help me get by: I used projectors, I’d ask Lori to “edit” all my faces…I even went so far as to downplay the detail and finish on hardware pieces so those areas wouldn’t overpower my figures – but the fact remained that I wanted to be one of those guys who could sit down and just knock something great out my sketchbook in fifteen minutes

So I sent myself back to school. No, I didn’t take classes, but I set up a figure drawing program to build my skills. For almost ten years I studied, maintained a special reference binder, and drew. Not just lower-case “la-dee-dah” drawing – I DREW!  In addition to any other project I had going on at the time I worked in my sketchbook at least twice a week – sometimes three times – and in the end it paid off as you can see below.

So, again – there are no “golden tickets” in this business. I may joke and tell people that “illustration is all a bunch of cheap tricks – and they all work” but even with the cheap tricks you have to push yourself. On his death bed Michelangelo Buonarroti kept saying “I have so much yet to learn” and he was in his late 80s when he cleaned his brushes for the last time. You have to rid yourself of the idea that there will be a time when you can just “punch a ticket” or coast –

….and if that is too hard to do then I would recommend AFLAC and their great training program.

drawing progress