Article by Rich Thistle ©

Follow Your Dreams by Rich Thistle © It was one of the tallest orders of my painting career! Make one image which would include all aspects of aviation, and make it a showstopper! It can't be done I thought to myself, already in a bit of a panic, as I smiled and nodded in the affirmative. But Bernie and Ian, the two young entrepreneurs, were full of positive energy. Far be it from me to stick a pin into their growing bubble. But from way in the back somewhere, a little voice kept saying "It can't be done".

Luckily, over the years, I have learned to work through this little voice. When I come to a brick wall in my thinking or my painting, I just keep pushing against it. Eventually, experience teaches, the mortar weakens, and either the wall tumbles in one big crash, or a brick falls out, and then another, until finally the hole is large enough to crawl through. And, of course there is always my wife Jay, my prime source of encouragement, who patiently holds my hand on this side of the wall, or ends up giving me that final push through the hole. But this wall seemed of monumental architecture. And they were still building!

"We also want this poster to reflect the family nature of the show." Right, I thought. Anything else? My smile faded a bit. The two young men who were the driving force behind the young - but already thriving - Toronto Aviation and Aircraft Show, were the most optimistic and positive I had ever met. They were asking me to take on the "official artist" status for their fledgling trade show, the second annual installment to take place in a few months at the end of April, 1994.

Meeting over, they stepped out of the front door of my studio / gallery. My thoughts matched the cold gray of that November afternoon. My little voice had reached a crescendo. You've got to be kidding! It was a clear message. How are you going to create an image which will include civil, commercial, military, and heritage aviation while exploring the theme of family, all in a painting which would not be a mere collaged illustration, but a viable work which would speak as a painting and function as a poster? Jay figured some lengthy hand-holding was in order. It was!

Over the next couple of weeks the bricks began to fall one at a time. The major aircraft element would be a Cessna 150, the "K" car of the air. Almost every pilot has flown one. But who owned one that I could visit and photograph? This brick fell at our annual Christmas Gallery show. In walked Maurice Oliver and his wife Nelda. They had come to see what the aviation artist had been up to this past year. Maurice, a helpful COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) member, owned a 150 which was hangared in London. He was genuinely pleased to lend a hand, and within a week I had an envelope full of professional-quality photographs,- did I mention I first knew Maurice through his photography business? - and even one from the exact angle I needed, with Maurice himself in the photo for scale reference!

The commercial element would be easy enough. A Canadian Airlines 747 in the distance, small enough to be a minor detail, large enough to see the colors. The heritage and military elements continued to puzzle. But the family theme was cemented with the decision to make two figures, standing with backs to the viewer, the focal point of the painting. Here is a young family deeply involved in aviation. In an unusual - for me - deference to political correctness, it is the father and daughter who are watching the wife as pilot. I would borrow a young and patient neighborhood family - as one of my American art heroes, Norman Rockwell did - to pose for the figures. Almost there!

The final bricks to fall were the heritage and military elements. And they fell together one evening as Jay was giving me another push to see if the hole was big enough. Her idea was to combine these two into one. Make the little girl hold a model of a heritage military aircraft. Oh, it's so simple once you see it! Canadian Warplane Heritage was to have it's North American B-25 Mitchell at the show and our show booth would be right across the aisle. Perfect!

Now, another tall order. The finishing thought would be a title which wrapped up the whole painting in a few words. More hand-holding, more pushing, but finally FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS came, and the thinking process was complete. The wall finally lay in ruins. As I crossed its rubble, the work would begin: the sketches and drawings, the manipulation of paint on gessoed hardboard. The painting process always has its own little walls. Then, of course, the challenge of poster design and printing loomed ahead. But, in this instance, I felt the real struggle for this image was already complete. Somehow the title said it all. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS was published as the 1994 Toronto Aviation & Aircraft Show's official poster.

  • original painting available