Painting the Spitfire
'Fighting Alone' The painting of F/Lt. Bob Stanford Tuck

2. Getting to know the Mk. 1 Spitfire in Pencil

In which in I study the Spitfire, try to get Hurricanes out of my head and paint a small study of the aircraft of Bob Stanford Tuck.
(Part 2 of a series on creating an original Battle of Britain oil painting)
Having conceived the new extended ‘Hardest Day’ project, continuing the theme of focus on the actions of the 18th August 1940, it was obvious that it would involve painting the Mk.1 Spitfire quite a bit, which with it being such a beautiful aircraft, held quite an attraction for me.

One of the things I found quite early in the Hurricane project was that an ability to create a reasonably competent sketch of the correct shape of the aircraft at any angle, distance or attitude just from my head (i.e. not just one which I could get a photographic reference for) was essential. Without this ability, the freedom of composition was utterly lacking, or any attempt to sketch and create my own unique compositions became hampered by my lack of belief in the sketches thus produced, if the aircraft did not feel right.

This Hurricane sketch later turned into the painting 'Scanning the Sky':

Hurricane sketch mounted

So, just as I found myself doing with the Hurricanes, I collected an array of different pictures and technical drawings of the Spitfire and with them spread out over a 10 foot long table with me perched at one end. With the best part of a week laid aside for this, I set to work with a pencil and pad to really get to know the aircraft.

There were two main parts to this, one was to construct my own kind of free hand ‘technical’ drawing, plastered with notes on proportions of different parts and handy hacks and hints which would allow me to construct sketches of the aircraft quickly and easily at different angles.

My 'Technical' drawings of the Spitfire:

technical drawings spitfire

The second phase was a little ‘freer’. It consisted of almost randomly choosing different angles and perspectives and sketching out the Spitfire in them, turning in towards, banking left away, down the fuselage, from behind and so on. They do not all turn out much good at first, but slowly the feel of the aircraft begins to come.

Some easier angles to start with:

First Spitfire sketches

Getting more adventurous and I start to sketch some aircraft in formation (and breaking from formation!):

Spitfire pair sketches

I must say that I felt rather hampered with the Spitfire and still do slightly. Part of the problem is the Hurricane! Having spent a year refining my skills at getting the Hurricane right, I find my ‘quick drawing’ instinct much more tuned to the DNA of a Hurricane, the shape of the Hurricane’s tail or wings feel ingrained into me; the position of its cockpit front on a perspective line come straight off and immediately starts to inform the rest of its shape in my head. Not so the Spitfire, and I fear when it does finally come well, I will find myself challenged to draw a Hurricane so instinctively again!

After all this sketching of Spitfires, I felt I had do a couple of Hurricanes again, just to check that I could still sketch one of them too!

Spitfire and Hurricane sketch

These sketches are not perfect. I would not want to sell them, but the point is that they need to be good enough to let me see if a composition works, if it looks promising enough then I can work them up better with the reference materials in front of me.

After this I decided that my first painting of the Spitfire (well, excluding the one I painted on the radiator of my room and one of my first half proper paintings at about age 12!) should just be a simple small study.

I knew that this ‘first’ Spitfire painting would be destined for a Spitfire loving friend of mine from Carmarthenshire and so had decided it should be of one of the aircraft of 92 Squadron, who were based at Pembrey in Carmarthenshire with 10 Group at the time.

I was unaware of 92 Squadron being in any way engaged in the action on the ‘Hardest Day’, so a simple study of one of their aircraft flying alone through clouds seemed quite appropriate. On the day I actually started to paint it though, I stumbled across an account in Price’s book which I had forgotten about. It tells how the (now legendary) pilot, Bob Stanford Tuck, of 92 Squadron had been visiting Northolt when the station’s Squadrons were scrambled. Tuck decided to join in the fray as well, but alone, and ended up baling out after a remarkable combat with what he believed to be two Ju.88s, but were probably Me.110s.

Having stumbled upon this story, Tuck became the subject of the painting, depicting him flying through clouds over Beachy Head, moments before this combat. This became the painting- ‘Fighting Alone’. It seems that all roads led back to the combats of the Hardest Day...

'Fighting Alone' The painting of F/Lt. Bob Stanford Tuck:

Fighting Alone, F/Lt. Bob Stanford Tuck