War Aviation Illustrations Become ‘Clear’ Tokens of Peace

MollisonPressPhoto5This summer, 40 years after U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam and 20 years after the nations normalized diplomatic relations, a U.S. pilot and former prisoner of war in Vietnam will return to meet the man who shot down his plane, sending him to spend nearly six years in a prison camp. Their friendly meeting will have only one formality: an exchange of an autographed illustration depicting the planes flown by the two pilots.
The meeting’s facilitator is John Mollison, artist, writer and creator of “Old Guys and Their Airplanes.” For the last 15 years, Mollison has pursued his respective passions for drawing, history and military aircraft by interviewing nearly 100 fighter pilots about their wartime experiences—and drawing their planes. The work has resulted in a video series, an active blog and illustrations that have been displayed in galleries, collections and museums in at least 13 countries.
He traces his passions to his childhood. His father was a model airplane aficionado and his mother encouraged his love of drawing. “My friends followed athletes and I had pilots as my heroes,” he said.
He revisited these passions when, on a journalist assignment, a pilot he idolized as a boy, Clarence “Bud” Anderson, not only agreed to autograph Mollison’s drawing of his fighter plane, but wanted to keep a copy himself. This led Mollison to draw the planes of other pilots he met, to similar responses. Soon he was getting word-of-mouth references to interview pilots and draw their planes, and his “hobby” took on a life of its own.CharliePlumbF-4©Mollison
His process is largely digital. He sketches planes with pencil and paper, based upon references in his and other libraries. He then scans the sketch into his computer and turns it into a digital drawing with a Wacom digital pen. He typically prints several dozen “originals,” giving some to the pilot and selling the rest.
Having worked at a print shop during his college years and specifying print in his professional life as an advertising and PR consultant today, Mollison has an understanding for a wide range of printing presses. His choice for producing his drawings: a Xerox Color 800 Press at Mailway Printers in his hometown, Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I’ve got 15 years of historical materials printed by all kinds of machines—including offset—and the prints that were done on the 800 are the best, bar none,” Mollison said. “The clear-coating rules and the color fidelity is spot on.” He applies clear toner to coat the image of the plane, giving it a little extra pop, but lets the texture of the archival paper show through on the borders.
“Many veterans know they have a story, and a lot of them would like to have a printed work that says, ‘This is my legacy,’” Mollison said. “The airplane I draw becomes their “book,” if that makes sense.
“In many ways, the Color 800 has helped record and share pieces of history.”
And in Vietnam this month, a special illustration, complete with the new Xerox silver metallic ink capability, will serve as a token of the ongoing peace between not only the two nations, but also the two men whose worlds collided more than 40 years ago.
Editor’s Note: On November 11, 2015 – Veterans Day – Mr. John Mollison published “There. And Back”, a video documenting Vietnam POW Charlie Plumb’s story and first trip back to the country since leaving the North Vietnamese prison system on February 19, 1973. It is absolutely worth a watch – see below:
Editor’s Note: On October 29, 2015, PaperSpecs featured Mr. Mollison’s work on their community site, including his experiences incorporating silver dry ink into his work off a Xerox Color 1000i Press. For the full story, please check out this feature article on the PaperSpecs community

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