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Melee Over Dunkirk - A Work in Progress report by Brain Bateman.

A detailed step by step work through of one of Brian's commissions, depicting the Spitfire Mk.Ia of Colin MacFie downing a Stuka over Dunkirk in May 1940.


Concept 1

Concept 2 (This was chosen for the painting)

Concept 3

Concept 4

Concept sketches for the Colin MacFie Spitfire that I have been commissioned to do. Four concepts were put forward with the chosen one shown above, with MacFie breaking up towards the Stuka ready to fire a long burst after it has just bombed shipping near Dunkirk harbor.  Third concept shows a different angle of the same scenario as the 2nd with the fourth showing the Stuka as it hits the water.  Next steps are to await further instruction from the client. In the meantime I will be plotting the perspective angles and refining the layout, adding more action and trying to convey the melee that is aerial combat.

Here are a few early stage images showing how one of my paintings evolve. I paint with paper on board with 4-6 layers of Liquitex Gel Medium overtop with a smooth roller; sanded fairly smooth once dry. This protects the under drawing and gives me a surface to start with. From there I throw an overall tone of the painting down, in this case a raw umber and cobalt blue mix on the entire piece, keeping it thin so I can see my drawing underneath.The next steps are laying in more detail to the areas and slowly build up the painting as it progresses.  The photos below show the process. The last thing I will add are the highlights and shadows.



This photo give you the overall feel and composition starting to firm up. I am nearly 3/4 of the way finished but now all of the little details have to be added in; troops on the beach, tug boats and vessels of various kinds, etc. I am getting ready to block in all of the aircraft in the scene as I have nearly 10-12 overall. Some of these are small but I wanted to give a feeling of a melee going on up, down and around the Dunkirk area at this time.

The Spitfire is nearly complete, all I need to do is add the code numbers and ID number. I save these for last as I can easily take these off if I have trouble with them-and usually these are my achilles heel, so I probably will do these two or three times until I get it right where I want it.


As the painting progresses the details are added such as the small ships. the troops on the ground awaiting evacuation, etc. I have a total of 12 aircraft in the scene, some small, but twelve nonetheless! Finishing touches such as the tints and glazes of warm color over the entire piece and small reworks of areas that I am still not 100% sold on will need to be done, but this piece is nearing the end. Overall I like what I have set out to accomplish, showing the chaos and frenzy of this particular time over Dunkirk.

Here is the near final painting with a couple of detail shots showing the overall action and scope of the assignment by the client. With so much going on it was at times difficult to keep everything in balance, and at the near zero hour a few things were added to help with the story line and composition. I added a 13th plane-the 109 in the center right, trying to break up the charging Spitfires with a head on pass. The client is reviewing and has some adjustments as do I upon stepping away from the painting and then coming back with fresh eyes. This always helps as I see things that might stand out that previously didn't during the initial painting time. Using the mirror backwards reflecting trick and taking photos of the painting allow me to see things that may need color adjusting or rework small areas if needed. Sounds odd but it works-really!



The Completed Painting

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