Bringing back art flair from the past

NEWTON?Aleycia Crawford has an eye for nose art?the stylized paintings of pinup girls that decorated the front end of the airplanes during World War II.

?I like World War II,? Crawford, a Newton artist and photographer, said. ?I always liked antique and vintage things. I like things from that era.?

She also liked the work of Alberto Vargas, noted Peruvian pinup girl artist. One day, while looking at his art, she ?finally figured out they were paintings.?

?I thought they were photos,? she recalled. ?As an artist, I had to learn how to airbrush to make them realistic.?

Working in automotive collision repair at the time, Crawford set her sights on learning to airbrush art. But she couldn?t find anyone to show her how to airbrush, so she taught herself in the span of about six months. It whet her appetite for working as an airbrush artist full time.

By then she had moved on to Big Dog Motorcycles in Wichita. About six months into the job, her aunt showed her an ad for an airbrush artist. The opening was at Big Dog.

?I immediately went to my boss and asked if I could apply,? Crawford said. ?He asked if I had a portfolio, and I showed it to him.?

Having cleared the first hurdle, she interviewed for the position and beat out 13 others for the job.

On the job, she painted various colors and shapes of flames on the bikes. But she craved more of a creative challenge, so she asked Big Dog if she could create pinups for customers. Initially the company said no, but it finally relented and put the fate of her pinups in the hands of its customers. If there was a demand for them, Crawford could produce pinups. If not, she would have to go back to painting flames.

?I was always busy after that,? Crawford said.

And at home, she continued to work on her pinup art. Preferring to paint live models, Crawford offered to fix up a friend?s hair and makeup and give her photos from the session if she would pose for her.

?It took off from there,? Crawford said. ?I?ve been doing pinups for eight years.?

Crawford photographs her subjects to capture their poses and the play of light and shadows on their faces and bodies. She then uses the photos as reference for making her pinup art. As a boudoir and old Hollywood glam studio photographer, she has ?a stockpile of photos? to work from.

Her studio houses about six different sets, from rustic mountain cabin to 1950s-era kitchen. She also has a roomful of costumes and shoes for clients to choose from for costumes for their portraits.

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?I want girls to look like they?re having fun, and sexy,? Crawford said.

After the photo session, Crawford projects the picture onto tracing paper, which she uses to transfer the image onto the metal panel she uses as a canvas for her pinup airbrush work. The panels, which are contoured to match the curves of aircraft noses, measure 31×29 inches and 18×21 inches. The larger pieces sell for between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on their complexity. She also produces custom-sized panels.

In creating the nose art, Crawford works from dark tones to light on the pre-painted aircraft panel. She?ll start with lipstick, painted fingernails and toenails, for instance, before tackling the skin tones. Then it?s a matter of filling in the image, with particular attention to gradations of the shadows. It can take 20 to 25 hours of airbrushing to complete a panel.

Besides her subjects, customers for pinup nose art include men who want the artwork reproduced as tattoos or transferred to their motorcycles, and restaurants, including Hangar One Steakhouse in Wichita. Crawford has also received requests for pinup panels from children of aging World War II veterans, and charitable organizations have auctioned some of her art as fundraisers for scholarships.

Crawford said she?s also hoping to take some panels to the annual fly-in air meet at Oshkosh, Wis., in July. The gathering attracted more than 500,000 aviation enthusiasts in 2013.

Story and Photos by Fred Solis

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