Painting the Spitfire
'On the 16th Fairway', Sgt. Basil Whall's Spitfire, 602 Squadron

1. The Genesis of a Spitfire Painting

An introduction to a series on creating an original Battle of Britain oil painting.
(Part 1-In which the loose ends of research from painting Hurricanes, start pointing inexorably towards the Spitfire.)
When people show an interest in my paintings, they often want to know more about the inspiration behind them and how I get from there to the finished painting. With my Battle of Britain paintings, this can be a rather involved process, so I thought I might show it in somewhat more detail for those who are interested.

I will take the painting I have just completed as an example to try and show the tightrope walk between artistic creativity and respect for the truth and the memories of those involved at the time, that I feel like I am taking.

This latest painting is called “On the 16th Fairway”. It depicts the Spitfire of Sgt. Basil Whall, of 602 Squadron, based at Westhampnett, West Sussex, in combat on the 18th August 1940. The painting shows Whall’s aircraft turning back into the combat after seeing the Stuka of 2 Gruppe Skukageschwader 7, 5th Staffel that he has just caused to force land.

If you would like to rewind a little and understand why out of the so many encounters of the Battle of Britain that I have come to be painting this one, have a look at my account of how ‘Hardest Day Hurricanes’, (my project to paint 18 paintings of Hawker Hurricanes in one day in the Battle) came about, in the ‘About the Hardest Day’ section of the site.

'Two Minutes to Close' - Hurricane of F/Lt. Humphrey a'Beckett Russell, No. 32 Squadron
One of the Hardest Day Hurricane Paintings - 'Two Minutes to Close'

Having completed this project earlier this year and then spent a while painting landscapes again, I have been feeling the itch to return to the Battle of Britain theme again. Whilst I was researching the Hurricane paintings, I inevitably kept coming across really interesting stories relating to the day that commanded my attention but, as they didn’t really feature Hurricanes, they were ‘off theme’ and had to be put to one side at the time.

Perhaps it is not surprising that having come back to the overall theme of this seminal part of WW2, my mind was drawn back to all these details that I hadn’t been able to include and I decided I should do a run of further paintings relating to the Hardest Day, but ‘expand the brief’ as it were, to allow my paintings to depict other aspects of the day’s events.

I am not quite sure where this part of the project will go in the end. I have all sorts of ideas and absorbed stories floating round in my head. These include barrage balloons, a Flight of Coastal Command Blenheims, Royal Observer Corps posts, and a heroic battle between one man with a machine gun on the ground at Manston in an unequal fight with a Staffel of Me109s, to name but a few. Most of all though, if I wanted to present a more rounded view of the RAF’s stoic defensive efforts that day, there was quite clearly one aircraft which would feature heavily, the Mk. 1 Spitfire and I would need to get to know it better...