In the Foreword of Images of Flight ~ a Canadian Aviation Portfolio, Robert W. Bradford writes, “I believe that I speak for all aviation artists when I make the scandalous statement that we are very fortunate in being able to enjoy two loves at the same moment: aviation and art.  Most of us who create our own little world of flight, on canvas or paper, became aware of our desire to draw and paint at a very early age – about the same time that we became aware of those remarkable machines that fly in the sky.  That consciousness was nurtured into an undying romance with the aeroplane, a romance that, in many cases, later acquired another dimension, the element of history.”

What are the forms of aviation art?  How has aviation art represented the history of flight? Our Museum Library is an incredible source of information about aviation art, along with the many prints and paintings we have on display as well as in our Archives…

Aviation Art can be classified in a number of ways.  Some of these include:

Fine Art ~ “a visual art considered by many to have been created for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness”.  This example by Norman Appleton illustrates an incident from World War I.  “The incident painted from official reports concerns the first (ever) flying boat victory over a Zeppelin… The Curtiss H 12 No. 8666, was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Galpin and flown by Flight Sub-Lieutenant  Leckie when they found L22 off Texal Island.  Leckie dived 3000 feet (914 metres) winding the boat up to 90 knots and Galpin raked the Zeppelin with the bow Lewis guns, setting her alight before his guns jammed.”

"THE DESTRUCTION OF ZEPPELIN L22" ~ by Norman Appelton who worked mainly in acrylic, oil, and watercolour

“THE DESTRUCTION OF ZEPPELIN L22” ~ by Norman Appelton who worked mainly in acrylic, oil, and watercolour.


The subject of the Avro CF-105 Arrow, arguably “Canada’s most famous aircraft”, has been the subject of books, articles, documentary films and yes, even a theatrical production.  Its story is indeed well documented.  William Wheeler writes, “The angular, yet extremely graceful Arrow – it was one of the most attractive of delta designs – is not an easy painting assignment, with its white, anti-flash paint and bright red day-glo extremities.  Among the many attempts, one of the most successful is Steve Snider’s depiction of an imaginary situation, with Arrow 202 rolling to port and 203 probably about to follow… One is tempted to visualize the Arrow in camouflage colour schemes it might have worn had it become operational.”

"A PAIR OF ARROWS" ~ painted by Steve Snider ~ acrylic on board

“A PAIR OF ARROWS” ~ painted by Steve Snider ~ acrylic on board


Sometimes an artist uses rendering (a technical drawing) prior to painting a subject.  In this example, “The rendering called for a very clear view of the Spitfire with a good silhouette showing all the pilot’s control inputs… direct drawing showing limited structure as well as the insignia and camouflage pattern to be used on the final art.”

"BATTLE OF BRITAIN SPITFIRE" ~ Rendering ~ by Keith Ferris

“BATTLE OF BRITAIN SPITFIRE” ~ Rendering ~ by Keith Ferris


The artist’s idea with the rendering “was to place the viewer in the midst of an air-to-air engagement during that high summer of 1940.”  This resulting painting of the Spitfire was featured as calendar art in 1976.  The portrait (in oil) “shows the Spit nose high and rolling opposite to the turn of the opposing German Messerschmitt 109E below.

"BATTLE OF BRITAIN SPITFIRE" ~ by Keith Ferris ~ oil

“BATTLE OF BRITAIN SPITFIRE” ~ by Keith Ferris ~ oil


Poster Art ~ “designed to be eye-catching and informative, typically include textual and graphic elements.”  Though not the first to fly, Alberto Santos-Dumont was a colourful person who did a great deal to awaken public interest in aviation.  Arguably, “…his most substantial contribution to aviation was his Demoiselle, a frail-looking bamboo monoplane with a two-cylinder engine and a wingspan of only 18 feet… it was the first true lightweight airplane, and was an important development in the early years of powered flight.”  This example depicts Santos-Dumont’s flamboyancy.  Here he appears in caricature on the cover of an old issue of Vanity Fair.

"SANTOS-DUMONT AIRSHIP" ~ in caricature on the cover of an old issue of Vanity Fair

“SANTOS-DUMONT AIRSHIP” ~ in caricature on the cover of an old issue of Vanity Fair


This painted poster appeared on the cover of the July 20, 1918 edition of The Literary Digest. Italian fighters resupply Italian soldiers guarding an isolated mountain pass during World War I.




This third example of poster art was created in 1959 to advertise TCA air freight, which later changed its name to Air Canada North Star.  In the upper corner is a Super Constellation.




Nose Art ~ “a decorative painting or design on the fuselage of military aircraft, usually located near the nose, sometimes considered a form of aircraft graffiti.”  This first example was created during WWII.  Jack MacIntosh and his crew were assigned the brand new Halifax Bomber JD-114.  Jack recalled, “We had flown six operations before the crew decided it was time to give our bomber a name and some type of nose art painting.  I was asked to pick a name and selected my home city in Alberta, Medicine Hat.  The nose artist was one of our ground crew and he picked the painting of Walt Disney’s Goofy dropping bombs.  The thinking was that each time the aircraft flew, the enemy was receiving more ‘medicine’ from the ‘hat’… I completed 23 operations in ‘Medicine Hat’ and although we had a few close calls, we never received another hit or injury to the crew.  The name and nose art made it feel she was ‘our’ aircraft and would always bring us home.”

NOSE ART ON HALIFAX BOMBER JD-114 ~ artist was a member of the ground crew

NOSE ART ON HALIFAX BOMBER JD-114 ~ artist was a member of the ground crew

Walt Disney Studios received many requests for insignia during WWII.  Disney instructed, “Make as many insignias as you receive letters for.” “The design team grew to five artists who created over 1200 insignia during the war for units from Canada, Britain, the Free French, the Free Polish, as well as numerous American ones.”

“The RCAF received 32 insignia officially created for them by the Walt Disney team.  The ‘Seven Dwarfs’ that are pictured on a ‘V for Victory’ was designed for ‘A’ Flight of No. 15 Service Flying Training School at Claresholm, Alberta.”

"THE SEVEN DWARFS" ~ designed for the No. 15 SFTS by Disney

“THE SEVEN DWARFS” ~ designed for the No. 15 SFTS by Disney

“Designed by Disney studios but for some reason only infrequently applied to aircraft was this emblem produced for 122 Squadron, RCAF; the ‘Flying Nightmare’.  Perhaps the visual pun could not offset the alternative meaning to the unit’s nickname.”

"THE FLYING NIGHTMARE" ~ designed by Disney studios

“THE FLYING NIGHTMARE” ~ designed by Disney studios


The painting of sharkmouth designs on aircraft has spanned the history of aircraft markings.  This magazine picture of a USAAF B-24J was the inspiration for the tiger head paintwork on RCAF Liberator IV 3742.

TIGER HEAD PAINTWORK ~ USAAF B-24J ~ a magazine picture

TIGER HEAD PAINTWORK ~ USAAF B-24J ~ a magazine picture

Below is the paintwork for the Liberator GR Mk IV, 3742, of 10 (BR) Sqn RCAF, as well as nose art on two other Liberators.




Quotes and media included in this piece are from the following titles found in our Museum Library:

A Canadian Aviation Portfolio ~ Images of Flight ~ text by William J. Wheeler

Aviation Art ~ John Blake

The Aviation Art of Keith Ferris ~ edited by Ian Ballantine

Flight ~ A Poster Book ~ Jean-Claude Suares and David Owen

Nose Art ~ The Clarence Simonsen Collection ~ Dave Birrell

RAF & RCAF Aircraft Nose Art in World War II ~ Clarence Simonsen

You’re invited to come into the Library to have a closer look at these and other volumes related to the concept and history of Aviation Art.