17 May, 2021

Profile 150: (UPDATE) Boeing B-17G-20 as flown by (Shhhh) of the 390th BG, 569th BS

This post is in response to two reader's recent questions regarding my work. 

Q:  How many people does it take to draw an airplane?

A:  It depends.  But in this case, seven!

I can't name-names but on a typical-bases, here's the break down:

1. Patron(s)

Click here.  It tells the story of "Patrons."

You've heard the expression, "Starving Artist"?   Yeah, well being an artist is great.  Starving only works for super-models.  So, I work to get paid, hence my appreciation for the word, "Patron."

But the Patron does more than simply bankroll the project.   The Patron is actually the vibe-setter which, is  absolutely as important as having a check that 'clears.'

Patrons are individuals, organizations — sometimes families — that originate the idea that "we need to make sure (insert name) gets memorialized.  Nevertheless, most of what people have heard about 'creative types' is true; we can be mercurial, capricious and (sometimes) clueless.  Thus, a Patron also establishes "Why" the project is important as the "why" is the bedrock that supports getting the project started and completed (on time).

In this particular case, the Patron is an organization that desires to honor a living WWII veteran currently playing an extraordinary role in his community.  More on that later (and you'll like it)!

Nevertheless, when a Patron contacts me for a project, he/she/it begins what is called a Commission.  But, Commissions are simply marching-orders.  The 'work' needs to begin!

2. Promoter(s)

That'd be "Heath'uh."*
She's the grand daught'uh of WWII ex-POW Chris Morgan.
To me, she personifies "Promoter" as she connected me with Chris
and has been a tireless supporter of his story.  She's shown in Burma (Mayanmar)
at the grave of Chris's friend, Jim Drake.  Click the link, watch the film.  Don't be "...dead by Christmas", ok?

Promoters are the support-folk behind the Patron.  They're employees, family, friends that help make sure the Commission proceeds as desired, as needed. 

Promoters help with research, obtaining reference material (historical photos, artifacts, lining up conversations...).  Promoters also end up with making sure the desired audience is aware of what's going on.  Sometimes that means email blasts, social media campaigns, media interviews... and sometimes putting a lid on the whole deal.

True story:  a Patron (whom I never got to actually meet) told one of his/her/its employees to "...have (me) draw my airplane as a gift for "Tom Smith."  I ended up working with a woman who had no idea what I was actually drawing but had a perfect idea of what needed to be done.  She was firm, direct... and when the drawing was completed, she let me know in no uncertain terms that 'this project' would be kept wholly secret and forever (otherwise) unknown.   Hmmm, a mystery! 

Secrecy or not, without Promoters, the art doesn't stand much of a chance to get anywhere beyond my desk.

In this case however, the Promoters definitely want to make this B-17 drawing a big deal. Once completed, there will be NO mystery.  But for now...  (nothing to see here, move along)

Except someone's got to make sure it's right, right?  After all, B-17s had purple tails, right?

Uh, say hello to...

3.  Rivet Counters(s)

94.36% of the time, Rivet Counters become the crucial players in a project.

Out in public, Rivet Counters are otherwise-invisible people we pass in the grocery store aisle, ignore at the intersection stoplight or never really engage at the office.  Faceless and nameless, they putter through life doing this/that until...

...their precise, technical, historic encyclopedia of knowledge is needed!  Then, they spring to power like the superheroes they are. In this particular case,  three RCs have provided crucial commentary to ensure that the coloration** is correct.  The markings are correct.  They weathering is correct.  The shape is correct...

Bottom line:  without the RCs, my artwork stands a great chance of being far worse than it looks.  True-story:  the RCs that help with my projects are diverse and legion; they're located in England, Ireland, Finland, France, Germany, Vietnam, Hungary, Australia, Japan... and of course the United States.

I love RCs.  They also drive me nuts.  Especially when they reveal a fatal flaw two hours before a press check! Just for the record, I have a few RC tendencies but there's a reason I like the full-blown versions hanging around the Studio.

Nevertheless, there's a time when the critique must be closed and the artwork sent to...

4.  Vendor(s)

The TBF-1C I drew as flown by Ben Phillips, VMTB-134.
It has JUST come off the XEROX 800 press. 

My style is not "fine art."  As much as I'd think it'd be amusing, there will never be a private exhibition/wine tasting/Ferrari Concours to 'feature' my work.  What I do is made for (low) quantity production. And, as it's a representation of a physical, defined object (as opposed to impressionist or abstract artwork), "it is, what it is." 

But, that doesn't mean the artwork doesn't have extraordinary value. People put it on the wall for their own inspiration — oftentimes, for totally different reasons:

"Grandpa's airplane."
"I love America!"
"A time when people came together."
"I love (insert aircraft name)!!"
"Something to remind my clients of..."

The moment I get Commissioned, my first thought is, "How many people will want this piece?"  To that point, I become dependent upon the technology, skill and quality of various sorts of printing operations.  

Ink formulations, paper composition, packaging are technical details that have a boggling number of permutations that totally affect the finished piece.  The vendors that reproduce my artwork are among the very, very best in their professions, having experience that span decades.  Additionally, they're people who truly share the passion for what we're all trying to accomplish.

True story: a partner of a particular vendor came into work on a Sunday morning to supervise a particular job to meet a particular deadline.  Remarkable?  Yes.  But that he was in the middle of excruciating chemotherapy and needed help getting into the shop from his wife is even more so.  RIP, Terry***.  You will never, ever be replaced...

Nevertheless, after the printing press ceases its work and all the prints are nicely 'jacked' and sealed, my airplane drawings are about to meet their moment of glory via...

5.  The Story.

Ben Phillips, pilot of the last TBF Avenger produced by Grumman, signs
my prints.  They were once ink-on-paper. 

Now?  They're historical artifacts.

At last count, my art is in museums, galleries and collections in fourteen countries.  Is it because I'm a brilliant artist?


Do you know how many people draw airplanes?  Lots.  Do you know how many are better-at-it than me?  Lots.  Four names come immediately to mind — Marc Poole, Rick Herter, Ian Garska and the AMAZING ROY GRINNELL...   

The power behind my distribution is fueled by the STORY behind it.  And that story is embodied in the signature of the person who made the story human.  There is no mistake: this is what Patrons (and their audience) truly want to see.  I could draw an airplane with a Q-tip™ dipped in nail polish and if the eyewitness-to-history signs it, the work steps out of 'art' and becomes an artifact.

People want to be inspired by this real connection and that's way beyond  anyone's involvement.  Frankly, it's especially great for me because it makes sure that any artist-ego I have is rightfully checked at the door.  

We stand on the shoulders of giants, eh?  A humble spot, but from here, if the sky's clear, we can see for miles!

So, that all being said, you should see the next "Progress Update" on this B-17!

Many hours span the distance between the progress-shot at the top of this page vs. the one below.  But if I've held your attention, you'll also see that those hours have included a terrific group of people, hand-to-plow, for the purpose at hand.

So... when will it be finished?  

In the next post, I'll show the next-to-last update as well as delve into the actual history of the aircraft. 

It will also be the the last one before The Event.  There won't be exotic cars on the lawn, exquisite Bordeaux or impossibly dressed art-types.   But, there will be grateful souls coming together to remember a fantastic moment in history and the life-long service of a remarkable man.

You're invited and there'll be more than a few that will like to meet you — the fact that you're reading this post at all means that somehow, some way, you're already part of the team.  

Please put the 390th BG Museum on your to-do list for 26 June, 2021.  And if you can't make it to Tucson, we'll see about live-casting the moment.

Details in the next post.


An RC totally trashed this to the point I had no spiritual recourse other than to redo it.

The next update is better.

Promise.  You can go back to your lunch, Bob.  Thank you.  And go away.  For now.


*Chris Morgan spoke with a (very) New Yahk accent.  True story - he left a message for me on my phone a few weeks before he died.  I have kept it and periodically listen just to bring back the powerful memories of a good man.

**Coloration.  Ha.  Don't get me started on what-color "Olive Drab 41" really was/is.  History writer/pundit Barrett Tillman once told me, "Nothing is true in markings!"  Paint two P-51s with the same lot of 1943-spec Olive Drab paint, ship one to rainy, cool England and send the other to muggy, hot India and in two months, the airplanes will look like they're world's apart.  Which they were. 

***What is it with Printers in that they simply can't stop working?!?  If you know one - especially the old-schoolers who have real ink jammed up their (oft tobacco stained) fingernails, send them some love & appreciation.  But hold your critique; they'll never slow down.  Ink is in their blood.