Photography takes a great deal of skill. Capturing an airplane—or anything else with a pencil and paper takes that skill to a whole new level. But that’s what Kate Buike, a member of Urban Sketchers, does on a regular basis—and aircraft and spacecraft are among her favorite subjects.
Urban Sketchers is a global community of artists who practice drawing specific locations in cities and towns all over the world. The group’s motto is “show the world one drawing at a time”.
Drawing was a dormant hobby for Buike when she joined the group in 2012. She had recently retired and now that she had more time, chose to resurrect the hobby. She eased back into it.
“It’s like riding a bicycle…I remembered the basics of drawing and it just took time and practice to regain my former skills,” she said.
Around the same time she joined the Museum of Flight in Seattle as a volunteer. This gave her free access to the museum which is filled with subjects—namely the museum artifacts waiting to be drawn. When she joined the MOF, they were about to install a new space exhibit.
“The Full Fuselage Training, a.k.a Space Shuttle Trainer,” Buike recalled. “I’d been following the NASA space program from childhood as my mother watched every launch on TV from Mercury on.”
The day FLYING met Buike she was at the MOF waiting for the B-29 Doc to arrive from Wichita, Kansas. It was a sunny day, and Buike was sketching one of the aircraft on outdoor display while we waited for the B-29 to arrive. There were not many people waiting for the aircraft’s arrival, as the announcement of its visit to Seattle had not been made available to the general public.
“What I enjoy most is sketching special events at the Museum of Flight,’ said Buike. “As a volunteer, I often hear about things happening that aren’t announced to the public, such as the arrival of an aircraft or moving them around. I make a point to go over to watch and sketch from observation.”
Yes, There Are Rules
Some museums have very specific rules about capturing images of their artifacts. Sometimes this is done to protect the integrity of the artifact so that it cannot be copied, other times it is because flash photography can be damaging or distracting to other visitors.
When it comes to drawing, the challenge can be the materials used in the creation process.
Some museums permit colored pens, others only allow pencils to be used. Buike’s full kit includes pencil, pen, and watercolor applied to sketchbooks.
Buike often uses line-and-wash drawing, which is when a drawing is marked out by a pen and then tinted with diluted ink or watercolor.
“I work in small sketchbooks, most of my own making—especially during “Inktober”—I use a tan toned paper with various kinds of black ink and white gel pens,” she says.
One of Buike’s favorite subjects to draw is the Space Shuttle trainer. The shuttle trainer is a mockup of the shuttle that was used to train astronauts on procedures they would need to use in space. It is one of four ships that went to museums when the shuttles were retired in 2011.
“I thought it would be fun to have an insider’s view of it being assembled,” said Buike. “I’ve sketched that more than any other craft.” she said.
Sometimes Buike has an audience when she works.
“I’ve never drawn what I’d call a crowd but people do stop to look and chat. Often they are hesitant to interrupt me, but I always say, ‘That’s alright, I’m waiting for paint to dry.’”
Buike noted she had a moment when a father and a little girl were watching her work.
“We chatted a little. As she left, she said, ‘I want to be like you.’”Buike keeps track of her drawings—approximately 3,500 in all—on her Flickr photostream “That’s the total sketches since 2012, not all aviation. Most of my aviation ones are in the ‘Museum of Flight’ album where there are about 275. I have a few more, done other places, but most are there.”