The Aviation Art of Bill Perring Please select a painting to view NGfL are extremely grateful to Bill Perring for supplying all of the following pictures and text . http://members.aol.com/bperring
The first thing to do is to get an idea! Experience has taught me that the best place to find one is somewhere warm and sunny, preferably close to a pot of tea and a selection of cakes. However, ideas can also be found on holidays, walking in the countryside or just snoozing in front of the fire. Now, having patiently lain in wait for an idea to come roving by it has to be captured quickly. They are elusive little devils and so I try always to have a small sketch pad and pencil to hand with which to jot it down. This sketch is very quick and very sketchy but I much prefer it that way for it helps your imagination to get to work, padding out the waif-like idea until you have it clear in your mind. The sketch opposite was one of many that I made and, as you will see by the end, has very little in common with the finished painting.
The research is vitally important. Ensuring the aircraft have the right markings, the right equipment, that the backgrounds, and sometimes even the weather are authentic is hugely time consuming and carries on throughout the work on the painting for there is always some little detail that you want to add that then needs checking to ensure it's correctness.eventually comes the day when, with the backbone of the research well and truly broken it's time to 'make the model'.
Without the model you are left, wallowing around, trying to imagine the angles and where the shadows would fall.Now some people really like making models.........and that is all I have to say on that subject! With the model made it is time to wait for the right lighting conditions so that it can be photographed. This is much easier than trying to paint straight from the model as it captures the light exactly the way you want it. This is always a pleasant way to spend an hour or two, outside in the garden, twisting and turning the model plane to find just the right play of light - except when it's the middle of winter and freezing cold or the wind suddenly gets up and blows the carefully constructed plastic kit off the stand to deconstruct itself on the crazy paving!But as long as the tripod doesn’t blow over and smash the camera and I didn't open the back before rewinding the film, then the next stage is to find some suitable background reference.
The main idea for this particular picture was to be a Spitfire pilot's wedding with an unofficial flypast by one of the lads on the squadron. Having got the plane sorted out the next job was to find a suitable village and church. I have to say that this part is seldom easy. I really don't know what people were thinking of when they built these villages all those years ago but it certainly wasn't people like me! I really wanted to find a genuine location and spent the best part of a month driving around the south of England looking for a suitable village. I did have some nice cream teas though!
Eventually I came to the conclusion the only way to get what I wanted was to invent the backgroundand so, armed with photographs I'd taken of a couple of villages, I started work on the pencil sketch. By now the summer was well and truly over and the work progressed much faster once falling asleep in the sun was no longer an option. All went well until I got to the church. This needed to be something quite small so as not to overpower the rest of the painting. A perfect example appeared in the form of a postcard from Dorset showing the church on Brownsea Island. The drawing is quite detailed and was the same size as the intended print 305mm X560mm. Although I paint the finished canvas in oils the colour sketch is made in acrylic straight onto the photocopy. This saves having to draw up yet again a picture and the acrylic has the advantage of drying almost instantly.
This colour sketch is made very quickly, taking no more than a couple of hours at most but is quite invaluable when it comes time to start on the canvas. Because it is executed so quickly and loosely the colour sketch often has a vibrancy and immediacy that I never fail to lose in the finished picture. Having worked out in such detail exactly where everything is going there is little point in trusting to luck in transferring that small image to a 20" X 36" canvas .... Oh no! Out come the long rulers and pencils and off we go squaring up the canvas.
Some weeks later the canvas is finished. Now comes the evaluation. For this you will need a handy radiator (not turned on) on which to prop the painting. Having spent some weeks - if not months - glancing over the finished picture during periods of idleness, I usually find a number of things that I don't like. One of the things I really don't like is discovering that I don't like a major part of the composition and that the only way to fix it is to restart the picture from scratch. I have only ever had to do this once and I don't recommend it as a way of avoiding sun-bathing duties. In the case of this picture I came to the conclusion that the top left hand corner was exceedingly dull and that the village was overpowering the aircraft. Going back to the original sketch I tried adding a second aircraft and was pleased to see that placing a further Spitfire in that area not only livened up that part of the painting but also gave a greater emphasis and sense of speed to the main aircraft. Several smaller planes were then added in the far distance. I celebrated with tea and buns.
To Paint a Hurricane(Article first published in ‘Wingspan’) How long did it take you to do it?" is the question most people ask. The answer, of course, depends a lot on the painting and can be anything from five or six days to five or six weeks.It's when I go on to explain the amount of research and planning that goes into each one that they often show more surprise. "That would make quite a detective story!" was one reaction. For some time I had had an idea going around in the back of my mind for a picture combining an aeroplane and a train. No real reason, it just seemed to offer such wonderful possibilities. This wasn't such a coincidence since I later found out that Frank (a Hurricane pilot who was helping me gather information) had a passion for them that even outstripped his interest in aeroplanes!
With the aid of several learned tomes I began to acquaint myself with the history of the Southern Railway. The line between Ashford and Redhill is exceptionally straight, a feature that makes it easily identifiable from the air, and therefore a valuable navigational aid since the earliest days of aviation. Pilots flying between Paris and London used it, marking their progress by the stations which had their names painted on their roofs for that very purpose. In 1939 the roof top information went the same way as the road signs and platform station names – they were blacked out incase of invasion. But despite this the bright silver rails shining in the evening light still showed the way. Little wonder that some pilots named it 'The Way Home'.
Several days later a letter arrived from Frank giving details of the plane he had flown along with a photograph of a group posing in front of one of the squadron's Hurricanes. Frank joined 229 Sqn. in October 1940. Later posted to 145 Sqn. he would share credit in downing a Ju88 in March 1941 and destroy a Bf109 over the Western Desert in June 1942. But in the final days of the Battle of Britain he flew 229 Sqn Hurricane RE-Q, airframe number V7245. Using the aircraft number as a starting point I tried to find out what had happened to it after it left Frank's gentle care. Enquiries began at the Imperial War Museum Library. Unfortunately this particular quest proved fruitless. The next major headache turned out to be the location. This was to be an interpretation of an actual event. I stress the word interpretation because on seeing the finished painting Frank confirmed that although in those days low flying was not forbidden and only punished if reported as dangerous, he couldn't help wondering if he'd ever really flown that low. I can only claim artistic licence but, having got to know him over the last 18 months I wouldn't mind betting that if anyone did, it would have been him.
I wanted the setting to be absolutely authentic. Redhill is only just down the road and I was sure that the idyllic little country halts I had been drawing from imagination would spring into view the moment the train left the station. As I sat by the window with my ordnance survey map I grew gradually more despondent as characterless station after characterless station passed by. Much of it, no doubt, due to 'modernisation'. It was too crowded, all roofs and clutter. No good at all. I decided to paint open countryside with a few figures instead - that would be just the thing! What would really look good, I though would be a level crossing. A nice little car perhaps, some people working on the line.
I found what appears to be the one and only level crossing on the entire line. Disused, but a crossing all the same. I drove down to have a look and found it looked very little like the crossing I had envisaged but a call to the local history society put me in touch with several people who could remember what it looked like back in 1940 and one man who regularly drove his car over it during that period. Image used with the kind permission of Malcolm Watts (The Austin Seven Club) The little car was a doddle - A friend owns a 1935 Austin Ruby and a photo taken of it outside his house while I hung out of his bedroom window clinched it.
Next came research into weather conditions for the period. Saturday 26th October was interesting from the point of view of documentation. Three Bf 109s of JG53 were shot down over the Channel by 92 Sqn and 229 Sqn attacked a rescuing Heinkel Seaplane, shooting it down but at a cost of two of the squadron's Hurricanes. This would have made an interesting tit bit to put in the fact sheet which accompanies the print but as I really wanted to have my Hurricanes flying over the railway on a nice bright Autumn day, Saturday, being wet and cold, was out. The following day the airfield at Hawkinge was bombed and eight Messerschmitts were shot down. The weather generally was poor but there were bright periods locally so Sunday the 27th it had to be.
After the print had been run and the sheet detailing all the elements of the picture had been printed I sent a couple of copies to the Headcorn Local History Society by way of thanks. Some weeks later I got a letter from one of the ladies I had spoken to who wrote ".....Such a splendid reminder of the war years here. Your little red motor-car reminds me of the one owned by the German spies who lived just down the road....." I wish I'd known that before!