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Work in Progress Report.  Brothers in Arms by Ivan Berryman.

A new stage by stage work in progress report on a WW1 aviation oil painting by artist Ivan Berryman.

 

 

It’s a while since I last posted a Work in Progress and, as I am about to start on a new painting of Manfred von Richthofen, maybe this is an opportunity to let you get an insight into how a painting like this happens, from start to finish.

It is important to establish very early on what the painting is going to be of and how the subject can best be tackled, both from the point of view of practicality and drama. It is fortunate for an artist that the great Red Baron left behind him a legacy of so many great opportunities for aviation artists, his 80 confirmed victories each offering a new angle, a new perspective and a variety of backdrops.

The brief here was to create a scene that involved a number of layers, a composition that allowed the eye to look beyond the obvious foreground dramas to other elements, other stories, that were unfolding beyond. I immediately began my research by reading up on the Baron’s many triumphs and I came upon the perfect combat for my painting, von Richthofen’s 41st victory on 13th April 1917.

On this morning, five RE8s of 59 Sqn, RFC, took off from their base at La Bellevue on a photographic sortie, A3203 carrying a camera, with the other four flying as escorts. Spads of 19 Sqn and some 52 Sqn Fe.2s were to have joined them as fighter cover, but the rendezvous was never made and the RE8s found themselves alone. For some unknown reason, this flight of aircraft seemed to have drifted some way north of their intended target – and into the clutches of a group of Jasta 11 Albatros scouts, led by none other than Baron Manfred von Richthofen.

In a relatively short combat, all five RE8s were shot down by their German opponents, one by the Red Baron himself and two by his brother, Lothar, claiming his fourth and fifth victims and thus becoming an ace, the others being downed by Festner and Wolff in similar aircraft.

This action appealed to me for a number of reasons: Firstly, it provided me with the perfect scenario for my painting. Secondly, it would be an opportunity to paint Manfred in one of his Albatros scouts instead of the Fokker DR.1 Triplane for which he is perhaps better known (although 56 of his 80 victories were achieved in the Albatros). And, thirdly, this would be a chance to depict the two von Richthofen brothers in combat together.This day’s combat was significant for both of them – Lothar becoming an ace for the first time and Manfred at last beating the score of his mentor, Oswald Boelcke, who had been killed having attained 40 victories. Further to this, in a later action that same day, Manfred would score a further two kills, the first time he had achieved a ‘triple’.

Photograph 1

My immediate idea was to depict the two brothers diving onto the flight of RE8s with the pitted landscape of the terrain near the Scarpe River some distance below, thus creating the layered effect that I wanted.

Having drawn the outlines of the aircraft onto the primed 24”x36” linen canvas, I have masked them out, as can be seen in Photograph 1. This is a very temporary measure, but it does allow me to work aggressively on the background without losing my perspective and not having to worry about covering any of the drawing with careless brushstrokes. I also find, as I have mentioned in previous WiPs, that it is far easier to achieve the sort of detachment that is necessary when painting a flying object if you can just ‘attack’ the background and treat it as a separate painting. Hopefully, you’ll see what I mean as this painting progresses.

Photograph 2

In Photograph 2, I am applying a ‘slurry coat’ of a murky brown colour over the entire canvas. This will form the base colour for the ground below the RE.8s and will be extensively re-worked to create that ravaged landscape look that we are all so familiar with from aerial photographs of that time. It is my intention to keep it dark so that the red fuselage of Manfred’s aircraft will stand out against the background, as will the varnished plywood fuselage and light blue undersurfaces of Lothar’s similar machine.

 

Photograph 3

Photograph 3 shows the entire canvas now given a random texture using a mixture of paint and turpentine. The effect is achieved by applying this very thin mixture using a variety of similar colours over the whole canvas while it is still quite wet, thus creating an uneven, mottled surface. Here and there, the paint and turpentine curdle, which also gives an excellent effect. In Photograph 4, you can see me at work on this stage, using about a three-inch brush! Remember that I am trying to capture the appearance of a totally devastated, ravaged terrain, so this scumble technique works really well.

 

Photograph 4

Trenches were dug in a zig-zag pattern when it was discovered that a single shell blast in a straight trench could wipe out a great many men. By putting sharp angles in the trench system, the effects of the explosion were considerably reduced and I am keen to depict this in my painting. Photograph 5 shows me painting in the trenches – still while the paint on the rest of the canvas is quite wet. These trench systems could be enormously complicated, but I have chosen to go for a simple section here in order to avoid causing a distraction to the eye when the painting is complete. I am mindful that this is primarily a painting of the Baron’s Albatros and there is always a danger of over-complicating the background.

 

Photograph 5

Next, I add the many shell craters and the chalky soil thrown up by the blast that created them. After heavy rain many of these craters would have water in them, so I have painted in some pools, reflecting the sky high above. I have added a road and a number of broken trees – just stumps, actually – to make the scene slightly more interesting. It is vitally important at this stage that I establish exactly which direction the light is coming from as this will dictate the shadows of the trees and the shaded side of the bomb craters.

 

Photograph 6

You can appreciate now, looking at Photograph 6, why the masking was so important as it would have been almost impossible to achieve continuity of the landscape if I had been trying to preserve the drawn lines of the main aircraft in the painting. This is the whole canvas, now showing the trench system, the shell holes and the road. The next stage will be to strip away the masking before the paint dries fully so that work can begin on the next layer of the painting, the five RE8s.

 

 

Photograph 7

So, in Photograph 7, here is the whole canvas now with all the masking removed to reveal my original drawing beneath. The canvas is set aside for a while to dry, ready for the next stage.

 

Photograph 8

Photograph 8 shows me just starting to block in the wings of the RE8s, working on all five aircraft simultaneously to ensure continuity. Very little attention is paid at this stage to lighting or texture – just get some colour onto those wings and tailplanes. I usually work on wings and tailplanes together as they are all horizontal surfaces and will reflect the light in similar ways as an aircraft pitches and turns. 

 

Photograph 9

In Photograph 9 you can see all five aircraft with their wings now a solid colour. 

 

Photograph 10

Because I will be using a technique later to add the sheen to the fabric-covered wings, the next stage is to get the roundels painted on. On a subject this size, a tiny brush and a steady hand are required to apply all the national markings – ten of them, in this case, as seen in Photograph 10. RFC upper wing roundels were outlined with a thin white line and it would be almost impossible to paint such a fine line around a blue circle as these RE8s measure only about 5cm from wingtip to wingtip, so I find that the best way to achieve this is to first paint a white circle, then paint the blue on top of it, leaving a fine white outline. Needless to say, I follow this with another white inner circle and add the red centre last of all. Repeat 10 times. 

Photograph 11

Photograph 11 shows the quintet all now sporting their national insignia, but looking very flat.

 

Photograph 12

In Photograph 12, big changes have taken place. With the roundels dry, I now make a thin mixture of bluish-white paint and turpentine and brush this lightly over the wings and roundels to create a soft sheen. Of course, not every one of the aircraft is in the exact same position, so this sheen may be more intense on one aircraft than another and also perhaps on the right wing more than the left. The aircraft in the top right of this group is tipped to the left slightly, so his right wing is catching the light more than the rest, for example.

Also visible in this photograph is the application of the shadows on the lower wings, the struts and the shadow cast by the fin and rudder on the tailplane.

Other tiny details have been put in place, too, and the wings on all of the RE8s are more or less complete now. I have added a 6 inch ruler to this shot so that you can get some idea of the size of these tiny aircraft which really are at the limit of what is possible.

 

Photograph 13

It is not a major step to paint in the fuselages and complete this section of the painting, adding just the slightest suggestion of the aircrews inside as they are beneath the dark shadow cast by the upper wings. I did, however, take the trouble to show that the centre aircraft is carrying a downward-facing camera on the side of the Observer’s cockpit, although it is very hard to pick it out in these photographs. I promise to photograph this painting more carefully when it is finished and show some of the details in all their tiny glory.   So that’s about it for the RE8s. The addition of a little staining from the exhaust stacks, a hint of spinning propellers and they’re in the bag. Photograph 13 shows the finished item.

Next will be the Albatros of Lothar von Richthofen rolling away to the right – and you will see, as this painting progresses to the main subjects, just how insignificant everything that has gone before seems to become as the eye will always be drawn to – and settle upon – the two larger aircraft in the painting. And that is when the illusion of height and depth comes into its own…Hopefully!

 

Lothar von Richthofen flew many aircraft during his time with Jasta 11 and a great many variations of his personalised colour schemes make painting his machine on a particular date quite difficult. At the time of his brother’s death a year later than the action I am depicting, he had opted for a colour scheme on his Fokker Dr.1 that comprised mainly bright yellow which, when combined with the compulsory red nose and struts of Jasta 11, made his aircraft quite distinguishable. Evidence suggests however that in April 1917, his Albatros was pretty much painted in a standard factory finish for the time. Remember that Lothar was not yet an ace and thus may not have been eligible to decorate his aircraft to his own designs. This was not a rule, but was generally accepted protocol. The factory finish comprised a varnished fuselage with pale blue/grey undersides on the wings and the standard green/brown camouflage on the upper surfaces. A broad red fuselage band was added forward of the cross and this is the scheme that I have opted to portray.

 

Photograph 14

In photograph 14, I have painted the wings, tailplane and axle fairing in the light blue, introducing a small amount of ochre where the fuselage colour is going to be reflected in the taut fabric at certain areas. A little ‘weathering’ ensures that the aircraft starts to look used and some mud and oil streaks are applied beneath the axle and on the elevator. The first of the interplane struts is added next, as are the ailerons and hinges, but the cabane struts are not painted in at this stage as they will need to be rooted to the fuselage when it is completed. In the photograph, a No3 Rigger brush is being used to pick out the leading edge of the tailplane in pure white where the sun will be catching the curve.

 

Photograph 15

Photograph 16

Photograph 15 shows more masking in place so that I can work vigorously on the fuselage and in Photograph 16 I am applying a uniform coat of the off-yellow that will form the basis of the fuselage colour. 

Photograph 17

Photograph 18

17 & 18 show first a sheen of light being applied to pick out the rounded form as the sun strikes it and then a darker colour on the undersides to introduce some contrast to the unlit belly of the Albatros. Notice that I am not going too heavy with the shadows as the overall ambience of this painting is one of misty, gentle sun. I will probably go a bit heavier with the lighting when I come to Manfred’s red aircraft as that will be right in the foreground and a bit of drama won’t go amiss there!

 

Photograph 19

The red band is added to the fuselage next, in Photograph 19, as well as the national insignia (old style crosses in 1917) and the light and shade is applied to tie it all together. 

Photograph 20

Now I can paint in the cabane struts and some of the rigging is added too, as seen in Photograph 20. More detailing is steadily applied – some panel lines, some oil stains beneath the fuselage and some general wear and tear caused by the ravages of war, weather and general human clumsiness! The tail skid is the penultimate addition to the fuselage before I add what little shadows there should be. The aircraft is rolling over and the sun is shining precisely between the upper and lower wings, so I choose not to make too much of wing shadows. But it occurs to me that the ‘V’ interplane struts of the left wings will almost certainly cast a shadow on the fuselage somewhere. I’m going to have to go away and think about this very carefully.

Photograph 21

Into the final stages of Lothar’s aircraft now. In Photograph 21 you can see that the lower wings have been painted using, more or less, the exact same techniques as for the upper wings. Quite a lot of additional staining is added inboard where mud has been thrown up by the wheels and the wing attachment points, access panels and the wheels themselves are applied before the struts of the undercarriage go on. 

Photograph 22

Photograph 22 shows the Albatros substantially complete and I have now added the shadow cast by the interplane struts, plus some stenciling beneath the cockpit which is, sadly not visible in these photographs. As I said earlier, I will take the time to photograph the finished painting in much higher resolution and in some detail at the end.

 

Photograph 23

On now to the main subject of this painting, Albatros D.III Nr.2253/17 and, straight away, something that has been bugging me from the start needs to be put right. To obtain this angle, I employed my usual technique of photographing a 1/32nd scale model (see my WiP for The Final Curtain, elsewhere on this website) and I had kicked the rudder round slightly on the model to make it a bit more interesting. On reflection however, it occurred to me that the rudder position was all wrong for the manoeuvre that I am depicting here, so a bit of rudder correction is necessary first of all before I start on anything else. It is so often the case that something in a composition just doesn’t quite gel and it’s not always immediately obvious what it is. Very often, it’s a case of going home and coming back the next day with a fresh eye. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I walked into my studio, looked at the canvas and thought, “that’s not right”. So it’s out with the white paint, as can be seen in Photograph 23, and the error is instantly corrected.

 

Work begins in earnest with the wings and these are complex things to paint as I need to show the curvature of the aerofoil shape and the ribs that form the structure beneath the taut fabric. Over the 100-plus WW1 aviation paintings that I have done, I have established a technique that seems to work for me, even if it is a little unconventional. Remember that I am entirely self-taught and have never really paid much attention to traditional methods or those of other artists so, if you are something of a puritan, look away now. But this is how I do it and, if the end result is what is intended, who cares how I get there?

 

Photograph 24

Photograph 24 shows some masking in place around the wings and the first job is to get the basic colours of the wings applied. I pay no attention at this stage to lighting or shape at all, just as I did with the tiny RE8s earlier in this WiP. 

Photograph 25

Photograph 26

Next, the black crosses are applied as in Photograph 25 and then the white edges (Photograph 26), taking care to note that the left aileron is slightly raised, so the cross appears a little distorted toward the trailing edge of the wing. The ‘white’ in this case is not strictly pure, more a very light blue-grey. This is because I need to leave the pure white for highlights. If you’ve already painted something white after all, how will you apply the sparkles? It’s like starting to play a tune on a piano at the top end. Where will you go when you need to go up another octave?

 

Photograph 27

Now I can begin to show the form of the wing and I again use my technique of brushing a thin coat of turpentine over the entire wing (once it has dried!). Using a wide brush, I then apply the same blue-grey colour along the whole length of the wing at the leading edge only, allowing it to spread into the wet turpentine. Further brushing with a clean, dry wide brush ensures an even blend. Leave to dry again and the effect should be as shown in Photograph 27. Be sure to use a tough, adhesive masking tape or film and burnish it down along the edges. Any ‘bleed’ under the masking could cause some big problems when the tapes come off! I apologise for not showing a photograph of this phase, but I have to work very quickly to achieve this effect and I could not stop half way through to take a picture.

 

Photograph 28

Also evident in Photograph 27 are my rib guides. I have carefully measured the positions of the ribs and marked them onto the tape, making sure that the perspective is retained from the tip of the left wing to the tip of the right. The intention here is to ‘suggest’ the ribs beneath the fabric, not to make too much of them. By not drawing the ribs directly onto the wing, I can make them as strong or as subtle as I like without having to cover up my pencil marks with thick paint. With the ribs in place, I can now put a few highlights on them where the sun is catching the top of each ridge and then a lot of weathering and scuffed paintwork can be added. This not only makes the surface look less perfect, but also has the effect of simply making it look more real. The addition of the ailerons – one up, one down – completes the general surface of the wings and, in Photograph 28, you can see the finished effect with all the masking removed. No wing struts or their shadows have been painted yet.

As an aside (and forgive me if I’ve told this one before in a previous WiP), I once had an interesting conversation with an RFC pilot called Hamish, sadly no longer with us. I had noticed in many WW1 photographs that the wings of the aircraft seemed to be covered in tiny white marks. Was this just wear and tear, I asked. “The planes were always covered in bird droppings,” he told me, “and the droppings stripped the paint off the fabric.” So there’s the answer. Just thought I’d share that with you.

 

Photograph 29

Photograph 30

Photograph 29 shows more progress with work on the undercarriage, tail skid and the radiator on the upper wing all now in place and I have included a detail photograph (30) which shows the radiator in close-up with some of the attendant staining and streaking (and bird poo) clearly in evidence. Time now to move to the fuselage. Prepare the red paint!

Photograph 31

Photograph 32

With everything allowed to dry, some more masking is applied round the outline of the fuselage and over the cockpit, as can be seen in Photograph 31. Just as with Lothar’s aircraft, a coat of mid-tone red is applied, followed by the sheen on the curvature of the fuselage and the shadow underneath. This is not a bright red. Paint was in very short supply at The Front and several reports suggest that the red paint used on von Richthofen’s aircraft was very thin and had been mixed with a small quantity of black to make it go further.  When applied to the varnished plywood of the fuselage, it would probably have taken on a slightly more orange colour than when applied to the fabric of the tail surfaces, so I’ll bear this in mind as the painting progresses. It is also recorded that the national insignia were simply painted over with this thin red coat, so I have replicated this effect here and you may be able to see the difference between Photographs 31 and 32 where I have done precisely that with a thin glaze of paint and turpentine. Also added at this stage is the strong shadow of the upper wing, although this is softened by a purple-ish reflection on the metal surfaces forward of the cockpit.

Photograph 33

Photograph 34

Also visible in Photograph 32, some of the masking has been removed to allow work to progress to the cockpit, pilot and cabane struts, the outcome of which can be seen in Photographs 33 and 34, the latter being a detail shot in which it is possible to see the guns, some paneling, the stenciling, the cockpit & pilot and some general detailing and weathering. The sheen along the top of the fuselage has been slightly strengthened, too, to add a little drama to the lighting.

Photograph 35

Photograph 36

With the fuselage substantially complete, I now turn my attention to the tailplane, which I paint in two sections – the fixed part first, as in Photograph 35 and then the dipped elevator, as in Photograph 36. All the details, elevator controls, hinges, etc are added now, as is the shadow of the fin and rudder.

Photograph 37

Photograph 38

The final stages now happen quite quickly. Before the tailfin is added, I finally get to work on the ‘V’ struts between the wings, all the rigging wires and then all the shadows cast by these features and then straight on to fill in the last white areas of my canvas. The fin and rudder are painted as a single block of colour, followed by the national insignia and the red glaze ‘slush coat’ as used on the fuselage, before the break between the rudder and fin is added together with the ribs beneath the rudder fabric, all this clearly visible in Photographs 37 and 38. All that remains to do now, is flick round with some pure white to put highlights on various points where the sun is glinting and a general once-over to tie all the elements together.

And that’s it. My signature is added last of all to the bottom left-hand corner and the finished painting is set aside to dry thoroughly before a coat of light Retouching varnish is applied to protect it.

Photograph 39

So Photograph 39 shows the finished item and Photograph 40 is the detail shot of the RE8’s that I promised earlier on.

Photograph 40

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching this painting progress from blank canvas to completed painting. I’ve enjoyed sharing it with you - and it’s lucky that I have every confidence in myself as posting a Work in Progress in ‘real’ time means that I have to get it right, which is a bit nerve-wracking! I just hope that I’ve done the subject some justice.

  Ivan Berryman , December 2010.

Canvas:                      Windsor & Newton Linen 36” x 24”

Paint:                          Daler Rowney Georgian Oil Colour

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