Stahr's Flying Works of Art (Part 2):
A Tedious Process Only an Artist Could Love

10:46 PM

Stahr in his Eugene shop prepping a wing for striping

Read part 1 of this story here

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Aviation Blog Editor

In part one of this article series, I introduced you to John Stahr, one of this country's most prolific aviation airbrush artists. He's also a member of my EAA Chapter in Eugene, Oregon, and a hangar row mate at KEUG.

As this story unfolded, I told you about my past history as a fine art gallery owner, and how I was intrigued by the artist's process for taking a mental image or idea – a concept – and transforming it from brainwaves to a finished work of art. Whether it is a guy like Stahr painting an entire ocean down the side of a Global Express, or 'Jumpin' Joanie painting a still life scene on a raisin tray, the process is what makes art so special.

Wait, what...who is Jumpin' Joanie? Oh, I'm glad you asked...
 'Jumpin' Joanie is Joan Ellen Anne Daly Pimentel, my late mother. A lifelong artist, she was also very prolific, and in the 1970s, developed a knack for painting on used raisin trays. Those were 3' x 4' wooden trays the raisin farmers used near my home in Central California's San Joaquin Valley to dry Thompson Seedless grapes into the little dried balls of love you find in your breakfast cereal. Part of the process was for me – as a teenager – to drive around the country roads until I spotted a gigantic pile of old, used raisin trays, and then fast-talk the farmer into selling me some of what was really a pretty weird artistic medium for my mom to paint on. I'd then bring them home, clean them up, and sort them until I found the ones with a really cool dried grape pattern burned into it by the blistering sun of too many hot Fresno summers. On those, mom would paint anything that would generate a few bucks, and she stayed busy doing this for years.   
I spent those years watching her produce these tray paintings, taking each from sketch to finished product all day, every day. While the skill of painting never stuck with me, mom's interest in graphic design did, and I have been supporting myself since 1986 in that trade.

Bruce Taylor's R44 Raven II helicopter.
So in thinking about John Stahr's process, I wondered how many levels of work is involved in taking a customer's design and applying it to their aircraft. As you will see here, it is an incredibly complex and tedious process that only an artist who truly loves their craft could endure. Let's start at the beginning...

 “About 10% of the designs are completed by the customer or another designer,” said Stahr, “On those projects I just have to prep and paint. Another 10% of my customers give me free reign, but in 80% of my jobs, we work together to create and refine their dream. The design usually comes into focus in a couple of hours, then probably another 6 - 20 hours of refinements and edits are needed. Then it's on to using Macromedia Freehand for the graphics and lettering, and Photoshop for integrating the art and textures.”

Once the design is complete, the customer either flies or trailers the aircraft to Stahr's Eugene airplane studio, or John travels to their shop, hangar, or aircraft paint operation set up to help with the project.
“Depending on the type and size of plane, its condition, age, body work needed, stripping needed, and the material, metal or composite,” explains Stahr, “each job's prep work ranges from 25 to 125 hours. And the time to apply the BASF Diamont automotive paint and top coats can again be in that range, it just depends on the complexity of the design and the size of the aircraft. Obviously, the Global Express I painted was at the upper end of that envelope.”
With such variance in each job, you might think some are tougher than others, and you'd be right...each job is a one of a kind original with its own challenges:
“There was that one job I did in Ft Lauderdale,” said Stahr, “in a 115 degree hot hangar, where I had to use Imron on a strict production time limit working with gold leaf, and nearly got arrested due to the airport's policy on painting in that's a two-beer story! Then, when I painted the Global Express, I had to develop a way to scale the design up from a laptop screen to a 120-foot-long jet. On that job, I worked in Tucson at Bombardier with a team of painters, handling the whole process over a seven-day production window working 12-16 hour days.”
Painting tail section of Global Express Bizjet

Yes, those jobs were a test of an artist's devotion to his craft, but other jobs such as the Flying Hawaiian series of planes, a Falcon 900 bizjet, and the RV-10 “Maid of the Seas” (an Oshkosh winner) were very gratifying. The one job Stahr would still like to do? “A 737 for Alaska Airlines with an Hawaiian theme,” he states emphatically.

In closing this interview, I tried to determine how special the talents of John Stahr were. Stacked up against those in his trade, where does his level of proficiency place him?
“There are tons of airbrush artists,” he explains, “ and it seems like half of them are all doing 'how-to be a great airbrush artist-like-me' DVDs, or teaching classes on how to paint flames and skulls. I only know personally of one guy from the East coast who does really great airplane pin-ups and nose art, but as far as I know, I'm the only artist who has done the scope of complete nose to tail design, including artwork and execution on some really great airplanes.”
That list of “really great airplanes” has been covered by the aviation press at one time or another and includes a long list of Oshkosh planes, one Reno Race Jet, and a handful of business jets (that go way over the top for typical bizjets according to the artist). Several Lindy award winners (often painted in conjunction with Craig Roberts of Aurora, OR), the RV-7 Corsair wannabe, and a number of Lancairs are just a peek at Stahr's portfolio.  

Detail of Stahr's American Angel RV-8
In part three or this series, I will introduce you to Stahr's Masterwork, his American Angel, an experimental RV-8 that is very near its first flight. When you lay eyes on this impeccable airbrush design – one with a heavenly backstory – you'll know why Stahr says he “hopes his American Angel will blow up a few skirts on ramps from coast to coast.”

Stay tuned, you will not be disappointed.

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