If you have visited the Air and Space Museum on the Washington DC mall, you probably viewed the huge mural (above) of U.S. Army B-17 bombers under attack. It was painted by acclaimed aviation artist Keith Ferris (1929 - ). His Wikipedia entry is here. A series of images of his studio begins here.
There are three basic approaches to depicting the shape of an aircraft. One is to copy a photograph or use a photo as the basis and make slight adjustments to compensate for camera lens distortion of the subject. The second approach is to "eyeball" the subject, either by observing it in person or making use of reference photos so as to understand the subject's shape from differing viewpoints. This runs the greatest risk of creating an unrealistic depiction. Finally, the artist can make use of descriptive geometry to construct an image derived from two or more scaled profile of plan views of the subject airplane. Absent computer imaging software, description geometry is time-consuming, but yields proportionally accurate results (given the degree of perspective forcing used).
Keith Ferris preferred to use descriptive geometry, combining that with a good sense of composition and scene-setting.
First, I contrast Ferris' work with that of another famous aviation artist, Frank Wootton (1911-1998). I might be wrong, but I think Wootton either never used that approach or else did so seldomly. The Gloster Meteor jet fighters in the image above do not quite seem realistic to me. This might be due to a lack of photos of them at the time he made the painting not long after the war had ended.
Wootton painted this scene many years later. I need to note that most of his images were realistic views of the subject aircraft. But this Spitfire's wings seem out of proportion -- granting that "Spits" are difficult to draw properly. This is clearly a "freehand" job by Wootton.
Now a Spitfire depiction by Ferris.
It seem much more realistic because he did this workup before creating the final image.
I include this as another example of a descriptive geometry based illustration in process.
Photo from Farris' Web site showing him at work during an early stage of a project.
Ferris was the son of an Army Air Corps pilot who was stationed at Kelly Field (the main AAC training base during the 1930s). Keith would have been very young when P-3s were flown there, so this painting and the one below are more a tribute to that era than any distinct childhood memory of such planes.
One of many World War 2 images painted by Ferris.
The same squadron attacking B-17s. The Fw 190 was firing at the bomber and the B-17 was spitting back 30 caliber machine gun fire from two positions, each using two such weapons. In such a situation the German fighter might have been shot down instead of the bomber.