Archive for the 'Painting' Category

I hate moving.

I’m in the middle of moving house interstate…  so everything’s all packed up and, mostly, in Mum and Dad’s garage. This morning I took down the B707 print from my wall… and so the flat is now looking rather depressing.

To cheer myself up, here’s the next update from Steve…

I’ve made some progress and a few revisions (see attached).  I decided the vast expanse of concrete was all rather too much and have resorted to the same fudge used in so many “dispersal” paintings – mud and grass and tyre ruts leading into the picture.  Still a lot to do there but you get the idea.  The GPU is there with an attending erk but not quite at the plugging in stage – I need to suggest the lead though. 

little-lancaster_41 copy

We have propellers! We have more Lancasters! We have an erk! We have a battery cart! We have (crucially) an entrance door into the aeroplane! We have… erm… (one, two, three, four, five, six) six crew!

Perhaps the seventh airman is pedalling furiously from the ops block on his bicycle…


What Steve Did Next

Oh ok then. Here is another update from Steve’s studio:

Some more progress for you.  We probably need to start thinking about the guy working on the engine, the bike, etc.  I’m still looking to include one or two distant Lancs dispersed around the airfield.  Lots still to do, especially in the foreground.


lancaster_3-blog copyThe crew themselves are starting to appear, and the truck that brought them to the aeroplane is hanging around in the background. As for the erk working on an engine, I’m starting to think that a workstand might ‘clutter’ the scene a little too much, so I’m thinking of a few other options that will get him into the scene but not take over too much…

But looking good, no?

Two posts in a week???!?

I know I’m trying to only post one article a week at the moment – but this painting is starting to look rather impressive so I thought I’d share it.

Steve has begun actually adding paint to the canvas:

lancaster_21-blog copy

Further updates to come in due course…


It’s happening.

Steve has started sketching the basic outline for the painting onto the canvas. Here’s a preliminary photo:

lancaster_1-blog1 copy

You can see the general arrangement of the Lancaster (with H2S bulge) and the crew bus. The squiggles in the middle will, I’m told, eventually turn into the crew themselves…

Actually introducing paint to the canvas will happen, Steve says, in the next week or so. In the meantime, we now need to start thinking about where the bike and a few other details will fit in…


As explained in this post, I’ve engaged the services of a good friend of mine to paint me a picture of Lancaster LM475. I’ve decided to start an occasional series of posts dealing with ‘the process’ of how the painting develops over the next couple of months.

Steve and I have been throwing ideas around for the last few weeks, and now we are starting to see some concepts ‘on screen’, if not exactly on canvas yet. The traditional method for deciding on a composition, Steve says, is to actually sketch out ideas on paper. Those days are no more, thanks to Photoshop. Steve mocked up a proposed composition using a CGI image that I’d found on the Lancaster Archive Forum (thanks Peter) and a few other bits and pieces:

lanc20copy1-blog copy

Already the feel of the scene is coming through…

The beauty of Photoshop, of course, is that even those like myself, suffering a severe lack of skills in the drawing department, can have a fiddle with some things. So I found our lonely ‘erk’ a work stand…draft1-copy-blog1 copy


…then decided the stand (and ‘erk’ – who had, Steve tells me, been rudely snatched from a USAAF Lightning and suddenly transported into the RAF) would work better on the other wing…draft2-copy-blog copy


So I bounced both of my ‘amendments’ to Steve to throw in to the mix.

These were always intended to be very crude representations of an overall concept for the painting. Details like the bicycles and any other bits of the flotsam usually found near a dispersal haven’t arrived on-scene yet. But they can come later.

Next step: the canvas.

Visit Steve’s website for more of his work…


Picture the scene:

Just after 7pm, 11 April, 1944. The sun is about an hour and a half from setting and the light is the beautiful golden colour of a mid-Spring evening. Lancaster B for Baker is sitting on dispersal, one of many scattered around the countryside surrounding the runways at RAF Waddington. An engine fitter stands on a scaffold, finishing off some work on the fiddly bits of one of the four Merlin engines. His bicycle leans against a main wheel beneath him. The Lancaster’s belly is open – earlier in the afternoon, armourers had hoisted 13 1,000lb medium-capacity bombs into its racks. A truck has just dropped off the Lancaster’s crew. They clamber from the tailgate and stand around, cracking bad jokes to ward off the gnawing tension that’s been there ever since they found out where they were headed tonight. Aachen.

While this is an imagined description, it is I hope not too far from what happened on that night in the spring of 1944 for Jack Purcell, Phil Smith and the rest of their crew. I don’t have a photo of Jack’s aeroplane – Lancaster LM475, PO-B for Baker – so this is my concept for a painting of it.

On my living room wall is a framed print of this picture:

The artist is a man named Steve Leadenham, and he happens to be a friend of mine. Steve did a series on VH-XBA, the first ever Qantas jet, and the story of its restoration to flight and eventual return to Australia a few years ago. I particularly liked this one so I got him to organise a print for me. Plug alert – have a look at for the rest of the series.

Steve grew up around South Yorkshire in England and as a youngster used to explore some of the old bomber bases that are scattered around that part of the world. As he said when I asked him to do a painting of Jack’s aeroplane for me, “it’s inevitable I will get round to a Lancaster sooner or later!” We’re at the stage now of throwing ideas around to see what we can come up with.

The general concept, as described above, is fairly simple – but what details to include or otherwise are more difficult to determine. I don’t, for example, know what if any nose art the aeroplane carried. This we can get around by positioning the aeroplane so that the port nose section – where any nose art would be found – is not facing the viewer, to keep alive the possibility of it being there should we discover a photograph some time in the future. Should the starboard aircraft and squadron code letters – either side of the fuselage roundel – be PO-B, or should they be B-PO? Should the code letters be outlined in yellow (which appears a 5 Group standard)? Should the nose carry a small “PO” by the bomb aimer’s blister (which appears on photos of many but, infuriatingly, not all, Waddington Lancasters)? Should the flaps be up or down? Should the bomb doors be open or closed? What sort of propellers did the aeroplane have – ‘needle’ or ‘paddle’? Did it carry the H2S blister under the fuselage?

These are difficult questions to pin down with any certainty. I’ve used as many photos as I can find of Waddington aircraft – the Waddington Collection from Phil Bonner is invaluable here – and I’ve asked a few ‘experts’, on the Lancaster Archive Forum and in other places, about aircraft configuration. So I can make a few educated guesses: I’ve asked Steve to paint the aeroplane with the bomb doors open (because they were hydraulically operated so would be left open prior to bombing up, and closed following engine start), with the yellow outlined codes and the smaller PO on the nose (basis the fuselage of ‘Old Fred’ in the IWM in London – which was on squadron at the same time – and numerous Waddington Collection photos), and with H2S blister and needle props (basis a photo of LM550, which came off the same production line). This is all based on educated guesses and may be incorrect but at this stage it’s as close as I can get.

In an effort to be as ‘plausible’ as I can, the Aachen operation of 11 April 1944 is one on which the crew actually flew, in LM475. The bomb load was indeed 13 thousand-pounders. The bicycle represents those that I know were owned by Phil Smith and Gil Pate. The idea of the “beautiful golden colour of a mid-Spring evening” is not entirely made up either. On 14 April 1944 – a few days after this raid – Gil Pate wrote to his mother:

“Weather here now beautiful sunny days + long hours of daylight, which we make the most of.”

On the Aachen raid they took off at 2016. According to the Australian Geoscience website calculator, sunset at Waddington was at 1850 GMT, which would be 2050 local given the Double British Summer Time in use throughout the war – or about half an hour after the aircraft took off. So the crew would have arrived at the aircraft an hour and a half or so before sunset, and based on Gil’s letter it’s a good bet that weather conditions were pleasant at the time.

The whole idea is to have something that makes a fitting memorial to the crew. It might not be ‘spot on’ accurate but hopefully it will be based at least partly on plausible facts. Rest assured I’ll keep you updated as Steve progresses.

(c) 2010 Adam Purcell

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