Monday, September 5, 2016

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



  1. I started oil painting four years ago and I've been wanting to try my hand at aviation painting. I know there are only a few on earth that do it well and you are one of the few. I love your work - do you have a suggestion on whether to attempt an in flight vs. a static display as a better subject for a first aviation painting?

  2. You are an amazing artist Ron. The pictures are beautiful and truly depict your passion for your work. I totally agree that don’t forget to explore when you can.