Saturday, April 13, 2019

Naughty But Nice: A Famous Fortress's Gallant Life Through War and Peace

For the preceding half an hour they'd been circling high above Japan's once mighty South Pacific bastion, Rabaul. By that night in June of 1943, the place had little to offer the attacking American air forces but sporadic, and less-than-accurate, anti-aircraft fire. So little did crews fear it, loitering over the target wasn't even regarded as especially risky, especially in the darkness. It was an unexpected shock, therefore, when their B-17E was rocked with detonations and fire. Three rounds of hits, and the aircraft careened out of control. The navigator was the only member of the crew to get out of the burning machine. Drifting down towards the black jungle, suspended beneath his parachute, he didn't think in terms of escape. Below, the Japanese were waiting, unseen in the forest. Also unseen, the lone Japanese Navy night fighter that had shot down two Flying Fortresses in a mere few minutes. An epic end to the combat career of an aircraft that, by 1943, had experienced about everything that the War in the Pacific could throw at it.

B-17E serial number 41-2430 was built by Boeing in Seattle, Washington during days of peace. On December 6th, 1941, the aircraft left Hamilton Field, near San Francisco, California, with seven other new B-17s, on their way to reinforce General MacArthur's air force in the Philippines. On the morning of December 7th, the eight Fortresses were due to stop at Pearl Harbor's Hickam Field. The crew of '430' witnessed the Japanese attack in progress, and took the independent action of landing at a reserve field on the other side of the island (other B-17s in the flight scattered, one landing on a golf course, another trading fire with Japanese planes to brave a landing at Hickam).

B-17E '430' as she appeared between December 10th, 1941, and April 4th, 1942. Note the HAD camouflage, Hawaiian Air Force rudder stripes, and early Sperry remote belly turret. 

The atmosphere on Oahu at that time wouldn't really be experienced again by Americans until September 11th, 2001. Having been dealt such an unexpected and lethal blow by an enemy that had been grossly underestimated, something akin to near panic pervaded the military in Hawaii. Air defenses had been decimated during the initial Japanese attack, and in the minds of many there was an expectation of invasion. The B-17s that had arrived on the 7th were, therefore, pressed into local air defense. On December 10th, Brigadier General Jacob Rudolph ordered that the eight B-17s, including 430, be 'camouflaged to blend in with the local surroundings.' Accordingly, the Hawaiian Air Depot (HAD) used whatever paint they could find on hand to carry out the General's order. While the General was reportedly less than thrilled with the results, the scheme would set those few Flying Fortresses apart from all of the other 12,000 B-17s to see action throughout the war. 

430 undertook countless air searches from Hickam Field throughout the rest of December and into early 1942. As the threat of invasion abated on Oahu, but loomed ever larger in Australia, 430 arrived in Brisbane on February 16th. From then on until November, the aircraft stayed in Australia for training and refit. The older Sperry remote turret was replaced with a manned ball turret, light armament was added to the nose, and 430 became known as 'Naughty But Nice', with the hand painted addition of art to the starboard side of the nose. By that time, the short lived red and white national markings were removed from the rudder, and the red dots in the center of the stars were painted over with white. "Now the symbol is a white star without red dot," wrote one squadron historian on April 4th, 1942, "the Japs have changed our ideas about red."

B-17E '430' in Australia, between April and October 1942. The tail stripes and red star centers are gone, but she has yet to have her remote turret replaced, and she still has not received her iconic nose art.   

In November 1942, 'Naughty But Nice' was assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 65th Bombardment Squadron, and participated in combat operations against the Japanese bastion of Rabaul from Garbutt Field, near Townsville, Australia. The missions were nothing like what was then happening in Europe. Washington's 'Europe First' policy meant that no new B-17 Flying Fortresses were being sent to the Pacific. While some B-24D Liberators began to trickle into Australia and Papua New Guinea, squadrons had to make do with what they had. It was common for sorties to consist of half a dozen bombers or less, flying for hours over open water, without any fighter protection. Any mechanical issue that caused an aircraft to drop from formation could lead to the loss of an entire crew, as lone bombers became lost, never to be seen again. If an aircraft went down in the water, there was only about a 25% chance that any survivors would be found and rescued. Since the missions were flown almost entirely over enemy controlled territory, any crew who bailed out of a stricken machine was likely destined to either die in the expanses of the jungle, or be captured and probably tortured and executed by the Japanese. The South Pacific was certainly not Europe in any sense. No British pubs catered to tired air crews in Papua New Guinea; only mud, sweltering heat, humidity, and malaria-carrying mosquitos. That's where 430 found herself by February 1943, operating from 7 Mile Drome, near Port Moresby.

By 1943, the War in the Pacific had turned solidly against Japan. Attrition in the Solomons and the loss of four fleet carriers at the Battle of Midway meant that the Japanese were unable to maintain any kind of air superiority at the front. When the Japanese Army was faced with a crisis in New Guinea, with the advance of Allied forces, they required heavy reinforcements to hold their line. Due to impassible rugged terrain, that meant a task force of troopships to land 3000 men and materiale by sea, without sufficient escort or air cover. On February 28th, 1943, eight troopships and eight destroyers set out from Rabaul, bound for the forward Japanese base at Lae. Their fate, although seldom appreciated, or even known, in the West, would be regarded by the Japanese as a national tragedy that was worse than their losses at Midway.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea spanned only three days - from March 2nd through the 4th. All eight of the Japanese troopships were sunk, as well as half of the destroyer escort. Roughly 2890 men were killed. For B-17 'Naughty But Nice', it was her most harrowing mission so far of the war.

430 took off from 7 Mile Drome, piloted by 1st Lt. James L. Easter. Their target was Japanese shipping that was then off of Rooke Island. Over the target, the B-17 was attacked from the front by a pair of Ki-43 'Oscar' fighters of the 11th Sentai. The pair only made one pass at the bomber, but their fire was ferocious. 'Naughty But Nice was 'raked from nose to tail' by machine gun fire. Easter was severely wounded, and control of the bomber was taken over by copilot 2nd Lt. Russel S. Emerick, who aborted the mission and made an emergency landing at Dobodura Airfield with one blown out tire. Five wounded crew members were pulled from the aircraft, which was towed from the field for repairs. Sadly, Lt. Easter later died from his injuries. In 1948 he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 12, Site 4359). 

'Naughty But Nice' under attack by Japanese fighters during the Battle of the
Bismarck Sea, March 3rd, 1943.

By June of 1943, 'Naughty But Nice' was back in action, most often conducting small formation bombing missions against Japanese airfields around Rabaul. She was by then in the hands of a new pilot, 1st Lt. Hal C. Winfrey. On June 23rd, during a mission against a Japanese seaplane base on Timor, 430 was intercepted by Zero fighters, one of which fell to her .50 cal guns.

On June 26th, 430 lifted off from 7 Mile at the hands of pilot 1st Lt. Charles Trimingham. A young 2nd Lt. Trainee, Herman Knott, was also on board, in addition to the regular crew. The aircraft stopped at Dobodura to top off the fuel tanks and take on bombs. She was aloft again at 01:45, on her way to bomb Vunakanau, near Rabaul. It was a routine night operation. 430 dropped her bombs on target. Anti-aircraft fire was regarded as "intense" but still not threatening to the B-17. 'Naughty But Nice' loitered over the target for an additional thirty minutes, perhaps as part of  Knott's familiarization hop, and turned back for home.

Ensign Shigetoshi Kudo was regarded as a pioneer night fighter pilot in the Japanese Navy. Not content to merely follow established doctrine, he took it upon himself to both recognize the challenges being faced by his air service, and formulate all new tactics. He'd been flying against the American B-17s around Rabaul since August 1942. Like all Japanese fighter pilots, he both respected and hated the Flying Fortresses. Pre-war aerial doctrine wasn't formulated to deal with such a well armed and heavily armored opponent. On August 29th, 1942, Kudo destroyed one B-17, and possibly a second, by dropping aerial bombs on the aircraft from above. By 1943, however, American bombers were arriving over Rabaul with strong fighter escort, and were only vulnerable during night missions. Up until that point, the Japanese had no operational night fighter, which the Americans knew, and exploited with impunity. Frustrated Japanese fighter pilots, including Kudo, cowered night after night in bomb shelters, deprived of sleep, as the B-17s lazily rained down bombs from above.

Then the insufferable plight of the Japanese around Rabaul took a slight turn for the better. Ensign Kudo had left for Japan to be trained to fly a new weapon: the J1N1-S 'Gekko' night fighter. In May 1943 he returned to Rabaul, with a 'Gekko' under his control. The J1N1 was a very fast, long range, twin-engine reconnaissance aircraft. It was designed to infiltrate enemy airspace, obtain information on enemy activity, and fly away at such a high speed that enemy fighters couldn't catch it. One of Kudo's superior officers at Rabaul, Commander Yasuna Kozono, conjured up the idea that installing a pair of powerful 20mm cannon in the fuselage of a J1N1, pointing upward at a 30 degree angle, would make for a fast and stable gun platform against large enemy bombers. Kozono, and, later, Kudo, envisaged flying below and behind a B-17 in the dark, camouflaged against the background of the jungle below, approaching the bomber until within range of the cannon . . . It was believed that not even the resilient B-17 could hold together long while being pummeled by explosive 20mm shells fired into its belly.

All of these elements came together the night of June 26th, 1943; the B-17, the Japanese fighter pilot, the new weapon. The crew of 'Naughty But Nice' thought that they were receiving anti-aircraft fire. Ensign Kudo, firing from below at close range, was never seen. Kudo reported that he made three passes against the B-17. The second pass killed the pilot. The third pass set the portside wing on fire. Only 430's navigator, Jose Holguin, managed to bail out before 'Naughty But Nice' slammed into the Baining Mountains, not far from Rabaul. Another B-17, B-17F 'Taxpayer's Pride' (s/n 41-24448) fell that night to Kudo's cannon fire. Two Flying Fortresses shot down in a few minutes. Kudo only fired 164 shells to get them both. His 'Gekko' received no damage at all.

Thus ended the combat career of a gallant Flying Fortress, but the life of 'Naughty But Nice' wasn't over. She would have a new career as a memorial, healer, and a conduit through which former enemies would become friends.

Jose L. Holguin stands in the cockpit of 'Naughty But Nice' in 1982

Navigator Jose Holguin was the sole survivor among the crew of 430. The night of the crash, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and interrogated regularly. He suffered abysmal conditions there for the remainder of the war. Holguin was liberated in September 1945. After the war, Holguin made it his life's mission to find the wreckage of his aircraft, locate other servicemen who served on her, and make amends with his former enemies: Japanese war veterans and, specifically, the men who held him prisoner in Rabaul.

Holguin's first visit to the crash site of 430 took place in 1981. With the help of local researchers and aviation archeologists, Brian and Leonard Bennett, and Bruce Hoy. One of the former pilots of 'Naughty But Nice', Hal Winfrey, accompanied the group as well. Holguin oversaw the excavation of the cockpit section on 430, and its removal from the crash site. The cockpit controls and original nose art were taken to the Kokopo Museum in Rabaul for permanent display - where they remain as of 2019. Skinning from the portside of 430, including repaired bullet damage inflicted upon the aircraft during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and other components, passed through the hands of the Bennett family until acquired by Ron Cole of Cole's Aircraft in 2019. In keeping with Jose Holguin's desire to see pieces of 'Naughty But Nice' displayed, and her story of war and peace appreciated, Cole's Aircraft began offering small pieces of 430, accompanying Cole's original artwork depicting 430 in action, in April 2019.

The starboard side of 430, showing the original 'Naughty But Nice' nose art, on display in the Kokopo Museum in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. The remains of the cockpit are also on display.

Two bullet holes in the nose of 'Naughty But Nice' are preserved: Made by 7.7 mm machine gun bullets fired by a Ki-43 'Oscar' fighter during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, they both pierced the portside aluminum skin just forward of the .50 cal side-mounted machine gun. 

The port wing of 430 after being uncovered in the early 1980s. The condition of the wreckage, exposed as it has been to the tropical elements around Rabaul, have taken a severe toll on the aluminum since then.

Starboard engine nacelle and landing gear of 430 c. 1982. 

Data plate of 430, in the collection of Leonard Bennett

Letters of provenance to Ron Cole from Leonard Bennett regarding the acquisition of parts
 taken from 'Naughty But Nice' between 1981 and 1984.

Ron Cole's artwork and display, honoring the aircraft and it's crew. 

Prints of Ron Cole's artwork, and limited relic displays that contain pieces of 430, can be obtained from Cole's Aircraft: Cole's Aircraft 'Naughty But Nice'

Copyright 2019

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Port Columbus TAT Hangar in Art & History, by Ron Cole

Ron Cole's original painting, depicting the old Port Columbus TAT Hangar as it appeared in 1929

The Columbus Landmarks Foundation lists it as one of the most endangered historic buildings in Columbus, Ohio. Built in 1929 and in part designed by Charles Lindbergh, it originally served to house and maintain a fleet of Ford-built Trimotor commercial transports. The Trimotor, along with Henry Ford's Model T automobile, are regarded as among the most important early industrial achievements of 20th Century America. But, while the old hangar still stands, unlike nearly all others built around that same time period across the country - its days may be numbered.

The old hangar - standing but empty

In 2016 I was asked to paint the old hangar as it appeared in its former glory. As is often the case when trying to reconstruct how something looked from very old black and white photographs, it was hard to visualize at first. Details were very fuzzy; colors somewhat unknown. But over time it came together, and what was reborn on my canvas was strikingly beautiful; not a perfunctory structure with a purely commercial purpose, but a work of art that perfectly demonstrated the architectural tastes of its time.

Port Columbus TAT hangar c. 1930

By 1941, Port Columbus's first hangar had new clients

When I first began the process of physically painting, the old hangar had a local sponsor interested in its complete restoration. That, regrettably, fell through, and thus the original pretext for the painting fell with it. But, I completed the project with the idea in mind that, perhaps, it might serve an even more important and time-sensitive purpose now: to raise awareness of this unique piece of early American commercial aviation architecture and help save it from destruction. There are few examples like her anywhere in the United States, none other in Columbus, Ohio, and none, arguably, as beautiful.

Contact me to be added to a growing list of patrons interested in seeing this building preserved and ultimately restored. I'm also offering limited edition prints of my painting through my Cole's Aircraft online store and in person through my Zanesville, Ohio art gallery, with proceeds going towards preservation efforts.


Ron Cole
Cole's Aircraft
April 11, 2017  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ron Cole's Zanesville, Ohio Art Sponsorship Program

About Ron Cole

Ron Cole is a professional artist, designer, and businessman from Los Angeles, California. His accomplishments from a young age include co-hosting a nationally syndicated television program, working as the staff artist for a global magazine, and designing photo-etched industrial products - all while still in high school. In Los Angeles, Ron worked for many years in the film industry as a model maker, character designer, and artist. Ron also designed and constructed working models and prototypes for the toy industry, most notably for Mattel's 'Hot Wheels' and 'Barbie My Scene's' lines. Working in the aerospace industry, Ron built both scale and full size working models for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), McDonnell Douglas, and other large companies. As a 3D modeler and 2D artist, Ron helped bring to life many resorts and high rises in Las Vegas, including the High Roller Ferris wheel at the LINQ. Before going into business for himself, Ron was a senior director with Pittsburgh's Davison Design's 'Inventionland'. In 2008, he founded HiDef Design and Cole's Aircraft art. Choosing to focus primarily upon his fine art experience, by 2015, Cole's Aircraft had grown into the world's largest single-artist 'aviation/historical art' web store with over 35,000 followers on Facebook.      

Shortly after finding a new home in Zanesville, Ohio in 2012, Ron opened his first brick-and-mortar gallery in the city's historic downtown Masonic Temple Building. In 2016, he opened Gallery Luminaria in the same building. Renovated to 'bring a little LA' to the location, the new space focuses both upon his own work and provides a bright and inviting place for other area artists to display their work. Events are held regularly, including participation in Zanesville's First Friday Art Walk, where there is always music, food & drinks, and a good crowd. 

Sponsorship Program (Gallery Luminaria)

Besides the running of his business, Ron Cole hopes to provide opportunities to new and aspiring artists in the Zanesville, Ohio area. His gallery provides a large, bright, space in a central location, just off Interstate 70 and located between the county courthouse and city hall. 

Ron's Gallery Luminaria sponsorship program is unique in Zanesville, as Ron not only provides space in his gallery but also promotes the sponsored work of others online. "I show people how to create a brand; how to look professional, create a Facebook Page, sponsor ads, reach their audiences, design logos and stand out." Ron also photographs and professionally retouches images, and scans and digitizes 2D artwork from which Giclee' prints can be created or shared online. "I create all of my own prints in-house (up to 24x48 inches, on paper or canvas). I offer that as a service, part of my program, to the artists I sponsor. I also frame some of their favorites to show." Nobody else offers so much, and the cost to the sponsor is nothing. "If one of my sponsored artists sells a framed piece of theirs that I made for them, in my gallery or elsewhere, I'll only ask to be compensated for the cost of the frame."

The Gallery Luminaria program is intended to help launch new careers for its participants, and doesn't stop at one gallery showing or single event. "There is so much talent here, and I don't know how many times I'll talk to someone, see their work, and know they could be doing something more with it if that's their true desire. 

In the near future, Ron plans to add new perks to his program, including an online store devoted to selling the works of other area artists - both original paintings and prints - following the business model of his own stores. 


If you are interested in talking to Ron Cole about his art or his gallery program, feel welcome to call or email at any time, and all are welcome to visit and experience Gallery Luminaria every first Friday of every month in the Masonic Temple Building - from 5:00 to 8:30 pm - on the 4th floor. 

More about Gallery Luminaria 

Call: 330.883.2493

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Sentimental Journey; Flight in the World's Best Preserved B-17 Flying Fortress

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) had offered me a cross country flight on their B-29 Superfortress 'Fifi', but I would have been gone a week and on the hook to get myself back home again. I groaned. I couldn't do it. When you run a business that's grown by over 100% in 12 months, being away from it for more than a day is not an option - even for a lifetime opportunity like that. So, the matter was more or less shelved for awhile. Then, out of the blue (literally), an aircraft with which I'd had a long history with came to me. I'd toured the CAF's B-17G 'Sentimental Journey' as a kid with my father, back in 1987. It was a real highlight of my life back in those days. This email popped into my inbox:

'Hi Ron, I wanted to contact you to let you know that we have made arrangements for you to ride on our B-17 “Sentimental Journey” while we are in Wheeling, WV.  All courtesy of Adam Smith with CAF Headquarters in Dallas.'

You don't pass that up! 

All of this had come about thanks to my aviation artwork, which is my business and my living and my joy. I'd been commissioned by the CAF to paint a few of their aircraft over the preceding years:


Their gracious offer to give me a flight in one of the most historic aircraft in the world, that was never a part of any formal agreement or in payment for anything, is indicative of what is special about the warbird community today. There really is a uniquely genuine sense of hospitality, appreciation, and a common spirit among everyone involved - even though we often have very different backgrounds. When we can do something to support each other, we do it. When we can help one another out, we don't hesitate. And it all comes around. These are the best people I've ever worked with. 

With only a week notice I scrambled to get things in order. My wife couldn't come with me, so I asked around for a trip companion. Jana Pryor, a great friend and professional photographer, took me up on my offer. She couldn't get on the plane for the flight, unfortunately, but she was thrilled just get access to such a machine and in such a unique setting. The tiny airport in Wheeling was restored to its 1946 standard, replete with hardwood, beveled glass, marble and various period-appropriate displays of aviation history. Even the bathrooms were as they were in the 1940s. And no TSA security. No metal detectors. No big obtrusive fences. When we arrived there were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot. The only aircraft on the tarmac was Sentimental Journey. 

I wanted to livestream the flight on Facebook, but the signal wasn't strong enough. Jana streamed it from the ground perspective, but I took video of most of the flight and have uploaded it here. 

What a thrill!

See Livestream Video of Startup & Takeoff from the Ground

The whole experience lasted two hours, the flight itself roughly 45 minutes. As a pilot myself, I was actually amazed that the B-17 was as relatively quiet as it was. Sentimental Journey is one of only two Flying Fortresses in the world that still uses her superchargers, and that cuts down on the audible engine noise quite a bit. And she flew as smoothly as a 737. I can only imagine flying at 40,000 feet, however, where temperatures are often 50 degrees below zero. The B-17 gets a lot of wind blowing through her fuselage in flight, and is not pressurized. Now I know why so many bomber crews during World War II experienced frostbite. The flight up and down the Ohio River was breathtaking. Our landing was so perfect that, were it not for the screech as each tire met the pavement, I wouldn't have detected the moment. I was free to move about the aircraft in flight, too, enjoying the scenery from many different vantage points. It was hard not to park myself astride one of its swivel-mounted .50 Browning machine guns, however. And you quickly learn to get your 'sea legs' while negotiating the aircraft in the air. Nothing inside the B-17 is soft or forgiving!

It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and I'm grateful to the CAF team who put all of this together. I will do this again!

- Ron Cole


Monday, September 5, 2016

Ron Cole's Art Gallery in Downtown Zanesville, Ohio

Ron Cole's Gallery Luminaria

Located in the historic Masonic Temple Building in downtown Zanesville, OH

38 North 4th Street - Rooms 420 - 422

Ron Cole's painting of the Zanesville, Ohio Masonic Temple Building c. 1926
While over 90% of my sales and business is conducted online through my stores and social media, I opened my brick & mortar art gallery in downtown Zanesville, Ohio in 2014. Not a commercial venture, it's nevertheless the only place to physically view my work that is on permanent display, and I do offer my limited edition prints and many of my World War II aircraft relic displays for sale on site.

Mostly, however, my gallery is a cozy and atmospheric place for people to gather and enjoy a pleasent evening among art, photography, music and drink. In recent months I've surrendered most of my wall space to new and aspiring local talents who seek to display and sell their work. The first Friday of every month is always a terrific time, as my gallery participates in the local art walk and I always go overboard by bringing in new work and hosting some amazing musical talent. It's the one evening a month when I can leave the business of my business at home and just have a good time with friends and family.  

First Friday Art Walk event in Ron's gallery

Doctor Laura Schumann performing in Gallery Luminaria for a First Friday event

The photography of Carrie Turner on display
In early 2016 I began a sponsorship program that was intended to help local artists get some exposure and see if a professional career in their field was something they wanted to pursue. I wasn't the first established artist to offer such support, but I took it several steps further by offering my printing and framing services at no cost, and providing online marketing within social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Since then I've sponsored many talents, most of whom had never displayed their work before and were so excited to sell their first pieces through my gallery. It's also been nice to provide other established professionals with a new outlet to show their alternative works in a setting such as I've been able to provide.

If you are able to visit Zanesville for a First Friday Art Walk event - don't miss out on the opportunity. Not only is my Gallery Luminaria always open (from 5 until 8, though usually open later), but most every gallery in our building is also showing and part of the festivities.
The 'B-25 Bomber Bar' serving drinks during a gallery event

My gallery is permanently located in downtown Zanesville, Ohio in the historic Masonic Temple Building (38 North 4th Street) on the 4th floor. My hours are currently by appointment (Phone: 330.883.2493) and I'm open from 5 pm until 8 pm every first Friday of the month. I'm always looking for new local artists to sponsor. If you're from Zanesville or the surrounding area, visit my Gallery Luminaria Program page online for more information about what I offer, or contact me via email.

- Ron Cole

An Aviation Artist Ventures Elsewhere

The Masonic Temple Building in Zanesville, Ohio c. 1926, by Ron Cole
I love painting airplanes, and it sure is nice that I can make a decent living painting them. Yet it's easy to get stuck in a specific genre' that almost never allows for exploration outside of it. I see that with a lot of artists who paint professionally; you become known for one thing and you get commission after commission to keep painting it over and over, like you can't paint anything else. Even when you love the subject, it can get a little redundant after a while. Since I also sell my own work in my own stores, and it's not unusual to sell fifty pieces in a week - I have even less time to branch out as an artist.

But I do force myself, sometimes. And it's nice when I can do it.

1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 in Paris, by Ron Cole 
These excursions into uncharted territory usually no not reap immediate rewards in terms of commercial success. How does an aviation artist, who markets aviation art, suddenly advertise and sell a car painting or a landscape? The thing about selling your work in a brick and mortar store or online is that you really need a critical mass of work within a genre' that you can build a following around. Car people look for a car artist and search among his or her work to find that one piece that speaks to them - and they might buy it. If you have a hundred car paintings, you're in business. If you have two, like I presently do, odds are you won't sell much and marketing those couple of pieces will not pay for the effort. I personally think that my Ferrari 275 (above) is my all time best work, and it actually has been pretty successful commercially. But most people won't buy a painting based upon its visual merit alone. They have to be interested in that particular subject to want to put it on their wall.

'Spring Break' German Panzer 35t on the Eastern Front, by Ron Cole
These artistic adventures do, however, raise the quality of the work that is within an artist's commercially known genre' like nothing else can. It always amazes me how I've often subconsciously avoided certain compositional elements in a painting because I simply have not painted them before. The same is true when it comes to an overall style. My Ferrari proved revolutionary to me because, since it was not intended to be a commercial piece and wasn't a commission, I could free myself to, for lack of a better phrase - go nuts. The background is blurred and almost impressionistic. It mostly lacks the detail I'm typically known for, but it works so well. Those are things that I've been able to incorporate into my more commercial work.

General Robert E. Lee, by Ron Cole
My painting of Robert E. Lee similarly opened up a new world to me. He was actually a commission; one that came to me as a result of my childhood best friend having a book published about the Battle of Gettysburg. He asked me if I could paint portraits. I did not know, but probably, was my reply. I plunged into it, and from that time forward my airplane paintings suddenly started including more people in them than before.

Very close cropped detail of Ron Cole's Masonic Temple painting
There's a pretty good chance that I will always be 'an aviation artist' and I doubt I'll change the name of my business from Cole's Aircraft to something more inclusive. But, never say never. Paint what you love. Paint what you know. Paint what you know will sell if you wan't to make a living off of your work. But don't forget to explore when you have the time to do so. Keep churning over the soil. Keep reinventing. Keep it fresh. 

- Ron Cole

Ron's online gallery and store: Cole's Aircraft


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Turning Point Midway

Turning Point Midway - Revised Version, by Ron Cole
So, sometimes this happens: A client will say over the course of months that they want one thing, and then as soon as a painting is completed that one thing will become something different. Sometimes that happens days before a deadline. Sometimes hours. But that's part of being a professional and I don't get annoyed over it at all. It's a new challenge to overcome, and when I pull it off I might use the exercise to justify a new Blog post.

In this case I was commissioned to paint the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi during the Battle of Midway. There were few specifics imparted to me besides this: Show it right before it sank and show "tragedy". This was for a Japanese client I'd worked with many times before and the language barrier necessitated our keeping communications simple. I explained that Akagi was actually scuttled near dawn on the day after she was bombed, when it was feared she might fall into the hands of the US Navy. Up to that point, because her damage was mostly limited to above her waterline, it was hoped that Akagi might be towed back to Japan. Thus I suggested showing the carrier late in the day of the American attack, as she quietly burned, her aircraft circling before ditching and her remaining crew gathering forward on the anchor deck. It hadn't been done before, and with the benefit of new research I could show the scene with unprecedented accuracy: a far distant sister ship (it was believed to have been the carrier Kaga) burning on the horizon, Akagi's decks clear of aircraft. A haunting and, from the standpoint of any seaman irrespective of nationality, sad scene of tragedy.

The Original Details of Ron Cole' Turning Point Midway

I liked it, but I don't work for me! My client wanted more action. I pointed out that depicting Akagi 'before sinking' and yet also while under attack was to depict two different events that were many hours apart. I was also arguably past deadline; he needed the painting in Tokyo, and a yet un-started Pearl Harbor piece, by the end of July. It was then the 23rd!

Those are the times when I pop an emergency Ativan (Please don't judge. I live a stressful life at times), sit back in my chair, and stare at a piece once finished that had suddenly digressed.

The revisions were many. I had to get the ship moving. That meant all of my port side reflections would change. I'd lose the crew. They were Japanese. No one would have been thinking of jumping ship at that point. All of the Zero fighters would have been in the distance, as they'd been drawn away from the carrier by the previous torpedo bomber attack. Obviously I had to add some American SBD Dauntless dive bombers. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be striking - no pun intended.

Details of Akagi amidships. The carrier was directly struck by only one American bomb, but its detonation in the hangar deck was enough to start uncontrollable fires that doomed the ship over the ensuing hours.  
After a few hours of uninterrupted painting: Mission accomplished.

It's interesting to me that the Japanese don't shirk from acknowledging their defeats - at least in my experience. I'd previously painted the bombing of Hiroshima for a Japanese client who specifically told me that he wanted to show the shock waves destroying the city. As an American I can only imagine wanting a painting of 9/11, which I certainly would not want. Yet there seems to be an agenda in Japan that runs deep when it comes to remembering these tragic events - be it the enshrinement of national sacrifice or statements about war in general. All of these pieces of mine are on permanent display in a Tokyo museum. I hope that they serve their intended purpose well.

Ron Cole