I suppose I was destined to be doing aircraft profile art from a young age. Many of my notebooks and textbooks had aircraft drawings scribbled on the pages and margins, often to pass the time in class. As long as I can remember, I was always drawing airplanes – on the walls of my room, in the margins of a textbook, scraps of paper and a sketchbook here and there, some of which I’m sure are probably tucked away in my parents’ attic to this day.
As a teen, I even took drafting electives to help with my drawings as they began to develop more details and precision. In high school, I had covered the walls of my bedroom with a series of aircraft profiles all to scale — I’m not sure where they are now, but they were done with technical pen and Prismacolor pencils from large aircraft like the Boeing 747 and B-52 Stratofortress, to fighter jets and World War II aircraft. I had a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 refueling a formation of F-4E Phantoms and F-15 Eagles.
That was probably the start of my interest in “what-if” concepts and unbuilt designs, as there was also a profile of the proposed McDonnell Douglas P-9, a maritime patrol version of the MD-87 powered by unducted fan engines. Through college and medical school I tried my hand at pencil drawings as well, as I was searching for the ideal medium for my artwork. Many of my books were filled with profile art, which I scrutinized, by aviation artist Keith Fretwell.
I was a consummate model aircraft builder (and still am, to some extent, but not to the level of activity that I was before I had kids) which also influenced my own artwork as well. After all, the research I put into a particular model kit had just as much application to my artwork as well. That was probably the first use of the internet for me as an AvGeek.
Around 1993, I discovered the USENET and I’m pretty sure you can find my posts in the rec.models.scale and rec.aviation sections. I still remember my first posting; I was looking for the FS595 colors used for the Mod Eagle camouflage scheme on the F-15 Eagle that was introduced in the early nineties on the Eagles of the Pacific Air Forces before it became standard for the USAF’s F-15 fleet.
When I started out in private practice in the summer of 2000 here in Texas, I began collecting 1/400 scale diecast commercial aircraft. If you haven’t gotten your hands on these little gems over the years, that’s good and bad. Bad in that you’re missing out on some neat little models but good in that collecting those models is worse than a crack habit.
As I learned more about that particular collecting hobby, I ended up signing up and joining a 1/400 diecast aircraft collectors forum. That was in January of 2001, and that was pretty much the first time I realized there were a LOT of people out there who shared my passion for all things aviation.
My screen name then? It was my old multiplayer screen name from when I played Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six during residency training (yes, we installed Rainbow Six on the university hospital’s network and would battle it out late at night when we were on call as residents) – “Sentinel Chicken.” I’ll have to save the meaning of that screen name for a future post, but I still use that screen name on several forums as well as on my Twitter and Instagram.
There were two members on the collector forums who were using computers to create profile art that impressed me. They were graphic designers and artists by profession, who shared my AvGeekiness. Being an early fan of their work, it inspired me to start some very basic and rudimentary computer-based art using the default bitmap editor that was part of the Windows operating system.
I’d share my drawings on the forums, get positive comments, and worked on more. I’d hardly call those pixelated drawings anything special but that was a starting point for me where I had discovered a medium that was comfortable. I wish I knew where the files of those drawings were; one of the earliest ones was my interpretation of the Boeing Sonic Cruiser.
In early 2002, I decided to get more serious about using software for my artwork, but at that point it was still really a leisure activity for my own amusement and for sharing on aviation-related forums. I didn’t have the cash outlay in those days for Adobe Illustrator, so I started out with Paint Shop Pro 7.0. The earliest art that I do have archived was from those days. Given my online involvement on forums that dealt mostly with commercial aviation, most of my early artwork were commercial airline subjects. That year, with a friend, we started our own aviation collectors forum at Airlinebuzz.com which has been one of my online homes for over 10 years now.
It sort of became a bit of a joke that I should have had my own company to release some of my conceptual designs and what-if artwork. So in a nod to the Lockheed Skunk Works and my online screen name “Sentinel Chicken”, the name “Chicken Works” was born — that’s how my art studio got its current name.
In 2004, I finally made the leap to Adobe Illustrator and that’s still what I use now (I think I’m on my fourth version of Illustrator now with the 2015 version of Illustrator CC). The learning curve with Adobe Illustrator was very steep but it was well worth it, as it opened up new avenues for me in a few short years. One of those avenues was in the box designs for 1/400 scale models from a variety of companies.
The second avenue that opened up for me was my collaboration with German author Andreas Rupprecht. He had seen some of my commercial aviation “what if” artwork of the Ilyushin Il-96 and had shared one in the letters to the editor section of the German aviation magazine Flieger Revue.
Andreas is an expert on Chinese combat aircraft design and development, and he was working on a series of magazine articles for Flieger Revue on many of the unbuilt designs and prototypes that the People’s Republic of China had worked on for many years, which would ultimately influence their current generation of combat aircraft. He asked me to do the artwork for his articles and it was a great experience. His work then moved from Flieger Revue to one of the finest military aviation periodicals ever to be published, International Air Power Review. In the IAPR issues, I’m credited as an artist with my name right next to the name of an aviation profile artist I idolized as a kid — Keith Fretwell!
I have Andreas to thank for what is still one of the best opportunities for me to have as an artist. The work I’ve done for him I’ll have to share later, as it could fill pages and pages, but my work is featured in three issues of IAPR; one issue has my artwork of the development and deployment of the Chengdu J-10 fighter, the second one the development and deployment of the Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber, and a third issue features the Changhe Z-10 helicopter gunship.
The third avenue (after box art design and published artwork) were my own prints. My wife had always encouraged me to go this route, Lord knows the poor gal has had to deal with aviation as my mistress all these years! The first print I did was in late 2006, and the subject was of a very special aircraft – N7907, a Braniff International Boeing 707-320C with special markings for the Christmas 1969 season.
A friend of mine, who has long been involved with the ex-Braniff employees of the DFW area, had told me about the Perot charters and thought it would make a great debut print for “The Chicken Works.” He was a valuable resource in making this print possible, sharing what he had found in his own research reviewing archival material. He even arranged for me to meet the last surviving Braniff captain of this flight at his home in North Dallas, where I gave him one of these prints. Captain Phillips passed away in 2012 and I consider myself fortunate to have met him back in 2007. What I didn’t know at the time was that Forrest had also sent a print to Ross Perot himself…who then called me at home out of the blue one evening to thank me for creating the print! I was in the midst of preparing dinner for my kids and had let the call go to voicemail. So when I checked it later, it was Perot himself asking me to call him back, which of course I did right away.
Most of my artwork now falls into one of three categories- commercial aviation, military aviation, and what-if/alternate history concepts. I’d be hard pressed to pick out my favorite one so far – true to my avgeek nature, they all are my favorite! But here’s one from each category:
These are only a few examples of my work. I have been surprised over the years at how popular my what-if/alternate history concept art prints have been. Usually those are projects I did for myself as a break from real world/historical projects, but they inevitably seem to be very popular when I’ve exhibited my work at local shows. Over the years as I’ve learned new techniques, I sometimes revisit past works and update them to reflect my latest methods.