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Welcome to a new work in progress depicting a Sopwith Pup of 66 Squadron.
This image was commissioned for the cover of a new bookazine ‘Duelling Above the Trenches: Sopwith Aircraft of the Great War’, due out in June 2014. It will depict Australian pilot Lieutenant Patrick Gordon Taylor of 66 Squadron RFC shooting down a German reconnaissance Albatros C type on the morning of 7th June 1917, whilst the Battle of Messines Ridge plays out below.
In the background, ‘A’ flight leader Jock Andrews will be seen engaging another Albatros C type.
Although this is mainly for the cover of an A4 magazine, I decided to paint the image on a larger landscape format canvas (30″ x 20″) so that the entire image can be used as a two page spread inside the magazine. This also gives me the option of producing prints from what should be a very strong image. The first stage is to put some paint on to roughly work out the colour, light and horizon position.
The aircraft is roughly blocked in at this early stage so that I can assess how light or dark the background needs to be.
Now it’s back to the sky and a lot of work on the clouds trying to capture the mood of the painting. This stage can take one day or one week depending upon whether I can capture what’s in my head or not! I like these clouds and was quite interested in having the vanishing point going way off to the right as opposed to the obvious point behind the aircraft. Not sure if it’ll stay like that but I like it at this stage.
This stage shows a smoothing and a simplification of the sky with thin washes as I start to define the aircraft. This is usually necessary because when the aircraft starts to be detailed, a busy sky and landscape can start to compete with the aircraft. That’s why I have to keep switching between the aircraft and the sky to make sure they work nicely together.
In every painting there’s usually a turning point, and this is it! The main thing that was troubling me was the fact that a huge bombardment was going on down below and the pilot described the air as smoke filled and hazy. As such, although I liked the fields, it needed to be hazier, which was one of the main reasons I set it against the light in the first place. So, I got the big brush out and started to totally rework the landscape and cloud below. This also gives me the opportunity to re-position the vanishing point in the clouds to behind the aircraft to help with the impression of movement. It needs a lot more work but it is now capturing the atmosphere that I wanted.
Two pretty full days of detailing later and the painting starts to come into focus. I darkened the distant clouds to give some definition to the horizon and then worked on the battlefield to give an impression of shelling in progress. After this I returned to the aircraft and started the laborious work of checking the shape, structure and perspective before commencing the long and slow job of detailing. The Pup is about half-way at the moment, the pilot, wheels, struts and rigging all need to be completed. Tonight, I’ll probably look at sketching the Albatros in position for a bit of light relief!
So last night I put the Albatros in, just for a break from the detailing work on the Pup. I also took the chance to add a bit more smoke down below and tidy the clouds up a bit as once the rigging goes on a biplane you don’t want to be altering the clouds behind it again! Today I went back onto the Pup and finished the detail work, there are a few minor things to check but it’s about there now.
Still left to do are two more smaller aircraft, along with finishing the Albatros and then reworking the ground a bit to make the composition work. The next update should show the final result.
After a few more days of fine detail work along with some broader reworking of the cloud and smoke, I think I can say it’s finished. I still need to run it by a couple of WWI experts as these aircraft varied so much even between individual examples, so a second opinion is always valued.
The title is Combat over Messines and we should have the image for sale as a print within a few days. The bookazine ‘Duelling Above the Trenches: Sopwith Aircraft of the Great War’ for which it was commissioned should be out later in the year. Hope you found it interesting!