If you’re an artist, and you want to do something crazy, go ahead. I’m living proof that it can be incredibly rewarding.
I got the idea to start skywriting while I was on the subway. I was wondering what to do with all my free time one day, when I would be finished with my latest project: a magnificent mural of two cats in love. When I had just started out as an artist, my friends used to pressure me into doing commissioned work for them. But after I finished their portraits of loved ones, and heard “I don’t like it,” too many times, I stopped taking commissions. Now that I was done with my biggest project yet, though, I didn’t know what else to do but take a giant leap into the unknown.
The next day, after thinking about it for a little bit longer and doing some research on the Internet about where the wind blows in New York City, I called up SkywritingNYC.com and asked if they would be willing to let me try something crazy. They agreed, and we made plans for a date three weeks out. Then I spent those three weeks making sure my apartment was as clean as possible (it’s not easy getting rid of every single stray crumb), closing
I am an artist in the sky. I say that carefully and fully aware of the fact that, to many, it will sound like an oxymoron. There are many people, even today, who believe that the purpose of art is to display the skill of the artist and not to convey a story or meaning.
I believe that art should be about communication and personal expression. Art should be a window into someone’s soul. It should be a reflection of how they see the world, how they feel about its glories and its horrors. It should also bring us together with common emotions, ideas and experiences.
What makes my art different is that it brings together all these aspects: it has technical skill; it is deeply personal; and it tells stories that we can all understand.
I am an aerialist artist – I paint pictures in the sky using my body!**
I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy art – the intricate, colorful and often quirky illustrations found in a lot of fantasy books. The best of it has a really distinctive look: bold, colorful, intricately detailed and whimsical.
I’m no artist though, so I never thought I’d be able to create something like that. It wasn’t until I was asked to create some artwork for my sister’s wedding that I even considered trying. She wanted some kind of backdrop for her reception so she could have some photographs of people posing with it. Initially, I suggested a castle on an island in the middle of an ocean with dragons flying overhead (a nod to her love of Game of Thrones) but she wasn’t having any of it as she was worried someone would trip over it… So I came up with the idea of doing something in the sky instead and thus Skywriting was born!
I flew my first skywriting flight today, and I am really excited about it.
I’ve been working on this for a couple of years, and it was very exciting to see the plane take off from the field and head out to the practice area where we did our first run. I had just about as much fun watching our tow plane go up as I did on my flight.
I’m flying with Keith Baker, a pilot from Skytypers who is giving me some lessons on how to fly in formation. We do an hour or so of practicing formations, then we do a half hour of writing. The tow goes up at 1,000 feet, and the writer follows with another plane 500 feet below. The idea is that you don’t want to be directly above the tow plane, because then you will be directly in its wake, which messes up your smoke patterns.
Today’s flight was over Dennisville Airport (KDNV). The wind was supposed to be 5 knots from the north at 1,000 feet. But when we got there, it was blowing 15 knots from the south at 800 feet. Also there were some big clouds coming in off the ocean that would have made visibility lousy by the time we got up to altitude. Keith decided
I’ve been a professional artist for about 25 years. For the last 15 years I’ve been making a living doing commissions for art collectors, magazines, and businesses. I’ve done art on a wide variety of topics from mermaids to monsters to vampires to superheroes to pin-up beauties. I’ve done it all, though usually not all at once.
One thing that has always fascinated me is the idea of skywriting with smoke. It’s such an evocative medium – one that’s hard to look away from, but easy to ignore if you try.
I’ve been admiring the work of the teams who fly around the country doing advertising using skywriting as their medium. I’m not sure how they do it since they are operating illegally and I’m not sure how much they charge since they also seem to operate under the table, but my personal take is that they are great artists in a sense that most of us aren’t – they have figured out how to get paid for their art! You can’t even compare them to billboard artists because their medium demands more skill than that and there is no way you could ever watch one of their pieces come together in real time – it’s just too fast and too far away – way too cool!
“I will have to fly over the stadium next time, on a day when the game is going to be played,” you say. “Yes, we’ll just have to wait until then.” And then the conversation dies.
You know what I think? I think that deep down you’re afraid of failing. You’re afraid of getting up there and trying to write in the sky, only to fail in front of thousands of people. You don’t want to look foolish.
It’s cool. I was once like you, too.
It took me three years before I finally summoned the courage to write in the sky. I spent those three years planning for my fantasy world and making sure it would work before I ever set foot into an airplane.
In fact, I’ve spent my entire life doing this kind of thing – dreaming about how things could be, sometimes taking years or decades before I finally set out to make them real. That is why every piece of writing in the sky is also a piece of art: because it is real, and because it came from my heart.”**
The summer I turned eighteen I made a pilgrimage to the home of an artist. I was determined to learn the secret of his success.
He lived in a small cottage on the beach, so close to the ocean that it seemed part of it, as though the tides might wash away half the house at any moment. His name was Rafe, and he was a writer. He’d written books, lots of books. A whole room in his cottage was filled with nothing but stacks of his books: every kind of book, from picture books for kids, to science fiction and mystery novels, to nonfiction books about math and art and philosophy.
At first I didn’t know what to call this room. Was it a library? No…it was too messy for that; there were no signs or labels on any of the piles, and nothing seemed to be organized by subject or alphabetically by author. It wasn’t an office either; there were no desks or filing cabinets or computers.
Then one day I came upon him in that room doing something strange: he was writing something new in one of his books! But he wasn’t using a pen/pencil/pencil crayon/crayon…he was writing with skywriting smoke!