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Flying as an Art Form

By Fred Johnsen
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

research pilot Mark Pestana and T-38s painting
NASA research pilot Mark Pestana was invited to show his painting of T-38s at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum during the EAA AirVenture show July 27 through August 2.

Mark Pestana flies sophisticated research aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California. He also had an award-winning painting on display at the giant Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis., July 27-August 2.

Fliers sometimes compare their profession to art forms, and for Pestana it is natural to express his feelings for flight on canvas with acrylic paints. The juried exhibit at the EAA Museum included an evocative painting Mark rendered depicting several NASA T-38 jets in and around a huge hangar at Ellington Field, Texas, in the wake of a storm. Mark saw the grouping, which looked random and more like a pod of sea mammals than an orderly gathering of jet aircraft, and knew he had to commit the scene to canvas.

That began an exercise in meticulous patience. First, Mark photographed the scene to capture the essence of the randomly parked curvy T-38 shapes. Next he executed pencil sketches of the scene, using the creative process to get a feel for the elements of the painting that would demand bolder or softer hues to create the artist's illusion of depth.

The final painting, on stretched canvas, bears evidence of Mark's varied use of wet and washy acrylics to aid in recreating the glossy painted surface of the clean hangar floor, juxtaposed with dry-brushed remnants of white that give a ghostly effect to the overhead lights in the hangar rafters.

Pestana's art has appeared on the dust jackets of NASA books and other venues. He has been drawing since he was a child, and painting for about 35 years. When asked if he is a pilot who paints or an artist who flies, Mark laughed heartily and said: "Yes."