27 August, 2015

Profile 105: FINISHED—"SDANG" F-51 and Sliver Phantoms.

"Break! Break"

Allow me a second to describe how I'm in business. 

Anyone can draw airplanes.  To prove it, if we ever meet, I can teach you how to draw an F4F Wildcat in less than 5 minutes.  And if you practice for a bit, you can probably give me serious competition.

My airplane art is...(sigh) a commodity. 

BUT, as you might already know, the value in my artwork is that it is signed by the pilot who flew it in combat.  That is not a commodity.   The reasons 'why' I do this should be self-evident to you as a reader.  For now, however, you might be interested to learn 'how.'   In two words:  digital printing.   And, digital printing has been to the printing industry what digital cameras have been to the photography industry:  transformational. 

Let me explain.

Twenty years ago, I would have drawn my airplane with a pencil and colored it in with an airbrush or a colored pencil.  This is actually a sweet and theraputic process that would have resulted in a physical drawing about 24 inches by 48 inches.  

Then, I would have hired a photographer—one that had a large-format camera, prior experience and an eye for the particular job—to take a picture of the artwork using especially high quality film.  Once the film was developed, the negative would then be transfered onto "plates"  that would correspond to varying degrees of Light Blue (Cyan), Pink (Magenta), Yellow and Black.  These plates would then be used as "stencils" (sort of) that would apply the inks in such a way that the end result would be an optical illusion that would look like...well, one of my color drawings.

4-color separations kinda look like this.  This is only a simulation but you get the idea.

It's called a "4-color Process" and it's been the accepted way to reproduce color photography and artwork for a long time.

But, it's time consuming, costly and leaves little room for error.  And it's a process that's dependent upon a fair amount of skill all around—from the artist to the photographer to the plate maker (called a stripper and usually a grumpy guy with OCD) to the pressman (another grumpy guy with a different kind of OCD)...

...from finished art to finished prints, the process took about two weeks.

However using today's digital press, I simply walk into my printer's office, drop a USB-drive off with the pressman and later that afternoon, stop by for a press check that is almost always PERFECT.  And a half hour later, I walk out with prints.

From finished art to finished prints, the process takes about two hours.

When interviewing "old guys and drawing their airplanes," that time saving can mean the difference in getting the story and having it fly off into eternity without anyone being the wiser.  Which kind of reminds me of that old phrase, "When an old man dies, a library burns."  But that's a whole'nuther topic altogether.

Anyways, my first limited edition print run was in 2003. A few months later, another edition was literally printed in the morning and on the plane to an interview with me that afternoon!  Fantastic, eh?

Over the years, I've used a wide variety of digital printers.  From the home variety to the ones that are delivered in semi-trucks and require print shops to move to bigger buildings.   Some are good at this, some at that...but the one that I've found that's good at everything I need is made by Xerox.  In fact, I've been using a particular Xerox printer almost exclusively now for the past three years.*

This is what a typical press-check scene looks like.  On a normal 4-color press, this could take hours.
With Xerox's digital press, it takes...like...two minutes.

There are three reasons I have come to insist on Xerox's process: color accuracy, color consistency and a brilliant process that coats my image with clear 'varnish' to aid in the protection of the image. 

Well, Xerox caught wind of my loyalty and wondered if I would have any interest in a new development they have perfected:  metallic ink.

"Would I?!  Duh!  Show me the metal!!"

Well before I wax poetic about actually doing silver airplanes in SILVER, have another look at the F-51 Mustang above.

This particular Mustang was actually commissioned by the fundraising arm of the Veteran's Memorial Park (VMP) of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It's a representation of the first aircraft flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard and a full-size replica will become part of a pretty awesome outdoor memorial.
Concept art of the proposed Veteran's Park Memorial © Confluence

The VMP will offer my artwork, hopefully signed by an SDANG pilot who flew the F-51, to the community as a fundraiser. It should be a pretty awesome way for people to recognize the service of the area veterans and also (cough cough) have something cool on the wall.

It's probably my best F/P-51 ever. 

Ok.  Back to Xerox.

Recently (as in really recently) they printed my F-51 using this new metallic ink process and shipped a box to me.  Evidently, they're using it as a tradeshow premium.  But for me, I was so gobsmacked by how cool it was to see a silver F-51 actually printed in silver ink that I neglected to keep a single piece for my records. 


But, the folks at Xerox were kind enough to sponsor our next episode of "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" and actually used their silver ink in a special run of my drawings of Charlie Plumb's F-4B and C-141A.

I wish you could reach through the monitor and see the subtle yet very real distinction this touch makes to my art.   A photo of this special "Silver Edition" of Charlie's F-4B and C-141A is shown above and it doesn't do it justice.  However, if you're interested, you can purchase one of these "Silver Edition" prints on my website by clicking here (proceeds go to the SoCal Wing of the Commemorative Air Force).

In the meantime, I am truly grateful for the team at Xerox for their work.

And now you know HOW I can do what I do!  (Watch the video below to find out what Charlie has been wanting to do for a long time, too).