Above, my Christmas present to myself this year: a 1991 Looney Tunes sculpture by Ron Lee. When the Warner Brothers Studio Stores still existed, I would visit whenever I was near one – almost never buying anything, but spending fifteen or twenty minutes admiring all the Ron Lee stuff in the back of the store, where two or three dozen of his latest sculptures would be on display. I think he produced well over a hundred Looney Tunes sculptures over several years, possibly approaching two hundred. They were too expensive for me back then, but their extraordinary quality and beauty were compelling. Like all his work, this is made of white metal with a solid polished onyx base, so it’s pretty hefty at nearly six pounds. It’s about ten inches high.
Lee has done a lot more than just Warner Brothers characters – he’s most well-known for clown sculptures (shudder) – but the Looney Tunes and Betty Boop designs are my favourites. I have four now – five if you count the Tweety duplicate I have over at my office.
Last weekend, I refreshed the pictures in my upstairs hallway, the new ones shown above. As a frame of reference, the photo shows an area of about 7×3 feet. For about a hundred dollars total, I was able to get three 16×20″ prints and one 12×36″ panorama of high-resolution Apollo-era photographs from Shutterfly and mount them in the best borderless clip frames available.
There was a time when I did my own picture mounting on foam board and framing using mail-order Nielsen #11 frame pieces and locally-sourced, custom-cut sheet glass (I never attempted matting), but these days I most often use clip frames – good ones, that is – because they’re easier, they look clean and classy, and they’re a lot cheaper than professional framing or even DIY Nielsens. The last picture I had mounted, double-matted, and framed, the “Clipper at the Gate” shown below, cost me well north of US$200 – and that didn’t include the signed print, which I had purchased several years previously. Don’t get me wrong – the framing and matting is well-done and quite attractive, but I have a lot of drawings, paintings, and photos on my walls and I am well south of a millionaire.
I was able to get those four hallway prints done both well and on the cheap thanks to four things:
In recent years, the negatives from the Apollo programme have been scanned with better equipment and at much higher resolution, which allows for nice-looking enlargements – not the case with the low-res images previously available. In the case of the three-foot-wide print, someone stitched together a 10,000-pixel-wide image from a panorama photo series Charlie Duke took during Apollo 16.
The recently completed Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project used current technology to produce, from the data on hundreds of carefully preserved original 1960s magtapes, awe-inspiring photos far beyond the resolution and quality NASA could produce fifty years ago. The top middle picture in the hallway is an oblique photo of Copernicus from 150 miles south of the crater that was taken by chance during a “let’s move the film forward a bit” housekeeping task on Lunar Orbiter 2.
A plethora of discounts, including 40% or 50% off sales that Shutterfly runs every week or two, periodic Visa Checkout deals (US$25 off the next order), and even $25 Shutterfly credits that Best Buy includes with many hard drive purchases means you can easily get prints in these bigger sizes for $12-$16 each. That’s cheap for high quality large prints.
Massachusetts-based Quadro Frames, which I’ve used for many years, produces the highest quality borderless clip frames I’ve seen; other, more widely-available types are mostly flimsy and ill-fitting. 16×20″ frames from Quadro are US$12.50 and it’s $20 for 12×36″. Each frame is precisely fashioned and includes a sturdy, non-bending backing board with perfectly cut, strong clip channels on the back, pristine and perfectly clear PET plastic glazing panels with peel-off protective sheets on both sides (or glass panels for just $3 more), and more than enough clips that slip into the back channel with a satisfying firm snap. Even their care in shipping to guarantee safe arrival is the best possible: I always think, “Wow, just look at that” when I open boxes from them. For some of my orders, I’ll wager it’s taken them half an hour or more to pack the materials so fastidiously. It’s a good example of corporate responsibility and pride in doing things right.
Here are the source photographs I uploaded to Shutterfly for the hallway prints. You can pause the slideshow and right-click to view and/or save any image at its full size.
I also got these three enlarged to 16×20″ and they’re up elsewhere in the house:
I became curious last night about George Lawler’s sources for his 1938 “Fly to South Sea Isles” painting for Pan American Airways, so I did some digging. The auction listing I quoted in my earlier post spoke of a fantasy setting that he likely merged from multiple sources, but it seems to me that there’s just one primary source: It’s clearly a view of Mont Rotui from either ‘Ōpūnohu Bay or Cook’s Bay in Mo’orea, Tahiti. If it’s from Cook’s Bay, the Clipper’s direction of travel in the painting might not be right as it probably would have inconveniently scraped one or two other mountains from that direction, but even so, the pleasing juxtaposition and opposing symmetry of the aircraft and the woman are reason enough for a little artistic licence, don’t you think?
You can click on most of the images below for larger versions.
The 50th anniversary print, from the National Air & Space Museum archive:
Mont Rotui circa 1940:
Mont Rotui circa 1960:
In the course of my search, I remembered that my print was issued by Hansa Editions to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Clipper service, and then was a bit amazed to find, on Google Books, the Islands magazine advert from which I ordered in the 1980s. This print, probably the finest of the various reproductions made over the years – some are appallingly amateurish in quality – goes for considerably more than US$25 these days.
I also found a photograph in the Smithsonian archive that gives a better sense of scale of the behemoth that was the B-314 – click the 1970 x 1343 image to see more clearly the two men on the right wing. This is the same California Clipper, NC-18602, at Pearl Harbor circa 1939-1940 with the view over the wing from the #1 engine. I see no weathering at all, even around the engines, so I favor mid-1939, possibly right after its maiden voyage to Hawaii. That open hatch is the navigator’s windowed observation hatch.
Below is NC-18602 at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay on christening day, Tuesday 25 April 1939, with the Bay Bridge in the background. The platform it’s on is moveable and could be winched up the ramp while the aircraft remained level; the aircraft was then towed ashore for maintenance using the wheeled beaching cradle it sits on.
Aerial view of man-made Treasure Island with the maintenance ramp at the lower right leading to the Pan American Airways hangar doors:
This hangar and the one to the right of frame are both intact on Treasure Island, two of just a handful of original 1930s structures still there. Section 7 of this article on Treasure Island then and now shows the buildings today.
We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.
In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.
Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.
The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:
One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.
The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.
Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):
Pan Am/Boeing/San Francisco corner
Food photos and pencil sketches
16×20 photos of some of my flight jacket paintings may go here
1:200 scale models of my favourite Boeing aircraft
All Nippon Airways Boeing 747SR-81 JA8139 in “Snoopy Go!” livery, used to promote family ski vacations in Sapporo from 1996-1998
Sourdough boule in my kitchen
Jasper White’s Lobster & Corn Chowder
My best mate
Woman with newborn Bengal kitten
Tracy Griffith; she asked me to create her first web site many years ago
Apollo 15 launch
Dave Scott during Apollo 9
Apollo 16 – John Young with the LRV
Apollo 17 Commander Capt. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, in 1/6th scale
Moon globe made using 15,000 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photos; shows all unmanned and manned landing sites
Lunar Roving Vehicle
This photo is from the old office, but the Apollo 11 model’s still on my desk
What was inside the B-314; this was the centerfold of the 23 August 1937 issue of Life magazine
All Nippon Airways B-747 in “Snoopy Go!” livery
On the unfilled wall, I may put up 16×20 photos – approximately actual size – of two of the flight jackets I painted. This one is Rita Hayworth.
My jaw dropped on reading this story today. The same thing happened to me in grade school, I think in 1st grade, but that was some decades ago. I figured perhaps we had advanced a bit. Silly me.
I was shocked enough by the teacher grabbing the pencil out of my left hand and forcing it angrily into my right hand that I told my mother about it that afternoon. The next day she was in school to have a little chat with the teacher, who never tried that again. I found Mrs. Douglas in the 2nd grade much pleasanter – and funnier, particularly when she would loudly sigh and lament, “Oh, what’s the point?“at least once a day.
Had that left-is-wrong idiocy continued, would I have ever in my life attempted artwork like this – or any artwork at all, for that matter? Seems questionable.
Tonight, I pulled out my French DVD box set of the complete Tex Avery cartoons – one of the many reasons I require all-region disc players with PAL to NTSC conversion – and cued up “Swing Shift Cinderella” to marvel at. To me, it’s one of the most astonishing of the old school cartoons, especially considering that Preston Blair, who invented and animated the Red Hot Riding Hood character, produced Red’s dancing entirely from his artistic imagination – no rotoscoping, where an actor is filmed and then key frames are traced…no model…no nothing. And, hey, it was August 1945, so no CGI. You can change the quality here from the default of 360 to 480.
Red appeared in several Avery productions, always with Wolfie and sometimes with Droopy the dog as Wolfie’s foil, but I think this one’s the best. (The full cartoon is over seven minutes, but I uploaded just this portion in the hope that it won’t be summarily removed at the behest of MGM. You know, the ones who won’t release the Avery library on DVD or Blu-ray in the US.) I don’t believe I’ve seen finer free-hand animation of the female figure. For a treat, watch again and follow just her hands. I think their complex and varied natural movements push the cartoon into extraordinary territory.
It’s no surprise that cels of Red dancing were once stolen from an animation stand where they had been left unattended overnight before filming. Blair had to re-do the work, but considered the theft high praise.
In one of his books, Blair explains one sequence in a chart:
Click to see a larger version
Red’s singing voice was provided by the silken notes of Imogene Lynn, perhaps best known for her lead in the most popular recording of “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” with Artie Shaw, and shown here performing “Big Boy”.
My best mate also loves the Red Hot Riding Hood cartoons and recently got a new mobile, so I customised this skin for the back of her phone on Skinit.com and gave it to her at Christmas – to her great delight.
Here are a few of the variants of Red that appeared in Tex Avery cartoons:
I was poking around the web looking at flight jacket artwork last night and was somewhat startled when I bumped into a photo of one of my paintings that I had nearly – okay, maybe fully – forgotten was used for the frontispiece of Hell Bent for Leather by Nelson and Parsons many years ago. I of course remember that the cover of the book featured one of my paintings, but the other paintings of mine that are inside the book tend to fade into the background of my mind.
The frontispiece painting is on a large faux leather portfolio case, with the tableau 27″w x12″h on the bottom half of the case. I realised today that I never did get a good photo of the painting in digital form — the photo I took for the authors was strictly analogue, the negative long gone or at the least buried amongst thousands of others — so I dug the case out from behind a bookcase, dusted it off, and rectified that situation this morning (you can click these for a larger size):
The pin-up is based on this Alberto Vargas painting, which was the gatefold artwork in the August 1943 issue of Esquire magazine:
Here’s a closer look at my variation:
The pilot and copilot are the WWII cartoon characters Hubert and Sad Sack, respectively. Sad Sack appeared in the U.S. Army Yank weekly magazine and the Hubert panels were in the Army’s Stars and Stripes newspaper, some samples below:
Last night, I also ran into this high-quality copy of a photograph that I had seen only in much smaller form years ago in Vintage Aircraft Nose Art:
The name is a reference to Rosie the Riveter, of course. Many jacket artists in WWII just couldn’t capture faces well, but this artist certainly could. I love the care that went into this painting – again, you can click to see the detail – and note that it’s from the 401st Bomb Group based in Deenethorpe, Northamptonshire, the group that had the finest jacket paintings in WWII. However, the story behind the aircraft is a sad one indeed. The entire crew of the B-17 Rosie’s Sweat Box died in a takeoff accidentat Deenethorpe exactly 70 years ago this past Wednesday.
To interject a bit more reality:
Riveting crew work on a B-17 at Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach, 1942. Douglas and Vega joined Boeing in building B-17s during the war.