Stahr's Flying Works of Art:
Defining What it Means to Look Completely Awesome in the Sky

10:43 PM

John Stahr at the easel
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Find out more about John Stahr's aviation art and aircraft paint designs here.

If you have spent any time in the Experimental area at EAA's Airventure Oshkosh, you've seen John Stahr's artwork.

Think back to that time when you were strolling down the rows and had your breath taken away upon seeing any one of many RVs and Lancairs with impressive custom airbrushed paint designs. That plane was so gorgeous, it was easy to understand why there was a crowd gathered around, gawking.

Yes, any time other pilots view his work after Stahr finishes spraying paint towards a flying machine, that gawking thing happens. People stare, cameras come out and the Wisconsin summer sun glistens off a luscious airbrushed design that is incredibly shiny, sexy and perfect.

In the coming weeks, I will be presenting a continuing series on this star (pun intended) in the small world of custom airplane painting. While there are certainly people all over who can make Candy Apple Red literally jump off a chop-top '49 Mercury, the number of painters knocking out museum-quality designs on aircraft is a much smaller, far more specialized group.

Which is why it is super cool to tell you Stahr, of Eugene, Oregon, happens to be in my EAA Chapter 1457, and shares one of the bays in my Lane Ducks group hanger out at KEUG where Katy lives. It's about 100 steps to wander over and see what sort of magic this artist is using to make us all drool on his latest customer project.

The following few posts are not simply put out there about some guy I know. I have been an art gallery owner, and professional art director, photographer and graphic designer since the late 1980s, and I can promise you I know good art from bad art. The designs Stahr applies to airplanes, business jets, helicopters and seaplanes is not just good art, it is unbelievably good art.
So as we get into this story, remember that what Stahr does when painting something that flies is not your basic Earl Schieb special, not just a means to cover the outside of the craft with pretty colors. How his designs develop, and how the paint and topcoats are actually applied are notable, with the craft and process more related to what an artisan would demonstrate than anyone who assaults a Skyhawk with a few shaker cans of Imron and calls it good.
When you look at Stahr's designs across the ramp, they stand out as something special, something to be appreciated. But get closer – much closer – and upon inspection, the tiny, immaculate details emerge. For instance, stars draped across the nose of this beautiful RV-8 below were painted to look as if their were actually stitched on the plane! As this plane flew back home to Boston over a July 4th weekend, the pilot was literally applauded at stops along the way...and rightfully so.


Here's a little backstory to get this party started and explain how someone evolves their artistic talents from a few street bikes to this high level of proficiency:
John Stahr’s passion for aviation was encouraged at an early age by his father, an aeronautical engineer. But long before he became an Artist Member of the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA), he started painting with an airbrush in 1975 while attending college. Custom show vans and fancy street racing motorcycles filled his Florida based hole-in-the-wall paint shop before he moved west to set up Stahr Design/Artistic Aviation's shop and design studio in the beautiful hills of southwest Eugene, Oregon. Since 1983, Stahr and his team have designed and custom painted over 1,000 motor coaches – including 900 Marathon Coaches, some of the most luxurious on the road – and many tractor-trailer rigs, along with hundreds of smaller custom units such as specialty and tow vehicles. In 1995, he started producing artwork and custom paint designs for aircraft, and flying aviation art is now his main focus.
If you have ever watched a professional airbrush artist at work, it is a thing of beauty. The process is intricate, but with proper use of colors and textures, in the hands of an artist like Stahr, an airbrush is a magnificent tool. The skills needed to lay in texture to the wings of an angel while sprawled out on your back staring at the underbelly of an experimental airplane takes years to develop. I'm convinced that had Leonardo Da Vinci used airbrush technology back in 1503 when he began his Mona Lisa, she would have been grinning from ear to ear.

In the coming weeks, I will continue this series on my hangar row mate...first presenting the complex and intensive process of taking a customer's paint design from vision to finished product. The steps along that path are many, and a friendly, collaborative working relationship between artist and customer is vital. With such a vast portfolio, Stahr has developed a way of moving this process forward in ways that makes customers say these kinds of things about him and his work:
“I am the proud builder/owner of a Lancair Legacy that John painted for me. The design process enabled me to work with John, choosing the colors and concept that I wanted. Throughout this process he offered suggestions, but in the end, the design and color combinations were mine to make. Since I live locally, I was able to visit my plane in his shop on several occasions during the painting process. During these visits, John explained each phase of the work and what it entailed. He also kept a digital photo record of each step and later burned me a disc of all shots. Working with John, who is the consummate professional, was easy, and the final product is spectacular. I highly recommend him to anyone who has a custom painting project.”
Phil Groshong, Eugene, Oregon
Phil Groshong's Lancair Legacy

In part three of this series, I will conclude this story by introducing you to Stahr's American Angel, his drop-dead gorgeous personal masterwork, an RV-8 he's finishing up right now. The artist has taken his skills to another level with this ship's “heavenly” paint design, and upon seeing the Angel up close, you will agree with me that this RV is destined to become a future Oshkosh Grand Champion.

Find out more about Stahr's aviation paint designs here.

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