Painting a Hercules in Antarctica

This is a painting I did last year of an LC-130 Hercules of the United States Navy on the ice at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

LC-130 Lockheed Hercules on Christmas Day 1976, at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

It is based on a photo I took back in 1976 when I was employed as a mess attendant at McMurdo (see this post from my other blog if you want to know more about my time in Antarctica).

This was one of three LC-130 Hercules aircraft that were recovered after they all suffered severe damage during attempted takeoffs from an isolated part of Antarctica called Dome Charlie. Following major structural repairs and replacement of engines in the field, the three LC-130s were flown to McMurdo, with 319, the last one, arriving back on Christmas Day, 1976, which is when I photographed her.

I must say that I always wondered about the cost-benefit ratio of sending a team of engineers to one of the coldest and most inhospitable places on Earth to recover what were essentially just dime-a-dozen transport aircraft. I have heard a theory it was because the Americans were worried about the Russians obtaining the secret of the retractable skis – but surely it was something less prosaic than that?! Maybe this could be the plot for an espionage novel?!

I took this aerial view of Mount Erebus during my flight home to New Zealand.

For my painting I used artistic licence to move a mountain. I wanted a more interesting background than that in my photo, so I added Mount Erebus, with its wisp of smoke and halo of cloud. This isn’t entirely fantastical, as in real-life the volcano can actually be seen from the runway. It is just that from the angle I took my photo of the Hercules, it wasn’t in frame. But it is now!

I also wanted something in the foreground, and what better than contrasting the modern with the old in Antarctic transport. This dog team would have come from New Zealand’s nearby Scott Base, as the Americans didn’t use dogs at this time.

Nowadays you won’t find any dogs in Antarctica at all, after a clause added to the Antarctic Treaty in 1994 required non-native species to be removed. Dogs could potentially spread distemper to the native seals of Antarctica.

The following images demonstrate the process I used to paint my picture. As with all my paintings, I used acrylic paints on stretched canvas.

I start by painting the sky and the ice. In actual fact, this picture could almost be a completed painting of a very common view in Antarctica!
As I mentioned above, I now move Mount Erebus into view, with its curious circular cloud and its bluish shadow. I also add bulldozer tracks in the foreground to give the snow some texture.
With the background complete, it is time to draw in an outline of the plane and dog sled. This is a crucial step, as these outlines govern the overall shapes of the main subjects.
From here on in, it is basically a matter of colouring-in my sketched outline. First the Hercules …
… and then the dog sled to complete the painting. The wheel on the back of the sled is for measuring distance travelled, by the way.

This painting isn’t included amongst the ones I am currently getting made into fine art prints to sell … though, of course, that could change if people tell me they want this one!

Recreating a famous painting with miniatures


This posting will be a little different from my usual articles about my own artworks. Instead, I will show how a few years ago a masterpiece inspired me to reproduce it as a photograph using miniature figures.

I had always admired Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux’s classic painting (above) of a famous incident that took place during the War of the Austrian Succession: The Battle of Fontenoy, 1745: The French and the Allies Confronting Each Other.

Voltaire’s description of the event in question as the British approached the French line during the Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745 has become proverbial. He wrote:

The English officers saluted the French by doffing their hats . . . the French, returned the greeting. My Lord Charles Hay, captain in the English Guards, cried, ‘Gentlemen of the French Guards, fire!’ The Comte d’Auteroche, then lieutenant of Grenadiers, shouted, ‘ Gentlemen, we never fire first ; fire yourselves.’

Nowadays we might wonder at this apparent foolishly chivalrous, but suicidal, courtesy. However, in the days of slow-loading muskets the side that fired first would leave itself temporarily unloaded, and thus vulnerable whilst its soldiers desperately tried to reload.

Anyways … I decided that I would like to replicate this painting by taking a photograph with miniature tin soldiers from my collection.

I had bought these model soldiers from two UK companies, Crann Tara and Minden Miniatures. They’re only about 30mm tall.

The metal figures came unpainted, so my first task was to undercoat them with white primer.

I then used special model paints to recreate the colourful uniforms of the regiment of French soldiers in Philippoteaux’s painting, le Régiment des Gardes Françaises.

I found pictures of this regiment’s flags online, so I printed them out for the two standard bearers to carry.

Once I had sufficient painted figures, it was then a matter of setting them out on some grass mats, and arranging them to match the painting as closely as possible for my photograph.

Whilst not absolutely accurate (I was restricted by the number and poses of the models), I feel my resulting photograph (above) does convey the look and feel of Philippoteaux’s original painting.

Following are a few close-ups of some scenes from the painting, and how I replicated them in my photo.

This sergeant is using his spontoon held horizontally to keep the men in his company from shuffling back nervously under fire.

The corps of drums is formed up behind the firing line, ready to transmit the colonel’s orders. Note the extra decoration on their coats – very fiddly to paint on my miniature figures!

The French officers graciously take up the salute to their British red-coat enemies.

Notwithstanding its colour and pageantry, war in the 18th century was just as nasty a business as at any other period in history.  Despite the eventual French victory at Fontenoy, this guardsman will never return to his homeland.

Painting Abel Tasman’s ships,1642

This picture that I painted last year depicts a scene from New Zealand’s nautical history. It shows the two ships of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman: the war-yacht Heemskerck (right) and the smaller fluyt Zeehaen (left).

In 1642 Tasman was the first European to sight the shores of New Zealand. But he never landed, after a fatal cultural misunderstanding led to four of his sailors in a ship’s boat being killed by Māori.

Painting the ornate stern of the Heemskerck, with its lantern, sun-burst, Amsterdam coat-of-arms, mermaids, and busts of men carrying shields, was an enjoyable challenge, I think my experience of painting miniature figures really helped.

Some of the miniature figures I have painted in my other hobby. The figure on the right could almost be Abel Tasman!

The following images show how I went about painting this picture.

I start by painting the sea and sky, filling the whole canvas. I’ve had lots of compliments about my portrayal of the sea. I was trying to get the effect of the sun glinting on the swells. The viewpoint is very low, possibly as seen from a ship’s boat or a waka (canoe).
I then draw the outlines of the two ships, and colour in the fat little fluyt Zeehaen in the background. I also make a start on the stern decoration of the Heemskerck.
Carrying on painting all that complex ‘gingerbread’ on the wonderfully ornate stern.
First attempt at the masts and sails. I have to repaint these several times until I am satisfied with them.
Now the hull starts taking shape. I chose to show the Heemskerck with its top-masts cropped. I felt this would convey much more of a sense of drama and movement than if I had kept the entire ship in frame.
Now the rigging, which I do with a long thin brush called a rigger brush, specially designed for this purpose. And finally some crew members in 17th-century dress to complete the painting.

I am currently getting this painting professionally scanned and made into a print for sale.

So within a few weeks it’ll join my other prints available online at Art Collective, where it will make the perfect accompaniment to my other famous explorer’s ship, James Cook’s ‘Endeavour‘.

A happy customer for a framed print of my ‘Endeavour’

I’ve probably said once or twice (well, quite a few times actually!) that the Auckland-based company Art Collective has made fine art prints from a few of my paintings.

I had my first overseas customer recently, when Leo L, an American member of the Captain Cook Society, ordered a framed print of my ‘Endeavour’ painting.

He was so pleased when he unwrapped his print that he took the above photo of it for the Society’s Facebook page.

You can see that it is still sitting on the bubble-wrap packaging in which it had travelled from New Zealand to the USA – somewhat faster than the original ‘Endeavour’ crossed the Pacific in the other direction!

My happy customer’s photo gives you a good idea of the high standard of Art Collective’s products. This bears out what I had heard from the art community when I was choosing a printer/framer, about the quality materials and finish provided by Print Art, the parent company of Art Collective.

He had ordered an A4-sized print, the smallest size in which Art Collective offer my picture. You can also buy it in A3, or even A2 size. Prices are from $39 to $230, depending on size, and whether or not you want your print framed.

Shipping is free within New Zealand. Art Collective can also provide a price to ship overseas, as my American customer can attest.

You can order prints of my paintings here:

Painting a Lockheed Constellation (and three bikes!)

Before I ever met him, my late father-in-law was a pilot with a now-defunct UK airline called Skyways of London. This Lockheed Constellation was one of the aircraft he flew.

The ‘Connie’ is in my opinion one of the finest looking airliners ever, with its fish-shaped fuselage, triple tail and stalky undercarriage.

A while ago I found this great photo of a Skyways Connie taken by noted aviation photographer R A Scholefield, and so last year I decided to use it as reference for a painting in honour of my father-in-law.

We don’t know if he was actually flying that particular plane when the photo was taken … but he could have been!

Here’s the final painting I came up with, showing the aircraft landing at Manchester Airport, recognisable by its distinctive multi-story control tower visible in the distance.

My reference photo included the trio of enthusiastic young plane-spotters, so I couldn’t resist adding them into my painting!

Their bicycles were actually one of the hardest parts of the painting, and even now I’m not sure I’ve got the angled wheels on that left-hand bike correct.

If you’re interested in how my pictures come together, the following pictures take you through the step-by-step process of doing this painting.

First the background and a charcoal sketch of the plane based on the reference photo.
Now I fill in the colours of my plane.
The airport skyline is next to be added, using a muted purple to indicate far distance.
Now I add in the fence and grass in the foreground.
Painting people isn’t my strongpoint, but these are looking ok.

7 / 7

Finally the three bicycles, which are much harder to paint than you would think. And there you have it, my painting is done!

This painting was done in acrylics on stretched canvas, and measures 12 by 16 inches.

If there is interest, I hope in due course to be able to add it to my selection of fine art prints for sale.

Painting an orca

This is a bit of an odd one for me, as I am not usually into painting animals. But a few months ago I saw a TV news report about some orcas that were frolicking in the sea near where I live on the Kāpiti Coast.

There was something about this film that captivated me – the blueness of the water, the clear outline of Kāpiti Island, the orca’s glossy skin above the surface, and its fin and markings clearly visible under the water.

I mentally filed the image away for a potential future painting if I ever felt the urge for a change from ships, planes and trains.

So when the Kapiti Arts and Crafts Society announced recently that the theme of their annual awards exhibition this year would be ‘New Zealand flora and fauna’, here was the perfect excuse!

Close-up of orca

So there it is, my first wildlife painting! I’m no marine biologist, so there are probably some awful anatomical anomalies in my orca!

Hopefully you might see this painting if it makes it into the awards exhibition, which will run from 13 July to 6 August at the Kāpiti Gallery, 192 Matai Road, Raumati.

Painting an Air New Zealand DC8

This painting I did last year was based on an old Air New Zealand publicity photo of a DC8 at Auckland. I figured this scene would make a colourful and interesting piece of aviation art. I must admit I was as much taken by the wonderful Morris van as with the plane itself!

Another reason I chose this subject was because my wife had worked for many years as a cabin crew member for Air New Zealand. Though I hasten to add that she isn’t old enough to have worked on this DC8 in the 1960s!

Ghost aircrew?! Partway through the process of painting this picture.

A challenging aspect in this painting was to reproduce the metallic effect on the plane’s engines. This was a case of trial and error, and there are actually quite a few layers of paint under these engines, each one unsuccessful until I finally managed to come up with one that worked!

The lettering on the fuselage was first carefully drawn in with pencil, and then ‘coloured in’ using a fine paintbrush. I also first drew in the smaller lettering on the engines and air-stairs, then went over it with a paintbrush.

The figures came out quite well, but because they are mainly just dark silhouettes, they were pretty straight-forward to do.

In researching this painting, I found out more information than anyone could ever need to know about as prosaic a subject as air-stairs. For those interested, these stairs (with their natty Cadillac-style wings) were made by Hastings-Deering.

And I still love that little Morrie, which makes a nice picture in its own right!

If you would like a fine art print of this painting, I am currently in the process of having these produced by Art Collective. Cost should be around $39 to $230, depending on your choice of size and framing, and shipping will be free within New Zealand. Email me if you wish to be advised when they are ready to purchase:

I’d love to see what you think of my painting, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Found still life after 50 years!

I recently found a still life I had painted in art class when I was still at secondary school way back in 1973.

This is the only time in my life that I have ever done a still life, or used oils.

I think the bread looks good, as does the apple. But the cup and jug are just OK, and the table cloth is rather bland and an awful colour.

I wonder what score I got for this work?! Perhaps any art teachers reading this post could mark it!

The painting is sadly a bit damaged by having been rolled up for 50 years.

My painting of a flying boat

One of my earliest memories is from when I was a pre-schooler in the 1950s living with my parents on Evans Bay Parade in Wellington, and watching the weekly Sunderland flying boat touching down on the water almost outside our house.

So in my painting from last year at the top of this posting, I was trying to recreate a closer image of this memory. It depicts a Short Sunderland of the Royal New Zealand Air Force taxiing in, an airman in the bow wielding a boathook to snag the mooring buoy.

By the way, during my research for this painting I found out that the so-called Grabit boat-hook was a special design made specifically for use on flying boats. Crew used it to secure the flying boat to the buoy with one single-handed swipe of the spring-loaded hook. The amazing little facts you learn when doing historical paintings!

The above slideshow shows the step-by-step progression of how I went about painting this picture.

I used the wake and the spinning propellers to give a sense of forward motion through the water, which worked quite well (if I may say so myself!).

I was also particularly pleased with the glass effect on the nose bubble canopy, and I think the white fuselage came out ok too.

If I am being self-critical, I think the composition could have been improved a wee bit. I don’t like how one of the engines is cut in half (and they look slightly different sizes from each other, too). If I ever did this painting again, I would do it on a long narrow canvas so I could include all four engines.

But overall, it was fun to paint, the final picture is quite pleasing, and it captures a moment in time for me.

I’d love to read your comments about this painting, or your memories of flying boats.

One of the reference pictures I referred to whilst doing my painting.

Looking back at my first three paintings

In this posting I am looking back at the first three paintings I did when I retired at the end of 2021 and decided to give a new pastime a go.

I’d always quite fancied painting a landscape, but never really had the time. So, armed with a new box of artists’ acrylic paints and three blank canvases, I made a start into this fascinating new hobby.

My first painting was inspired by this lovely photograph of New Zealand’s Tararua Ranges as seen from the Wairarapa side. I first saw this picture in an online newspaper travel feature (oddly, in a British online paper, The Guardian!). I really liked how it portrayed so much in one deceptively simple scene.

Because of the long shape of the three canvases I had bought, my painting would need to based on just the middle third of the photo. But I thought this might give a really cool forced perspective effect, with the road and telegraph poles, rolling fields, foothills and mountains in layers, one above the other.

I worked from the top down. I found the mountains worked well, albeit their ridgelines were possibly a bit too regular. I was especially pleased with the folds in the hills and the misty effect at the bottom of the foothills.

My road is not quite as bumpy as in the photo. In hindsight it would’ve been more interesting if I had tried to copy some of those bumps.

Nevertheless, for a first effort at landscape painting, I was happy. I think the forced perspective that I had really wanted to recreate from the photo worked very well. Whilst the end result is quite different from the photo, I guess that’s what the phrase “artist’s licence” means!

Having painted one mountain scene, I decided that my next two paintings would also be of mountains so as to make a triptych. They would all feature places that my wife and I love here in New Zealand.

My wife was actually away on a skiing weekend with her friend when I did this second painting, so I picked the mountain where she had gone, Mount Ruapehu. OK, she wasn’t staying in the lovely Chateau Tongariro (she was staying in a much more modest ski lodge), but it is such an iconic scene of Ruapehu, so that is what I chose to paint.

Again, I worked from the top down. The mountain and its lower slopes worked OK, though maybe the lighting is bit odd, as if something is shining from behind the second and third ridges (a landed UFO or a secret uranium mine perhaps!). However, maybe this lighting effect does add some drama to the painting?

I loved doing the Chateau. I guess having made so many model buildings in my other hobby of wargaming, I’m a bit of a detail man. And I love how its angular lines are such a contrast to the irregular shape of the volcano looming above it.

For the last of my three paintings, I decided to portray one of me and my wife’s favourite places in New Zealand – Queenstown. Its backdrop of the rugged Remarkables Range would continue my mountains theme.

There was also the added bonus of being able to try my hand at painting water, and I was also excited to have a go at depicting the gorgeous old lake steamer, the TSS ‘Earnslaw’ – my first time painting a boat. This was going to be fun!

I tried something quite different with the mountains this time, using somewhat different colours than what you would usually think for snowy mountains. I also tried out a poster-like effect with lots of hard edges to the ridges and valleys. The trees were interesting to do, especially that Norfolk pine on the right.

But, as I suspected it would be, my favourite part was painting the old ‘Lady of the Lake’, the ‘Earnslaw’. And, boy, I was pleased with how she turned out.

The water is probably a bit too blue, and in hindsight it would’ve looked much better with reflections of the steamer, trees and mountains. But for an early work, I guess it’s not too bad!

Unlike some of my more recent work, I don’t intend to make these three paintings into prints, as I feel they are a bit too rudimentary.

But I’m still very pleased with them as my first step into this exciting hobby. So my ‘Mountains Triptych’ now hangs proudly above our mantelpiece. And as you can see, at least one member of my family seems suitably impressed!

I’d love to read your comments about my paintings, or about your early art experiences!

Steam on the Kāpiti Line

With Burt Bacharach’s song ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’ ringing in my head, my portfolio includes not only aviation and marine paintings, but also railways.

This painting (which is also now available to purchase as a fine art print) depicts Steam Inc’s resplendent restored 4-8-4 Class Ka locomotive climbing the grade from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay, hauling an excursion train of preserved carriages in their former New Zealand Railways brick-red livery.

When I was searching for reference pictures for this painting, I came across a great photo from New Zealand transport publisher, TranspressNZ. I particularly liked how it included the iconic Kāpiti Island in the background.

As with all my paintings, I started with a computer mock-up to work out the composition of my painting. I wanted it to be closer-up than the photo. I also shifted Kāpiti Island to ensure it fitted into the frame (amazing what you can do with artistic licence, moving a whole island several kilometers!).

Although not done in my mock-up, I realised that during the painting process I would need to move that obtrusive catenary post that was cutting the tender in half.

The actual painting process went quite well. You can follow my progress through the above slideshow.

I was surprised at how effective the light on the locomotive came out. It seemed counter-intuitive to start painting a black engine white. Likewise, the white sunlight on the sea came out better than I expected.

Here’s the finished painting.

If you like my painting, don’t forget that you can now buy a fine art print for yourself through Art Collective (from $39 to $230, dependent on size and framing, with free shipping within New Zealand) – you can order it here.

I’d love to get comments and feedback on my art, so please feel free to leave a reply!

Original painting by Roly Hermans, based on a photo from Transpress New Zealand. Acrylic on canvas, 25×50 cms.

A reflective painting of the steam-tug ‘Natone’

Here’s a painting I did last year of the steam-tug ‘Natone’ moored at the Wellington docks some time during the very early 1900s. This is one of the four paintings that Art Collective have turned into fine art prints for sale on their website.

This was a special painting for me, as ‘Natone’ was actually skippered by my wife’s great-grandfather, Captain Joseph Corich.

On the right is a sailing ship drying her sails in the peaceful airs, whilst behind her a steamer belches smoke into the sky.

Moored in the background is the Wellington Harbour Board launch ‘Uta’, and on the wharf beside ‘Natone’ you can see a pile of coal baskets.

The building in the background is still there today as a restaurant, though of course ‘Natone’ herself has long since gone to that great shipyard in the sky.

New Zealand. Tourist and Publicity Department. New Zealand Tourist and Publicity Department: The tug Natone moored alongside a Wellington wharf. Ref: PA7-17-42. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22740042

I based my picture on this wonderful old photo of ‘Natone’ (which proves that ‘windy Wellington’ can indeed have such calm days occasionally!).

I also wanted to show the transition from steam to sail in my painting, so I decided to replace the other tug on the left with the sailing ship.

The above slideshow shows my process, starting with the background and gradually moving forward. Note that the colour variation in these slides is due to taking the photos at different times of the day.

Here is the finished painting. It makes a nice heirloom for my family to mark their industrious ancestor.

And it’s now also available as a print that can adorn the walls of any steam-tug or Old Wellington enthusiast! You can buy on a print for as little as $39, through to $230 for a large framed version.

I spoke to several steam-tug enthusiasts to get ‘Natone’s’ colours right. One of these enthusiasts was so impressed with my final painting that he gave me my first ever commission. He wanted a picture of the steam-tug ‘Toia’ in Wellington Harbour during the mid-1900s.

Here’s the painting I did for him, depicting ‘Toia’ backing over her prop-wash as she manouevres out of the Wellington tug berth. Again, the boat and the background are researched to be as authentic as possible.

I’d love to read your comments about my painting, or about steam-tugs in general.

I’m also open to discussing further commissions. Just get in touch with me at