This is the story of Meredith Tunney.  She worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines for over 42 years.  Her husband Tim contacted me and asked if I could help celebrate her career story on canvas.  I met the Tunney's over 25 years ago when they purchased a watercolor from me, and met with them a couple of times recently to discuss this painting project.  Meredith had gathered up some United Airlines related objects for me, and between her and Tim, they also sent me a number of photos.

Here is one of the best photos. This is a close-up of Meredith from a 1970 snapshot.  It's a little blurry from blowing up a small photo, but you have to agree that this is a very cool uniform from a very hip late 1960's. Very cool Meredith also!

This ad from 1970 (borrowed from Meredith and Tim), shows another color scheme used by United Airlines.

Meredith had written down all her home bases and some of the cities that she traveled to with United, and I had her give me a list of her favorite destinations.  She had spent the last 20 years traveling to Sydney, Australia, so she had a special connection with the land down under.  LAX was her favorite home base.  With all this as a starting point, I started to work on a theme.

Below I have started to list the items that I will be using in the painting:

This is one of Meredith's earliest pair of wings.  I love the nostalgia and the effort put in by United by imprinting Miss Mertz (unmarried at the time) on the built in name plate.

There were a number of pairs of wings that Meredith wore throughout the years, each one denoting her tenure in the airlines.  This is the final pair that she wore when she retired in 2012.

This is a special 'dual time zone' watch that Meredith and Tim found together.

I built this passenger loading ramp years ago for another painting.  Today I revised it with handrails and an axel with wheels. 

This is Meredith's favorite 747.  It is specifically a Boeing 747-400, with the Rising Blue or Tulip logo on the tail.

I will be using this luggage tug to tow some special baggage.

Meredith and Tim's driveway provided me with the perfect lighting setup for her painting photo.  The lighting in this photo will dictate the lighting for the entire painting.

This painting will involve a view out the window and the view will be an aerial perspective of Sydney Harbor.  I found this incredible photo on the internet and contacted the photographer who shot it. His name is Pierre Lesage of Tahiti.  He uses a sophisticated kite to get aerial views all over the world. I'll be using a section of this photograph. I paid a fee to Pierre for the rights to use his photograph.

Here is a simple sketch of my proposed image.  Click on the image to get a larger view.  I have set up a scene on the terminal tarmac at Los Angeles Airport, with Meredith pausing at the steps of the portable stairs.  She is stopping to reflect on all that is in front of her.  There will be travel stickers pasted all over the wall to her left, showing her favorite destinations, along with a photo of Tim and one of their dogs and the photo of Meredith in her first uniform.  The baggage tug will be pulling two carts, one with her dual time zone watch and the other with her last set of wings.  Her first set of wings are mounted on a runway light post with two runway signs, which show the beginning and end dates of her career with United.  Out the window will be the 747, gliding across the sky above Sydney Harbor.  The markings on the tarmac will show LAX, B747, and M42-8, the amount of years and months she was a flight attendant. 

That's a lot to take in from this sketch, but I will make it more clear as I go along.  

I've assembled two photos and twelve travel stickers on a piece of cardboard to represent the wall in the painting.  Notice the open area to the upper right.  That will be the window with the view of Sydney Harbor.

Next, I brought in the passenger stairs, some terminal tarmac signage, and the runway light pole with its signs and Meredith's wings. I'll shoot a photograph of this and print it, using it as my guide in drawing the objects on the canvas.  The initial sketch helped galvanize the idea, but this prop set-up gives me the real information for drawing the scene with the proper perspective and scale.

Next, I'll stretch the linen canvas on the stretcher bars and begin drawing the image on the double primed surface.

Sometimes when I communicate back and forth with a client, we hone in on a final detail before I start on the canvas.  Meredith's best friend and United flight attendant, Debbie, was that missing detail.  I'll insert her into the photo on the wall, standing next to Meredith back in the early days.

Here is a photo of Meredith and Debbie.

I've sketched out the basics on the canvas and have decided to start with the back wall.  My first wash of oil goes on the wall itself, starting pretty dark so that I can create the illusion of it being in the shade.  I now will look at the areas of the stickers and photos, pick out those areas that are white, and mix a gray 'shade' value.

Here is a group of stickers that I've applied the grayed whites and yellow.

Now all areas of each sticker that have black have been painted. Various colors will be next.

I've completed the first pass of oil on all the stickers on the back wall. The two blank rectangular areas of canvas are the two photos which will be next.

Here are a few close-ups of some of the stickers: Phoenix, Washington, D.C....

...Boston, Melbourne...

...and of course, Los Angeles (Airport).

The photograph of Meredith and Debbie is roughed in.

As with most renderings, especially this one in the shaded area of the painting, the detail will be less sharp.

The final puzzle part of the back wall, Tim's photo, is in. I'll move on to the tarmac next.

Here's a shot of the entire canvas with the semi-completed back wall.

In this photo, I've applied a warm gray to the sunlit areas of the asphalt tarmac.

This is a close-up of the lower center.

Now, with the markings on the asphalt sketched in.

Here is the entire canvas.  I will move on to the other objects on the tarmac, beginning with luggage tug and carts.

The baggage tractor or 'tug' has one of United's logos on the side.

The first cart is rendered with the dual time zone watch as its cargo.

The second cart now has Meredith's final set of wings.

And here's a view of the two carts.

The passenger stairs now glow with their dramatic lighting.

I'll move to the right side of the painting next and brush in the pole light with the signage and wings on it.

The light pole is in and only Meredith is left in the foreground area.

Here's a look so far. 

Here is where I put a lot of effort, trying to get Meredith's likeness for the painting.  As with any 'portrait', the artist interprets what he sees.  Although this is only the rough rendering phase, I think I got real close to the real thing.

I've moved outside to the window and have rendered the 747 first.  When you view the next photo, where I've put in the blue hue of the sky, you can see...

...the highlights of the white areas of the aircraft because of the contrast in the two values.

I've painted the overall cast/design of the water first, which will dictate the value range of the rest of the scene.

The Opera House is roughed in and I also put in the arches of the bridge so that I wouldn't lose my drawing when I paint the areas behind it.

I'll begin with landscape in the lower left section of the window and work up and around to the right.

Working my way up to the horizon line on the left.

The bridge structure is forming and I'm painting the landscape behind it.

Starting the cluster of buildings and...'s a view of the whole window so far.

The buildings are completed and... is the completed window.  Click Here to see a larger image of the window.

I've completed the first phase of the painting, addressing each area of the canvas with a thin layer of paint.  Now, I'll start over and repaint every square inch with heavier oil paint, making adjustments in hue and value and putting a little more detail where needed.  Click Here to view a larger image of the entire canvas.

The back wall will be the first area to get the final paint.  Since I decided that the wall needs to be darker overall to make a definite separation between the interior scene and the window image, I've darkened the wall areas without travel stickers first.

Here's a close-up of a section of the wall.  By darkening the warm brown of the wall, the stickers immediately become comparably lighter, which is what I want this first paint application to show me.  I'll then darken the stickers so they don't pop off the wall.

Since the photo of Tim boarders the window edge, and because the window edge's value or darkness is important for the optical separation between it and the window image, I've started here.  I darkened the white areas first (the white photo border especially) and adjusted the rest of the photo to the darker border.

Here is a close-up of Tim's face to show the thicker paint application.  As with many of my commissioned paintings, there are areas throughout the painting that are smaller paintings all by themselves.  This portrait of Tim was rendered with a #1 bright bristle brush (about 1/4" wide), keeping the image more painterly than photographic.

I've been working on the back wall for about a week now.  Everything needed darkening, based on the photo of Tim.  You can see that the various travel stickers are quite darker, but still have enough contrast and detail to be seen clearly.

I've darkened all the stickers on the left side of the painting.  Notice how the photograph of Meredith and Debbie glows on the wall.  This shows that it will need the same 'darkening' as Tim's photo.  Also notice how the darker background makes Meredith's hair and face stand out.  This is the reason for darkening the background and its success is quickly apparent.

This photograph is finished.  Aside from the glare of my studio lights, you can see that Meredith and Debbie's photo has darkened and taken its proper visual place on the wall.

The entire wall is finished, and now with its overall darkened value, it does its role of making the window look like a window.

Meredith and Debbie came by the studio today to see the painting. 

The first cart with the dual time zone watch is finished.  I'll wait to paint the cast shadow when all the objects in the foreground are completed.  That way I will be able to tie them all together with the same shadow color and be able to put in the proper value based on all the objects.

The final set of wings and cart are completed.  Now, on to the tarmac light pole.

The finished light pole.

The stairs are now done.  Making the handrails straight with three different values (highlight, reflective light and dark center) was a real challenge.

Meredith and her luggage are perfect!  Now all the objects in the foreground are completed.  I'll begin to paint the surface that they sit on, starting with the shadows.

All the shadows and sunlit areas on the tarmac are complete.

Here is another close-up shot of the tarmac.

The final step will be to paint the scene in the window, beginning with the detail on the airliner.

The 747 is done.  Had to have my steadiest hand to do those windows.

The window to Sydney Harbor is complete.  Click Here to see a larger photo of the window.

"Meredith's Friendly Skies" is finished.  Click Here to view a larger image.