Friday, January 25, 2013

My Media and Process as an Aviation Artist

People sometimes ask me how I create my work. In spite of those instances, however, I'm actually asked about my process far less than I'd expect I would be. As artists we're all wedded to our individual media, I suppose, in ways that the vast majority of collectors are not necessarily in tune with. Most people who buy my art, so it would seem to me based upon 15 years of selling my work, couldn't care less how I painted them.

And, honestly, I think that's just terrific.

I was trained to be a professional artist in the way that many have been: by going to art school and spending lots of money on tuition and formal instruction. For me that was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where my major was industrial design. As a foundation for that, I took all of those 3D and 2D courses, and I had to render naked people for hours on end using every media imaginable. I never envied those poor models. So, I've been there and done that.

But while I resort to calling myself an 'artist' in the interests of simplicity and placating to language, I don't actually think the term fits me and what I do. I am primarily an enthusiast of history, specifically aviation history. As a kid, who was good at drawing but rarely engaged in it for fun, I expressed my interest by building scale models - extremely detailed and later completely scratch-built aircraft models. And they won awards everywhere - as anyone around the model contests of the mid-1980s will probably remember. Those models were created by me with the goal in mind to recreate history as exactly as possible. I didn't care how. It didn't matter if they were made out of brass, plastic, wood, or some combination, so long as the end product constituted a perfect representation of a piece of history.

Likewise I approach my 2D aviation artwork with exactly the same philosophy and goal in mind. I am a little mystified when I hear people talk about how essential it is for aviation artists to work in oil paint (not that there is anything wrong with oils). I'm confused when people accuse an artist of 'cheating' for using an airbrush to create an effect in a given work. To suggest such things implies that our artwork should primarily be an exercise in using our red sable paint brushes, the quality of our end products being the ultimate proof of our prowess at such skill - like having knitted a king size quilt with only our teeth. What an impressive accomplishment! And while I absolutely believe that there should be both providers of that sort of work, and those who cherish it, what I do is something that takes place upon an entirely different ball field.

All of my paintings, and as of this writing I have 50 currently available (plus another 20 that have sold out, give or take), were created via a mix of media. I have several pure watercolors that were painted in more or less the traditional manner, but they're rare. They are haphazardly mixed in with paintings created by other means, a very few acrylics, and very many purely digitally created works and some created via 'analogue' means and repainted in the digital realm. I know that the use of digital media scares some purists - like a drum machine in a Rush song - and I understand the reasons for that. But every fraction of every piece I paint is done by hand, the only difference being my manipulation of a different tool. There is nothing 'computer generated'. It's all me, and that's why I can in perfect conscience sign my name to each piece when I'm done. The truth is that there are some things that can best be painted digitally, with the advantages provided by separate layers (usually hundreds, in the case of many of my paintings). But there are also some things that can't be painted well digitally, such as anything organic that requires the subtle randomness of a shaky hand or the imprecise haphazardness of a wet sponge. It's the mix of all tools that provides the best effect.

In conclusion: I don't make art for art's sake, I make windows in history - just like the models I built as a kid. That I've been able to play to the strengths of every conceivable media at my disposal means that I have that much more flexibility to create a truly convincing 'window' for the collectors of my work to enjoy. I hope that the results speak for themselves.

- Ron Cole

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