Travel Art – Drawing on an Airplane

The question of what to do during a long flight is much easier to answer than it used to be. Our kids have been on planes a few times, and we’ve been fortunate that they handle flights pretty well. Of course, we have to thank the existence of kids’ tablets and the practically unlimited number of apps, games, and shows we can bring along. Probably the fact that, global pandemics aside, we’ve pretty consistently travelled with them has helped. And I’m sure there’s some luck in terms of just how they are and their temperaments. The keeping-busy-on-a-plane question for me and my wife is, in theory, is just as easy to answer; tablets, movies, games, books, and so on.

Recently, I wrote about the unfortunate passing of my wife’s father. I won’t go into great depth about everything, but I tried to write a fitting tribute to him in that post. We were luck enough to be able to visit him the week prior, which was the first time we had been on a plane since prior to the pandemic. Which is apparently years now; still kind of a mind-boggling fact. This was a last minute trip, and so all of our minds were quite occupied. Incredibly, my wife was able to find time to have her Kindle and iPad loaded and ready, along with fresh content for the kids to consume. Considering our turnaround time was maybe two days maximum, that’s quite a feat of preparation.

Drawing space on an airplane.

I was not quite as organized as everyone else. I just sort of took for granted that I would have room for a laptop to play video games. Apparently I had forgotten that planes are very, very small. And that I am not small, which is not a winning formula in this scenario. I had loaded Elden Ring and Kenshi onto the laptop, but it didn’t seem at all possible given the physical space. Fortunately, I did have one backup plan; I brought along some drawing supplies. I have a metal Prismacolor tin with enough room for an assortment of pencils, plus a small sharpener, and an eraser. And I also packed a portfolio with paper and a few unfinished drawings.

As it turns out, leaning a 9” X 12” Itoya portfolio directly on the dining tray was a perfectly workable area for drawing. It necessitated more paper adjustment and movement than I’m used to, but it worked just fine. I did struggle a bit trying to make sure I didn’t drop any pencils, but once I started using my shirt pocket to hold a couple for easy switching, it became more manageable. And there was an excellent bonus that I did not expect; apparently some airplanes now have a phone/tablet holder in the seat instead of a screen. That’s a good move in my opinion, since pretty much everyone has a portable screen with them now. Especially on a plane. Anyhow, with this holder, I was able to prop my phone up with an image of what I was drawing. I typically look at an iPad for my reference when drawing, but in this smaller space, it worked well. A nice, functional solution indeed.

Here’s the final result of this in-flight portrait. As usual, I’ll talk some more about the process and share a time-lapse progression at the end.

Drawing done almost entirely on an airplane. Based on stock image in a The Onion article.

For this airplane drawing, I decided to just stick with something I’m fairly comfortable with, which is random stock photos. Once again, I think this one is the stock image used by The Onion for one of their articles. For some reason, I like drawing people looking at phones. It’s not so much the conceptual aspects (i.e. we’re always on them) as much as just the basic aesthetics involved. It’s good practice for pupil placement, expression, and various angles and dimensions (like hands) that are sometimes challenging to me. It’s not too daunting overall, but still gives me an opportunity to practice a few things that need improvement. I didn’t draw the entire flight, but by the time we landed back home, this one was pretty much finished.

We had some turbulence at a few points, but I managed to not make any major slip-ups on the page. Overall, for a portrait that was done almost entirely on an airplane, this turned out fairly well. I like the depth of contrast achieved, and I think my improvisation given the lack of color selection was pretty solid. I also believe the expression I wanted to portray comes through; the woman is shocked, surprised, startled, or dismayed by something she’s reading/seeing on her phone. The plants and background stuff are just okay, but at least I didn’t skip them.

There were definite missteps though. One of the biggest was that at various points, the subject started to look like Hillary Clinton. I know she is a polarizing figure, like so many modern politicians, so I’m certainly not getting into that sort of political territory/commentary. The point is, the subject from that Onion article did NOT look like Hillary Clinton. So that would be an accuracy issue for sure. Another thing I noticed is the subject’s eyes are very different shapes; that was true to some degree in the original, but I took that way too far. To some extent, it helps with the exaggerated startle/surprise look, but it does look sort of funny. In a vacuum, the drawing looks fine as a person looking at a phone. But it doesn’t achieve that visual fidelity I typically hope for (make the subject recognizable is always a primary goal).

Another hilarious thing – I took photos, made a YouTube video, got all the way to the finish line almost…then noticed I forgot to finish the phone. The camera lens area is completely blank. That is very much a Jon MoveTM, and actually might pretty well encapsulate me as an artist. Is this drawing me in a nutshell (i.e. heavy blending/layering, subject-focused, lazy background, and forgot to finish it)? I think it might be.

The progression video I mentioned is embedded above. Since it would have been impossible to manage on a plane, I skipped trying to record actual video. Instead, I just took photos of how it was coming together over time, then layered them into a time-lapse using iMovie. I think for now, this is an approach I am going to lean on more often. I still prefer the videos that show the actual drawing, but they are just so time consuming to make. And I don’t do them particularly well, so I’m not sure the cost-benefit was in my favor. But I do like having some sort of time-lapse/progression, and this seems a nice compromise.

Following our travels, we also went through various bouts of illness that kept us mostly homebound. Needless to say, it’s been a rough April. Based on the sheer number of Elden Ring related posts on Amdall Gallery, it probably won’t be too surprising to anyone that I’ve continued playing this amazing game. I’ve also drawn a couple more Elden Ring inspired pieces. It was already probably overkill, with four previous drawings. But I do have a tendency to go overboard – for example, my fixations with The Dark Tower, The Witcher, and The Princess Bride. So, if you like Elden Ring, you may enjoy the next two posts. If not…well perhaps you’ll enjoy the sketches on a purely visual basis? Hopefully. And unrelated to all the fan art, I also have a portrait on deck from my most recent portrait giveaway. The winner has selected her subjects, so that will be one of the next things for sure.

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