All posts in: Aircraft Illustrations
Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767-201/ER
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Sometimes whenever I start working on a project, I get really into it and end up doing a lot more than originally intended. These Boeing 767-200 illustrations are a perfect example of that. My primary reason for creating a 767-200 template was so that I could render up one with Delta’s old widget livery – one of the best looking airline liveries of all time if you ask me. But once I finished, I thought that it would be cool to do one for American Airlines in their polished aluminum scheme. And if I was going to do that, I thought that I might as well create at TWA version too. But that’s when I really started getting nostalgic, finding myself in Photoshop laying the colors for Piedmont Airlines onto another copy of my blank template. Oh – and I almost forgot that there was a USAir version created somewhere in between all that as well, which I’ll post it up on the blog soon.

The silly part? All of this happened in one 24 hour period. Sometimes my drive to create gets the best of me and it’s difficult to let go of what I’m working on.

Anyway, back to this Piedmont 767 rendering. Piedmont Airlines was a small(ish) US airline based out of Winston-Salem North Carolina founded in 1948, and they eventually merged with USAir in 1989. I personally found it interesting that that they were solidly a US domestic airline with mostly short-range flights, but they did operate one single international route from Charlotte to London (Gatwick) utilizing Boeing 767-200 aircraft. Kind of an odd route for such a niche airline.

My illustration above is an exact representation of one of those 767’s. As with all aircraft liveries of the 1980’s, it sports a super-cool cheatline intersecting the windows right through the middle of the fuselage. Too bad we never got to see this brand evolve, as I do like their brand colors and logo quite a bit.

Long live the cheatlines!

red and white TWA 767 drawing
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Here in the US, there aren’t many airlines that have as much history as TWA (Trans World Airlines). They started flying way back in 1925, and lasted all the way until 2001 when they merged with American Airlines. That’s a long time – certainly longer than most of the other airlines flying around in the US today. That said, I’ve only flown with them 5 times – all of that in their last months of 2001 before disappearing from the skies for good. I wish that I could have experienced them in the late 70’s to early 80’s (arguably their “prime” years) just to see what they were really like. There’s just something about the thought of being served freshly-carved roast from a tray while sitting in a paisley first class seat from STL to LAX (or LHR, or FRA, or….wherever) that gets this aviation geek excited. Hey – I love this kind of stuff!

As far as an airline goes, I remember them as being an old (crusty?) established brand. They certainly weren’t known for being a flashy airline and their corporate branding was quite stiff if you ask me. No flashy colors, supermodel stewardesses, or gimmicky products – just a solid, world class airline serving destinations all around the globe.

Their liveries did nothing to convey the opposite, as most of them were safe and sterile – including the version I’ve illustrated above. This was their second to last livery, with the last one unveiled only a few short years before their death. But this one is my favorite. Nothing screams “1980’s” more than thick red stripes running down the side of a white fuselage – it totally reminds me of the A-Team van (with different colors obviously), and I swear I can hear Wham or Madonna playing in the background. Its way cheesy. And I love it.

Southwest 737-700 side view
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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Southwest Airlines have always had bold liveries that have drawn attention. The original “mustard rocket” colors were unlike anything else in the air at that time, and the current blue, yellow, and orange get-up is in a league of it’s own as well. So yeah – the designer in me naturally gives them a lot of credit for bucking the trend and doing something different than most of the other airlines (who prefer stark-white fuselages with small splashes of color here and there).

I’ve been putting off illustrating a Southwest 737 for a long time and wouldn’t you know it, soon after I finished it,  Southwest threw everyone a curve ball with the announcement of a brand new livery which placed more emphasis on the “Southwest” titles. That means I’ve got to play catch-up now and illustrate a version of that one. That’s the trouble with doing airliner art – the industry moves fast and it will never be possible for one person to draw them all. At least I have something to keep me busy until I die…

Really though, I’m not bugged by it. I actually like documenting the old airliner liveries the most, and since I eventually plan on creating renderings of every single Southwest color scheme, this means one less I’ll have to do later on. The mustard rocket colors are most interesting to me though, so you’ll likely see that one first.

DL 767-200
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As a child of the 80’s, the iconic Widget livery is the one that I think defines Delta Airlines. I can recall with great clarity the advertisements in newspapers and magazines featuring photos and illustrations of Delta L-1011’s and 767’s (just like this one), and I had scrapbooks full that stuff. So yeah – this widget livery is burned into my brain pretty good. The current livery just isn’t even on the same level, IMHO.

As far as the illustration goes, I there were a couple areas that ended up being more difficult than I had planned them to be. First was the exposed aluminum section on the bottom half of the fuselage. This is a highly-polished section of the airplane in real life, and the reference photos I used to make this illustration showed that it was highly reflective and mirrored whatever was underneath it at the time. It’s difficult to replicate that effect when rendering these over white backgrounds (because there’s nothing to reflect other than white), so I had to take a bit of artistic liberty and render it a bit more generic than I would have preferred. The other issue was the typeface for “DELTA” – in real life, it was not the same on both the tail and on the fuselage. Interesting! But a royal pain in the butt…it took me a bit of time to realize this and make these titles look like they should.

Anyway, most of the airliner art I’ve created so far have been depictions of current airlines and aircraft, so it was fun to take a step back in time and create a true “classic”. It was so much fun that I did a few more on the 767-200 – so stay tuned for those.

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.

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.

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!

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…

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?

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.