All posts in: Aircraft Illustrations
american airlines 767-200 artwork
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I’m still taking a short break from building that 3d model of an R8, so I thought it would be fun to get back into doing some more airliner art. Jumping back and forth like this between 3d and 2d stuff like this is good for my brain, as it keeps me from becoming burned out from being focused on one thing for too long. Burn-out is definitely a problem for me – it tends to happen quite often if I don’t take the initiative to combat it (not doing any illustration work for a while or just switching projects is a good start).

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do an illustration of an American Airlines 767-200 for a while now. For those of you who don’t follow the airline industry, the 767-200 has been a backbone of the American Airlines fleet for nearly 30 years, and the last one of them was retired earlier this year. They were old, tired, and in desperate need of replacement – but the aviation buff in me saw these old birds as one of the last of the flying classics. It was a real shame to see them go, especially since they were directly replaced by not-so-exciting Airbus A321 single-aisle aircraft.

Nostalgia aside, another reason for wanting to do this illustration was because of the complexity of the livery. I like a challenge, and creating a realistic-looking polished aluminum texture was not easy – I struggled with it for a long while before getting to a point where I was satisfied. Is it perfect? Hardly. There’s a lot about this illustration that I don’t like, and I’ve already got some ideas floating around in my brain about how I can do it better next time.

For the background, I created a simple silver texture and then placed a very large solid gray version of the American Airlines eagle logo on the right hand side to compliment the shape of the vertical stabilizer. It becomes more of an abstract element like this (as opposed to being identifiable as the AA eagle logo), but that’s why I thought it looked kind of cool.

And if you happen to need a very high-resolution version of this illustration without the background, you can find it in the aircraft gallery on my online store.

air new zealand 787-9
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Earlier this week, Boeing rolled out the first 787-9 in the Air New Zealand livery. For those of you who don’t normally follow these sorts of things, the 787-9 is an lengthened version of the original 787-8 and is capable of flying longer distances with increased efficiency. I’ve only seen a handful of pictures of this particular aircraft so far (registration ZK-NZE), but I knew right away that I had to do an illustration of it as soon as I saw it.

The livery that Air New Zealand chose for this aircraft is a one-off special variant, and it features an all-black fuselage with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise logo printed in white on the rear 3/4 section of the plane. The standard Air New Zealand titles are in white, as are the engine nacelles. It’s a sharp looking aircraft!

From an illustration point of view, this one was more difficult to recreate than most. The black paint meant that I had to put much more detail into the gloss and reflections – details which aren’t normally visible on white and light-colored aircraft. Yeah, I did have to take a bit of artistic liberty on some of those highlights and reflections, but that’s what being an illustrator is all about: emphasizing what’s important, and down-playing what’s not. That means something different to every illustrator, and I’m willing to bet that anyone else who creates an illustration of this aircraft would choose to handle the reflections and highlights differently.

I give Air New Zealand huge props for making such a bold statement on a revolutionary aircraft such as this. The 787-9 is going to be hugely popular with the airlines and they played the launch customer role perfectly by designing such a stunning livery for an equally stunning aircraft.

Need this illustration with a white background? I’ve got it, and you can download it here.

United Airlines 747-400 illustration
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A few days ago it dawned on me that I’ve only made one Boeing 747-400 illustration since completing my blank template of it last September. Considering that the 747 has always been my favorite aircraft, I thought that it would probably be a good (and fun) idea to start building up that collection.

Deciding which livery I would render was quite simple this time – which is rare for me. In my post about the Air China A330, I told you about how much I struggle trying to decide what exactly I want to work on before starting one of these illustrations – and I revealed that I’m now trying to focus on the aircraft that I’ve flown in the past (or will be flying soon). My trip to South Korea in a couple weeks from now is going to kick off with a SFO-PEK segment on a United Airlines 747-400, so the choice of what to illustrate was obvious.

As far as the livery goes, I’ve got to say that I’m bummed about how United chose to use the old Continental color scheme when they merged with them several years ago. While I’m sure they saved a ton of money doing it that way, the company was essentially reborn at that time and it would have been the perfect opportunity to press the reset button on their brand image and come up with something new and unrelated to these old and tired companies. Both of which, by the way, desperately needed to shed years of bad publicity (bankruptcy, poor service, etc) and emerge as a fresh new brand. Why they chose to save a few dollars and stick with the old look is beyond me.

That said, I actually don’t mind this livery all that much. The straight horizontal cheat line through the center of the fuselage is somewhat dated, but the light colors compliment the vivid blue and gold in the logo nicely. And heck – nearly anything looks good on the 747!

Need this illustration over a white background? You can download it here.

air china a330-200 side view illustration
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Of all the airline livery illustrations I’ve done to date, this might be the least exciting of the bunch. There’s not a whole lot of cutting-edge design that went into this livery, and the two-tone paint separated by the blue pinstriped cheat lines are straight out of the 1980’s. The unfortunate thing about this is that China has been known to produce some really nice airline liveries in recent years – China Airlines has a nice one, and I’m especially digging the Hainan Airlines paint scheme. Hopefully the folks at Air China have taken note of those two and are making their own plans for an exiting new rebranding effort.

So why did I take the time to make this illustration? Well, I’m going to South Korea next month, and one of my flight segments is on a Air China A330 – just like this one. And since I always struggle trying to figure out which aircraft / airline combo I want to render whenever I feel like doing airliner art, I thought it would be easiest if I just focus on the ones that I’ve flown on in the past – or something coming up in the near future.

Seriously, you have no idea how much I flip-flop and procrastinate when it comes to this kind of stuff. I do all my Norebbo illustration work in my spare time, and the process of choosing what to work on usually takes longer than creating the artwork itself. The problem is that there’s just too much I want to do (and not enough hours in the day to do it all) so it’s easy to get “deer in the headlights” syndrome when faced with too many options. Anything to help me focus is good!

Anyway, back to the Air China livery. The logo is something that I actually like quite a bit, and I think that they could focus on that and make that play a bigger part in the livery design. I’m all for exaggerating nice design elements, and there are so many nice shapes with clean negative space in that logo that could translate well into a larger abstract pattern for the fuselage. If I had more spare time I’d like to take a crack at that myself…

Just like all my other airliner art, I’ve got a simpler version of this illustration over a white background over at my online store if you need it.

HA A330 side view drawing
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I don’t consider myself to be a lazy person, but I’m starting to notice a disturbing trend. In my last post, I said that the Malaysia Airlines 777 illustration I uploaded had been in my archives for over a year in an unfinished state. And right now, I’m posting a Hawaiian Airlines A330-200 illustration that’s been sitting half-done since last September. I’m starting to have doubts about my vigor as an illustrator…

All kidding aside, billable projects are largely responsible for my lack of personal illustration projects over the past year or so. It’s been a busy year, and the truth is that I often don’t have the energy to sit down and work on 3d renderings or aircraft illustrations in the evenings after a long day of banging out stuff for my clients. So as you can see, it’s not really about laziness – but it is kind of frustrating being so busy and not having the energy to work on the side projects that I love doing so much.

I had a bit of extra time over the past few days (woo-hoo!), so I thought it would be a great opportunity to dig my half-complete Hawaiian A330 illustration out of the archives. The aircraft was still in unshaded line-art format in Illustrator, and the tail art was still very crude and loose from where I left off last September. It was a ton of work to get it where it was three days ago to the illustration you see above. And I’m not going to lie – the tail art was so frustratingly complex that I gave up on it about two hours in. I came very close to throwing it back into my archives (still unfinished), but several hours later I rolled up my sleeves and declared that this one had to be finished.

Why the urgency? Well, the Hawaiian Airlines livery is my favorite airline color scheme of them all and I thought it was odd that I didn’t have it in my archives. I’m usually not a fan of predominately white aircraft (booooring), but the design of the tail section – along with the bright / tropical colors – makes this one very appealing. Even my wife agrees – she walked into the room as I was exporting the logo out of Illustrator to Photoshop and said (and I quote): “ooooh, very pretty”. Don’t you agree?

In addition to the fully rendered version with the colorful background (at the top of this post), I’ve also got a version of it over a white background. You can find that image here.

Malaysia Airlines 777-2H6ER 9M-MRO
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Approximately one week ago, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Beijing (PEK). Most naturally assumed that it crashed into the sea somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam, but no wreckage has been found as of yet – and the fate of the 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard is still unknown. There have been conflicting reports of what really happened, but the fact of the matter is that a week of intense searching has turned up nothing. It’s certainly one of the most bizarre (and sad) aviation incidents that I have ever followed.

I had a half-finished Malaysia Airlines 777-200/ER illustration in my archives for about a year now, and I decided to finish it up last night. These illustrations are really time consuming, and I usually spend hours pouring over reference photos of real aircraft to make them as accurate as possible. Being so intensely focused on the details of this particular 777 (registration 9M-MRO) made the process difficult, as I couldn’t help but think about what those people onboard went through. Or perhaps they are still alive and waiting to be rescued? It’s chilling to think about, and I can’t even imagine what the family and friends of those onboard MH370 are feeling at the moment.

For those of you who need illustrations of this aircraft over a white background for your own articles, you can find it here.

AA 777-200 in the One World livery
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It’s been about a year now since American Airlines introduced their new livery, and it’s been controversial to say the least. So controversial, in fact, that American Airlines recently asked their employees if it should stay or go. The results of that poll were close, but long story short – this color scheme is here to stay.

Personally, I really like this new design. It’s a modern take on an old classic, and I’m glad they took some risks to make a livery that stands out from the crowd. The tail art is busy but fresh, and it blends well with the new silver paint applied to the fuselage. The only issue I can see is that the new corporate logo they designed doesn’t seem to have any relationship to the tail art (at all). I don’t think that it necessarily has to, but a lot of people see that as a huge disconnect.

Anyway, I had fun creating these side-view illustrations of this One World livery Boeing 777-200/ER. I chose to do the One World livery instead of the standard AA version, being that it’s slightly more interesting and rare. And now that I’ve spent some time working on it, I’ll go as far to say that it’s one of my favorite airline liveries now – even more so than the Sun Country 737-800 I just illustrated. I’m a fan.

AA 777-200

Side view illustrations of a Boeing 777-200 with the American Airlines / One World livery over a white background

Two Virgin America A320's over a watermarked background with and without the landing gear deployed
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A few nights ago I thought it would be fun to create some side view illustrations of a Virgin America A320. It seemed like an innocent enough thought – after all, this livery is basically all white with just a few splashes of red here and there. Right? Not quite. The biggest issue, by far, was the Virgin America titles on the forward fuselage. That typeface was custom designed by Matthew Aaron Desmond, so therefore, it’s not something that is available as a download anywhere on the web. “No problem – I’ll recreate it myself”, is the only thing that an adventurous designer like me thinks when facing a hurdle like that, so I busted out my Wacom tablet and fired up Adobe Illustrator. 10 minutes later, I gave up.

No, it’s not a particularly difficult font to recreate. The problem is that my time is scarce these days, and I thought it was a pretty poor use of what precious little down time I have. But then I had a thought…

During a recent trip that involved air travel, I took a few pictures at the airport to pass time between flights. One of those photos just happened to be a perfectly side-on view of a Virgin America A320. I could extract the title from that! And that’s exactly what I did. What you see on these illustrations are not graphic representations of the main titles, but actually parts of the photo I took and blended in with the rest of the drawing to look natural. I should point out that the slight white “halo” you see around that text in these small 1024-wide samples are not part of the larger source illustration. That’s just an unfortunate artifact from compressing these images for web viewing.

Anyway, here is the same illustration as above without the dark / watermarked background. Feel free take these and use them however you wish:

Virgin America A320

Two side view illustrations of a Virgin America A320 over a white background

Highly detailed side view illustration of a Sun Country 737-800
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While I can’t say that I’m a fan of Sun Country Airlines, I must say that they have one of the best liveries out there at the moment. While most other airlines tend to favor simple paint schemes with lots of white, Sun Country has bucked the trend and created a design that stands out in a crowd! Quite bold for a low cost airline such as this.

One interesting thing to note about their logo and corporate branding: there are two active versions of it (one for their aircraft and one for their marketing materials). At first glance, that big orange sun graphic with the “S” in the center looks the same on their website as it does on their aircraft. But they’re not the same! The aircraft version sports a different font for the S, as well as some minor tweaks to the sun rays around it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I recreated what I thought was their latest logo and tried to apply it to these side view illustrations. It wasn’t lining up like the pictures I was referencing, and it was a real head scratcher for sure. Then it hit me – I created the wrong logo!

Anyway, I like the way this illustration turned out. Compared to the Alaska Airlines 737 drawings I just created, I decided to go heavy on the blue (just as they have for their livery design). I love the way blue and orange works together.

If by some chance you’d like to use these illustrations on your blog or article, here is a version without the blue:

Sun Country 737-800

Two side view drawings of a Sun Country 737-800 over a white background

Detailed side view rendering of an Alaska Airlines 737-890
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Alaska Airlines is one of my favorite air carriers, so I’ve been wanting to create a detailed side-view illustration of one of their 737-800’s for quite some time. The problem was that “Chester” (the Eskimo depicted on the vertical stabilizer) is very detailed and it was going to require a lot of time to draw it for myself and get it to look right. Considering how busy I’ve been lately, finding time was difficult. Also difficult was recreating the “Alaska” font on the forward fuselage. That’s a totally custom font so it would be necessary to recreate it from scratch.

But earlier this week I decided to sit down and get it done. I spent several hours a night over a span of three days to create the artwork, and then another night to apply that to my existing Boeing 737-800 template that I created a while ago. It was a lot of work, and I’m happy to say that it’s done!

For anyone who would like to use these side profile illustrations for their own blog, here is the same artwork as above without the background:

Alaska Airlines 737-800

Side view illustration of an Alaska Airlines 737-890 over a white background