Phil Sandusky is well known for his cityscapes and impressionist landscapes, but he recently found himself at the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans painting planes with two likeminded artists. What’s the appeal of planes en plein air?
“My heroes growing up were the men (and women) who flew these planes, and I feel fortunate to have met and befriended many of them throughout my life,” replies Marc Poole, another of the artists given all-access passes for the airport during Air Power Expo, an event organized by the National World War II Museum. “Much of what I like to paint is devoted to their memory, sacrifice, and courage, and the machines through which these were demonstrated.”
Ben Bensen III has longtime ties to aviation art as well. “I grew up in between two airfields — baby boomer for sure,” he says. “Sometimes, after church on Sunday, my dad would take me out to watch the ‘touch and goes’ of WWII and post-WWII aircraft at what is now Louisiana State University at New Orleans. I grew up building model airplanes. At first, I made the balsa wood kind that never seemed to grasp the concept of flight. But, as the plastic kits became more available, I started building and painting models for me as well as for all my friends. I really learned a lot about brushwork to make the model to look like the box-top art. Never in a million years could I imagine that I would meet the premier model box-top illustrator, Jack Leynnwood, teaching his painting skills at Art Center College of Design. I took every one of his classes I could.”
The three artists’ lifetime love of planes pulled them to the airshow, but how did aviation art and plein air painting work together at the event for them?
“Painting in the atmosphere of an airshow provided a completely new set of challenges,” says Poole. “I had painted at last year’s event for one morning, and found myself overwhelmed with the excitement of the day, the thousands of people coming and going, the roar of the planes flying overhead and taxiing by, and the prop-wash that quickly taught me to hold down my easel so it doesn’t blow away (again). This year, I planned out my weekend, and formed a strategy of sketching early in the morning before the crowds showed up, and spending maybe an hour or two painting before moving on to a different subject due to the changing light and the planes’ flight schedules. It worked out well, and we were blessed with three days of perfect, consistent weather. It was a fantastic experience.”
Each artist brought something different to the experience. Sandusky is known for his plein air depictions of New Orleans, including a show of work capturing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Poole is an aviation artist and an art teacher. Bensen, an advertising veteran, is perhaps the least familiar with plein air painting, but these kinds of opportunities are pulling him into the world of outdoor painting.
“I met Marc at an American Society of Aviation Artists seminar about five years ago in San Diego,” Bensen recounts. “His fun-loving approach to everything he does rekindled the interest to paint en plein air again, especially painting aircraft. Marc and I paint together whenever we can, and now we have an added another airplane lover in Phil Sandusky. My on-site plane sketching, which I did to promote myself to the aerospace industry in SoCal, started my obsession with taking an out-of-the-studio approach to rendering aircraft. Working in the advertising business as a storyboard and presentation artist kept me away from the plein air thing, but being associated with the United States Air Force Art Program kept me involved in pursuing all things flyable.”