Thursday, September 5, 2019

Keith Ferris: Disciplined Aviation Artist

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.


Dawn of a New Era - No. 504 Squadron Meteor IIIs over central London - by Frank Wootton - 1945
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.

First of the Few - test flight of first production Spitfire - by Frank Wootton - 1980
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.

Spitfire - by Keith Ferris
Now a Spitfire depiction by Ferris.

Spitfire workup - by Keith Ferris
It seem much more realistic because he did this workup before creating the final image.

Descriptive geometry detail of F-4 Phantom - by Wade Meyers
I include this as another example of a descriptive geometry based illustration in process.

Keith Ferris doing a workup at his drawing board
Photo from Farris' Web site showing him at work during an early stage of a project.

Farmer's Nightmare - Curtiss P-3A from Kelly Field, Texas
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.

Curtiss P-3As over Kelley Field

Real Trouble - Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 interceptors
One of many World War 2 images painted by Ferris.

Test of Courage - Fw 190 attacking a B-17
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.

To Little, Too Late - showing one of the few Army P-40s that got airborne during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Russell J. Brown shooting down a MiG-15 in the first jet-to-jet air combat, 8 November, 1950

Battle of Bien How Air Base - F-100 scramble


John Paul Jones said...

Thank you for another article on aviation art and this time the artist Keith Ferris.
I admire Frank Wootton very much and agree he actually drew his aircraft, some appearing a little off. Having said that I wish I could draw and paint as well as he did.
Also Wade Meyers offered a book on Descriptive Geometry.
One small correction if I may, the biplanes depicted in Farmers Nightmare and P-3s over Kelly are early Boeing P-12s and not Curtiss P-3s. Careful, Boeing may have you banished from Seattle for that.

emjayay said...

I never heard of the Meteors. Now I know.

But, yeah, for example the engine pods in the Wooten painting are far too bulbous.

Fans of this kind of thing (the real planes) should definitely visit the Imperial War Museum North in Duxford south of Cambridge. Don't know if they have a Meteor.