Advice & Guidance, Inspire, Tuition

From Cockpit to Canvas: Painting the spirit of the Korean War Skies | Sarah Bird

25th September 2023 Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Spitfire-RAF-Aircraft - Mixed Media-Sarah Bird

Ex-RAF Officer Sarah Bird paints the Hawker Sea Fury, a Korean War relic, skillfully blending precision and artistry, a testament to her personal connection. Read on to Follow the Step-by-Step Artistic Tutorial.

Sara Bird-Mixed Media- Koeran War-aircraft-RAF


As a previously serving Royal Air Force Officer, I have been in close proximity to all sorts of aircraft over the years, but have never attempted to paint one. However, for the recent birthday of a dear friend who is actually flying the aircraft in the photograph, I was determined to have a go.

I must admit, I was a little intimidated by the challenge I had set myself in painting the Hawker Sea Fury (FB11), a rare relic of the Korean War. As a non-technical artist, I focused on light, shadow, and soft edges, aiming to capture its engineering without compromising my style.

With a penchant for experimentation, I tend to mix up my media in a rather haphazard way. I enjoy the ‘no rules apply’ policy of art – perhaps influenced by my 17 years in uniform. I can also be a little heavy-handed with the tools and like to build colour, which is why I chose the flint canvas board to work on, ideal for my approach.

1. Precision from the Start: Mastering Proportions

Sarah Bird-Korean Fighter-RAF-mixed media

Beginning with a 2B and putty eraser, I started by getting the basic proportions down.
With such a subject, getting this right is crucial at the start and can be done by careful measurement, using a grid overlay or, if you want to spend more time concentrating on bringing the subject to life, by a simple traced outline. I personally work directly from an iPad as I prefer using real-time sizing and detail.


2. Apply Initial Colours

Korean-war-aircraft-Sarah Bird-mixed media


I then blocked in some colour,  to get a feel for where I wanted to go. I used Derwent Inktense Watercolour Pencils to block in the darker areas with Indigo Blue, then Leaf Green on the main aircraft fuselage.


3. Shading and Detail

Koran-war-aircraft-Sarah Bird-mixed media

To accentuate the shaded areas and add more detail, I used Green Gold, Titanate Yellow and Raw Umber acrylics, thinned with Winsor & Newton Flow Improver. It’s tempting to go overboard on detail at this point, but resist, because that can be done.


4. Adding Highlights and Weather Effects

Sarah Bird-Korean-war-aircraft-mixed media


Next, I worked on the highlights as I had a plan to use artistic license on the weather. After some gloomy months (on many levels) the image of flying off into some sunlight was a cheery thought!
I used Titanium White and a touch of Sennelier Iridescent White oil pastel. I built up the shaded parts with a mix of Burnt Umber and Winsor Blue to avoid a flat black, and a dash of Crimson for the insignia. At this point, I also wanted to really capture the movement of the propeller and achieved this by smudging out lines of darker colour, using the white pastel to further soften the effect.

5.  Sun Rays, Cloud Formations, and Sky Enhancements

Sarah Bird-Mixed media--Korean-war-aircraft


To create the sun rays, I used a ruler and a mixture of the white oil pastel for texture and Iridescent White acrylic, which I also added to the reflections of light on the fuselage of the aircraft. I added a little definition with a ruler and a blending stump. I also added a touch of Titanate Yellow to give some warmth and depth. The wispy cloud formations (using a fingertip technique) also give a sense of movement and the glimpses of fields and hedgerows provide some altitudinal perspective. For the soft blue of the sky in the top left corner, I used a Phthalo Blue soft pastel washed over with thinned acrylic in Titanium White.


6. Finishing Flourish

Fighter-RAF-Aircraft - Mixed Media-Sarah Bird


Finally, I added the detail in ink, taking care not to over-use the black, in case it drowned any other colour. Before spraying with Winsor & Newton professional fixative, I also added the finishing touches to the fields below, the cloud formation and the sun rays catching this stunning historical aircraft. I only hope I have done her justice! I certainly enjoyed being immersed in my subject. Whilst working on the painting, I heard the propellers turn, felt the lift of the wings and once more experienced the freedom of leaving the earth below for exciting adventures in the wide blue yonder.

With thanks to Commodore Ade Orchard (pictured at the controls) who kindly provided the photograph courtesy of The Air-Britain Trust Ltd. 

Sarah Bird Artist

To find out more about Sarah and her work , visit

Materials List

Explore the full range of our art supplies in our SAA Shop.

Flint canvas board

Derwent Inktense Watercolour Pencils:  Indigo Blue, Leaf Green

Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylics: Windsor Blue, Crimson and Burnt Umber

Winsor & Newton Artists Acrylic: Iridescent White

Winsor & Newton Flow Improver     Winsor & Newton Professional Fixative

Daler-Rowney Heavy Body Artists Acrylic: Raw Umber

Sennelier Artists Oil Pastel: Iridescent White, Phthalo Blue



For blocking in watercolour:

Daler-Rowney Aquafine: Flat Size 7, Round Size 7.
For the Acrylics:
Winsor & Newton Flat Hog, Size 4, Synthetic Round Size 2 for the finer details

Golden Fluid Acrylic: Green Gold, Titanium White

Golden Artist Colors: Titanate Yellow

Uni-ball Pin Fineliners: 0.1 and 0.3 in black, dark grey for the detail

Pitt Artists Pen BrushWhite,

Gelly Roll Gel Pen -White Extra Fine nib,

2B pencil, putty eraser, ruler, blending stump

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