We didn't have to travel too far to
interview Ivan Berryman: One flight of stairs, in fact, as his studio and
gallery share the same building as the offices of The Image. It's not a big
studio, but it is well-equipped with everything necessary to run an efficient,
professional business, not to mention a library of aviation books that would be
the envy of many an enthusiast. So what is the aviation connection?
My father had worked his way up from the shop floor at Miles Aircraft, through
to Chief Designer, then Managing Director at Britten-Norman before opting for
semi retirement as an aviation consultant. To me, he was a genius, and I know
that he was very respected in aviation circles. Some of my earliest memories we
visiting the aircraft factories where he worked, or the drawing offices or
airshows. Farnborough in the 1960s was fantastic, a boy's dream come true. It
made such m impression on me. Everything was so exciting then. I still make the
bi-annual trip to Farnborough like some sort of pilgrimage, but it isn't the
I was always drawing compulsively as a child, - aeroplanes or science fiction pictures. The
Lightnings and Vulcans that I had seen had got me fired up. I had to draw them.
I used to look at some artist's work and find it hard to believe that someone could
actually paint that well. But I had an idea that I could be as good as them if I tried hard enough. In the end,
I got the photography bug at school and went straight into an apprenticeship with an industrial photographer. It
was an excellent training ground, although the pay was dire (I started at £7.50 a week!)
I learned all about technique and composition and, perhaps most importantly, how to deal with clients and
run a small business. I learned that when someone commissions you to work for them, they have an
expectation and it's up to you to fulfil this.
I did a lot of air-to-air photography during this time. Now that was exhilarating. You had to take the door off the camera plane and get yourself out there
into the wind. You know you're flying then. I thought I knew what being cold was until
we did a December air-to-air at 19,000 feet over the Channel. But that view, those skies! We'd go chasing all over the place looking for 'that' cloud, that
fist of cumulus to form a backdrop for the one publicity photograph. Can you imagine that? Think of the expense! These days
I just paint the sky I want, based on what I saw when I was flying. You describe what you want and I'll
paint it for you. No extra charge. No thermal underwear. Lovely.
Mind you. at the end of the day, I just wasn't cut out to be a photographer. After about six years, I tried going freelance.
I failed spectacularly, of course, because with the benefit of hindsight, I realise now that
I didn't actually want to be a photographer at all. Anyway, by now I had started painting again and people were
beginning to buy my originals. So it was just a sideways step, from professional photographer to professional
But was there no formal training, no art college?
No. I have to say that my father actively discouraged me from going to art college.
I think he wanted me to go into engineering design and was disappointed that I showed no aptitude for this whatsoever. He wanted me to have a 'proper' job and nearly convinced me that
I would never succeed in art. I suppose his negativity made me an the more determined to
make it in the profession that I had chosen.
Even so, the two disciplines - photography and art - have many
crossovers and this proved to be of huge benefit when he began to be published.
Yes, I had had a number of my photographs published so I knew the ropes and a certain
amount about the printing business. It all helped me to bluff my way into commercial art. People thought
I knew what I was doing, but then that's just my way of facing things. You can't afford to look shaky in a competitive market.
I was selling pictures okay, but I knew I had to get into the mass market. I had seen the work of
Coulson. Taylor and Wootton in the monthly aircraft magazines and I thought.'I can do that". So
I borrowed some money from the bank and published two prints myself. I put them
in the same magazine and then sat back and waited. Cutting a long story short, it worked.
I sold the prints and a number of interested publishers were soon on the phone with
all sorts of offers. I might have started looking at early retirement and a life of abject luxury right then, but what followed was a
sharp lesson in life in the art business: I was repeatedly let down by the very people
I was supposed to be trusting. I guess I was to blame some of the time for just not
being all that aware, but it did knock my confidence quite badly. It just seemed to go on and on. Something had to change. Eventually, I fell
in with a greetings card company who took a number of designs and got my name into the high sheet shops. They didn't pay a lot, but I was at last getting the exposure. This led to me becoming involved with the Noel Tatt Group, one of the giants of the greetings
card industry. I was able to produce work quite quickly and this appealed to them as they were about to launch a whole new range of card designs. They initially bought the rights to just five designs, then commissioned another thirty six. Now that kept me busy. It was about now that
I thought I had better get my act together because the whole machine had to start running a bit more professionally.
I have no problem when this happens. My strength is that I paint naturally - I find it easy.
I can't remember ever struggling with a painting, so all I had to do was turn the wick up a bit and get cracking.
It really was a turning point for me because the company chairman. Noel Tatt
himself, could see potential for a range of fine art prints from my paintings, too. After all I had been through,
I suddenly found myself in a very happy situation indeed, like being part of a
family. The greetings cards still sell and I' m always working on new designs for that
side of the business, but I now have ninety eight different fine art prints behind me and the sales and importance of my originals has increased significantly. Now
I don't have to hold many exhibitions because I have my own gallery annexed to the studio,
so it's all pretty central. If people want to buy my originals, they know where to come and I'm
So determination and a basic skill can lead to success, but can it be taught? Could anyone do it?
I don't know for sure. Because painting comes so naturally to me, I find it hard to teach technique to others. It's all about choosing the right brush with the right length bristled,
interacting with the paint at just the right consistency on the right surface. And this changes on every part and every detail throughout a
painting. Try teaching that! Besides. I have always maintained that you have to
see things the way they are before you can paint them properly. If you can teach people to observe and take
in precisely what they see, then you might improve their drawing and painting. I spend hours studying things - the sky, the sea. They change all the time. but the same rules
always apply when you're painting them. It's what you do with those skills once you've reached a
certain level that will determine whether or not you make the bold stride into
Would you recommend to someone that they go into painting as a profession?
Yes and no, he says, then he thinks about this for a
moment. Mainly no. The truth is that there are easier ways to earn a reasonable
living, but none nicer. I don't think the art business is all that different to any other. The key is a positive, professional attitude. Publishers need
stability. They need artists they can depend on to deliver the goods. The artist needs to be
consistent and willing to try new things as the market shifts. I know a lot of
artists who can paint brilliantly, but they'll never go anywhere because of their
Ivan has become best known for Ins aviation and motorsport art, two subjects
with many similarities. Does this create enough variety for him?
Well, they're similar, but quite different to paint. Most aviation paintings
seem to be of World War II subjects because they possess the romance, the glamour. My aim is
always to lend them a grace and to bring out their beauty, whilst at the same time making them look a little
war-weary - chipped and stained paint, that sort of thing. And. because I am
painting an aeroplane, I have to achieve that sensation of total detachment from everything, wind under the
wings, total freedom. With racing cars, I've got to get that mirror-finish on the paintwork, the brilliant dayglo
colours, the speed - and they have to be rooted to the ground on a circuit that
is easily recognisable to the fans; They really are very different to paint so I never get bored. It doesn't matter what I'm painting,
I get into it. I think of it as if I arrive at the studio and put it on. I kind of wear that painting for the day. I'm
in it. I like that. That's why I enjoy painting in acrylics, because I can work
quickly and see a result straight away. You don't have time to go off the boil. And the short drying
time means you have to paint accurately, positively. You really have to go for it with acrylics. That's why a lot of artists don't get on with
Do you work in acrylics all the time?
I have done for years because it enables me to produce a lot of work in a short time. More recently though,
I have raised the game considerably and gone back to oils, which I love. It's slowed
me down, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. Painting in oils gives you a
more considered approach and I think my paintings have benefited from this. You must keep
re-assessing what you're doing. It's the only way to improve. I love trying new things, getting into
unfamiliar territory. There has to be a danger in your painting, an element of risk, even if it's just the decision to have a go at painting a rough sea instead of a calm one. You have to pitch yourself into it. Painting the sea is a good
analogy. You sink or swim.
You're not a member of the Guild of Aviation Artists. Why?
I'm just not into belonging to things like that. It doesn't make you paint any better. The best
measure of you painting ability is your paintings, nothing else matters. I know that
sounds conceited, but I feel quite strongly about tis. It's different if you are awarded something on merit. It means your paintings have been recognised and appreciated. You've achieved something, earned your
Much of Ivan's reputation had been built upon his commemorative
paintings, celebrations that need to be recorded in the time-honoured way. Are
these constraining?. Do they limit the possibilities?
No, not at all. The trick is to extract the essence of what is being commemorated what people will want to remember or what they should
remember. In the end, of course, the finished painting had got to be a nice picture, something that people will want to hang on their wall. For the Shuttleworth Trust's 50th
Anniversary for example, I placed three of their most treasured airworthy aircraft over Old Warden aerodrome - home of the
museum - in a Vic 3 salute. The Shuttleworth family gave m permission to lift the late
Richard Shuttleworth's signature from his flight log book and have it printed on the lithographs, just
as if he had signed them individually. It was a tremendous success. Sometimes I
may have to resort to a montage of various images just to get all that history into one
picture. I've done that a few on some very prestigious commissions.
These things are fun to do because you get to meet such interesting people. I' m totally
dependent on them because I am only 38 years old and most of what I paint happened years before I
was born. Listen to an old pilot talk about taking off with full boost in a
late-mark Spitfire and you'll paint it differently next time. Talk to a racing
driver about taking Eau Rouge flat-out at Spa and see how it affects your
painting. You can't paint these things without knowledge and sometimes you have to just go out there and get that knowledge. As
I said, if you can't see it right - or don't understand it - you'll never paint it right.
I truly believe that.
And the future? At 38, there is clearly a lot more still to come. Hui he painted his masterpiece yet?
I've painted my mantlepiece. That'll have to do for now. I'll let you know about the other when it