F-14s, Victors & Spitfires: An interview with aviation artist Ian Bott

An artwork showing an Avro Vulcan taking part in the 1977 Red Flag exercises in Nevada, representing my collaboration with writer James Kightly on the ‘Aircrew’ series for ‘Aeroplane Monthly’. James and I have produced over 70 of these features over the past six years and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to come up with fascinating facts about obscure subjects plus am constantly grateful for his patience when dealing with a prima donna artist.

“An artwork showing an Avro Vulcan taking part in the 1977 Red Flag exercises in Nevada, representing my collaboration with writer James Kightly on the ‘Aircrew’ series for ‘Aeroplane Monthly’. James and I have produced over 70 of these features over the past six years and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to come up with fascinating facts about obscure subjects plus am constantly grateful for his patience when dealing with a prima donna artist.”

Many of your artworks are of aircraft, which is your favourite aircraft?

I’m a kid of the Cold War so anything loud, overpowered and short on subtlety floats my boat. The B-58, X-15, SR-71, F-14, Lightning, mighty Vulcan or any century-series fighter or Reno Unlimited Class racer would all be good examples. However, if I had to pick one aircraft above all others it would be a humble two-seater with a 110hp engine that could manage about 100kts on a good day with a tail wind: Cessna 152 N-606GS, the aircraft that I did the bulk of my PPL training in. I spent many blissful hours getting to know her most intimate details and the subtleties of her personality. It was love at first sight and, though we occasionally had our disagreements, she never let me down and always looked after me, even when I treated her inconsiderately.

 What’s the hardest aircraft to draw?

Anything with lots of the following: struts, wires, exposed cylinder heads, antennae, multiple panes of Perspex making up a canopy reminiscent of something at Kew Gardens or, worst of all, overly-elaborate markings with lots and lots of lettering (yes US Navy of the 60s and 70s, I’m talking about you).

Materials/techniques you use?

As a professional illustrator working in 2013, software and drawing tablets have replaced much of the traditional paints, brushes and other media of earlier years but I still find that there’s no digital substitute for sitting down with a pen, pencil and paper and just drawing. My single most important piece of equipment is the set of ellipse templates that I’ve had since art college in the 80s and have used almost every day since.

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What tips can you offer those trying to draw or paint a Spitfire?

If you’re going to draw a Spitfire my one piece of advice would be, without a shadow of a doubt, steer clear of clichés. I’m not saying that the aviation art world doesn’t need any more artworks of Spitfires silhouetted against pretty sunsets or shooting down Messerschmitts over the White Cliffs of Dover, all I’m suggesting is that the artist delve into the rich history of the aircraft and try and find a less well-known facet of the Spitfire story to depict.

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Which aircraft is the most attractive and why?

To me the most attractive aircraft are those that combine a mixture of Swiss-watch precision, curvaceous lines and brutish power. The SR-71 probably embodies all these characteristics most strikingly but the Hawker Sea Fury, F-14, and Blackburn Buccaneer are other good examples.

 In terms of aesthetics, what is your favourite:

Wing

The U-2’s . A high-aspect ratio glider-type wing attached to the fuselage of a Starfighter but it works. Genius bordering on insanity.

Or:

Jack Northrop’s YB-35 (which is pretty much all wing). One of the most beautiful things ever to take to the air

Fuselage

The B-17. Sleek, purposeful and bristling with armament. I flew in one in 1999 and the experience of sitting in that glazed nose with four Wright Cyclones roaring away around you was breath-taking

Canopy

The B-17’s successor, the B-29. Reducing drag by making the canopy the nose of the aircraft and doing it with style to boot

Engine

Has to be the Merlin, a work of art in its own right. The positioning and cowls on the Mosquito look particularly handsome and powerful

Tail

The beautiful sweep of the Victor’s tail. Never did the threat of nuclear devastation come in such an attractive package

Jet exhaust

The jet exhaust of the F-14. So powerful yet elegant that a close-up of the working of the exhaust mechanism is one of the opening shots of ‘Top Gun

Undercarriage

Anything built by Grumman for the Navy. If you’re going to have to design an undercarriage for carrier landings it’s going to end up looking like a brick outhouse. They know it, they don’t care and, in fact, I suspect they’re probably proud of it

If you’d like to see more of Ian’s work you can either like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IanBottIllustration

or check out his website at www.ianbottillustration.co.uk/

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All artworks copyright Ian Bott 2013

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