Joel R. Simpson

Joel Simpson is very much an amateur artist who lives and works in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area. He has been drawing since he was a kid but only began painting, off and on, about 20 years ago. Joel sees every painting as a learning experience and is sometimes his own worst critic.

Joel grew up in a military family, his father a US Army Master Aviator needless-to-say airplanes became the subject of many of his drawings and then later his paintings.

When he first started out painting it was with watercolors on paper, then acrylics on paper, and now acrylics on canvas. Joel has tried working with oils but unfortunately, as he says, "I just wind up making a mess of things." Acrylics on canvas allows him to get an oil paint-like appearance and texture with relatively little mess and in a quarter of the time.

Though airplanes have been the main focus of Joel's paintings, he also enjoys experimenting with landscapes, cloud and skyscapes, and even some seascapes.

Joel finds that the most challenging part to all of his paintings, as he says, has been the use of and blending of light and dark. Though he looks at dozens of photographs to get some idea how light and shadows play upon an object it is still using his mind's eye in how the use of light will look in his paintings. Sometimes that works for him and sometimes it does not.

As Joel puts it, "Clouds and large bodies of water present another challenge. A few white fluffy clouds are easy, it is the grandiose, awe inspiring 'heaven's gates' type clouds that are the most demanding. Trying to get the right mix of colors, textures, and use of different techniques has been the most demanding. But I am still learning. It certainly makes me look at sunrises and sunsets very differently."

Joel also finds that, "Bodies of water are particular taxing due to trying to replicate waves, ripples, and the play of light and shadows upon the water. I have even watched scientific videos on how water moves, how waves form, and what they look like from 10,000 feet above to what they look like at sea level. Even looked through dozens of photographs and compared them to paintings done of seascapes."

Even though, Joel took art classes in both high school and in university and has sold a few of his paintings on auction sites, He considers himself to be a true amateur. But as an amateur, he does spend quite a bit of time trying to get things right. As he says, "I conduct a fair amount of research of the earth/atmospheric sciences/features which may appear in my paintings to the historical events which my paintings may be attempting to represent. I also look through dozens of contemporary and historical paintings to compare the myriad of techniques used and the approaches taken to achieve the desired outcome."

When asked about any particular artist's quote he may have come across, Joel responded by saying, "I guess the more appropriate artistic quote which best suits me, and my artistic journey comes from Leonardo da Vinci: "The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.""


History of Aviation & Something Different

As my Bio mentioned, I have always been fascinated with aviation and in particular military aviation.

The paintings displayed here are a mix of scenes throughout the military history of aviation, some are of actual events.

With every painting, I attempt to convey the story of the scene being presented to allow the viewer to gain a better understanding of what is taking place in front of them.

In "Something Different", I am experimenting with landscapes, skyscapes, flora, and fauna. I am quite fond of lighthouses and the great beasts which roam this earth.


What pilots since the days of Capt. Eddy Rickenbacker, Capt. Roy Brown, Lt. Georges Guynemer, and of course Capt. Baron Manfred von Richthofen referred to as a “Dog Fight” was an unchoreographed dance of planes and men, moving almost in graceful synchronization, a “dance” if you will, all in the attempt to achieve the best position from which they may be able to shoot their opponent down.

As the years passed since the Great War, the “Art” of air combat improved with new tactics and maneuvers as well as improvements and advancements in aircraft. Yet despite such advancements, “The Dance” continued.

In “And The Dance Begins” we see two US Air Force F-86E Sabre Jets, from the 335th Fighter Squadron (FIS) of the 4th Fighter Group (FIG) out of Kimpo Airfield, South Korea engage two North Korean-marked MiG-15 bis Fagots from the 175th Guards Fighter Air Regiment of the 324th Fighter Air Division.

It had become known, among American air crews in Korea, that the MiG-15s with North Korean markings, and some with Chinese markings, were in fact flown by veteran Soviet fighter pilots sent by Moscow to test out their new fighter jets and tactics against the American F-86s.

The most challenging part of this painting was trying my best to capture the bare metal texture of the four aircraft depicted here and the play of sunlight and shadows upon them.


Based upon actual accounts from the Great War to today, it was very common for opposing aircraft to pass one another at high speeds. Sometime their distances from one another may be very close, as in this case, or up to a hundred meters or so.

Once the pass occurs, the pilots will begin to pull their aircrafts either straight up to gain the advantage of altitude or to the left to get on, what pilots referred to as, the enemy’s “Six” which is the six o’clock position of the aircraft.

Here, we see a US Air Force F-4 Phantom passing a Volunteer People’s Air Force (VPAF) (North Vietnam) MiG-17 Fresco. The MiG-17 had the advantage of maneuverability versus the raw power, speed, and thrust of the Phantom. The MiG-17 also carried two 23mm cannons and one 32mm cannon whereas the Phantom, up until 1972, only had air-to-air missiles to defend itself with; the AIM-9 Sidewinder and the AIM-7 Sparrow. By 1972, the F-4 final obtained an internal 20mm gatling cannon which gave the Phantom the added firepower it so desperately needed.

When drawing and then painting and aircraft in motion it has been a task to properly add in the aircrews. The size of the images makes a huge difference in the amount of room I have to play with in order to paint the men in a realistic fashion with a proper perspective to the rest of the painting. In many of my earlier paintings I just simply painted the sun glaring reflection coming off the aircraft's canopy which eliminated the need to paint in a pilot.


On 8 December 1941, the entire West Coast of the United States, from San Diego, California to the seaports of Washington State laid wide open for an invasion force of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Desperate, the US military pressed every boat, ship, and airplane into service to keep a watchful vigil for any sign that the enemy was within US waters.

Here, we see a US Navy Consolidated PBY-5A (Patrol Bomber) Catalina amphibious aircraft, in pre-war colors, setting out on a morning patrol over the Port Vicente Lighthouse Catalina Islands off the coast of California.

Designed and manufactured in the late 1930s, the PBY Catalina became the US Navy’s work horse. Used extensively for hunting and attacking enemy submarines, tracking enemy naval vessels, to rescuing downed American and Allied aircrews to sailors set a drift in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

By the late 1950s and early 60s, the PBY’s life was extended as a Coast Guard Search and Rescue aircraft and as a Water Bomber by the US Forest Service.

As I mentioned in my Bio, painting bodies of water and cloudscapes have always been a great challenge for me. I am still learning...


The painting “Duel in the Sky” is a representation of the hundreds of encounters between Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots and German Luftwaffe pilots during the period known as the Battle of Britain, 1940.

Here we see two RAF fighters known as Spitfires engage two German Messerschmidt Me.109s with one going down in flames with its pilot having successfully bailed out.

More than likely the Luftwaffe pilot, if having bailed out over land would have been taken prisoner by the British Home Guard and placed in a Prisoner of War camp for German Aircrews. If the pilot had bailed out over the English Channel, he most likely would have succumbed to his parachute filling up with water and drowning. Yet, if by some luck, the pilot was able to get free of his flight harness and could inflate his life jacket he would either be picked up by British Navy vessels looking for both downed British and German aircrews or he could swim to a British or German rescue buoy where he could await being picked up by British or German naval vessels operating in the area.

This painting is a good example that what you might see in a finished painting may not be what was first intended for the canvas. There is actually an uncompleted painting underneath it. Not liking the unfinished product, I shifted gears, did a few more days of research and sample sketches and started anew. In an attempt to cover the blemishes from the previous painting the cloudscape kind of took on a life of its own resembling a big white fluffy ameba rather than a lovely collection of clouds over southeastern England.


Located in Pensacola, Florida is its venerable lighthouse and located a few miles behind it is the Pensacola Naval and Marine Corps Air Station. Pensacola is the home of the world renown US Navy aerobatic team the Blue Angels. Along with the Blue Angles F-18 Super Hornets is the team's C-130 transport aircraft known as "Fat Albert".

On many occasions beach comers and boaters have caught glimpses of either the team of F-18 Super Hornets or of Fat Albert doing their aerobatic run throughs.

For me, it is difficult to pat oneself on the back, but in this particular painting everything seems to have come together for me. If I would do this over, I would put more time into the detail work of the lighthouses glass encasement and framing.


Sunday, 7 December 1941; having just released his load of bombs, Pilot Lt. Saburo Makino with his Radioman/Rear Gunner, Petty Officer 2 Sueo Sukida, pulls his Aichi D3A1-Type 99, Model 11 “Val” Dive Bomber up away through the smoke and anti-aircraft fire over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

PO2 Sukida can be seen loading a fresh drum magazine of 7.7 mm ammunition into his Type 92 machinegun.

The two vertical red bands on the plane’s fuselage along with the two horizontal red bands on the vertical stabilizer indicates that this aircraft belongs to the Kokutai (air wing) of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) Aircraft Carrier Kaga. The larger horizontal red band above the letters and numbers on the vertical stabilizer indicates that Pilot Lt. Makino is the flight leader of what became the second wave to attack Pearl Harbor.

Bearing down on Makino is a P- 40 Warhawk “160”, piloted by 2nd Lt. George Welch supported by his wingman 2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor. Maneuvering his P-40, Welch eventually shoots down the Japanese dive bomber over Wahiawa, Hawaii killing both Makino and Sukida.

Though virtually all the P-40s, America’s top fighter aircraft at the time, were damaged or destroyed during the first wave, George Welch and 13 other pilots managed to get into the air in a collection of P-40s and P-36s and collectively shot down up to 11 Japanese aircraft.

After the attack, Lt. Welch will be credited with four Japanese aircraft shot down and Lt. Taylor will be credited with two. Though US Army Air Corps General Hap Arnold recommended the two men be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, higher ups in the War Department declared that “…since Lieutenants Welch and Taylor had acted without having any written orders…” Gen. Arnold’s recommendation was withdrawn and the two pilots in stead received the US Army’s highest accommodation the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).

This painting is an example of trying to capture the chaos and drama of a particular point in time during a historical event. In doing so you wind up creating smaller vignettes which hopefully adds to the overall storytelling of the painting.

The same challenge encountered in painting a robust cloudscape is the same when trying to capture billowing pillars of smoke and flames. Also need to work on my water splashes.


A very familiar sight for many service men and women having served in Afghanistan was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The C-130 was one of many US aircraft which performed the unimaginable task of sustaining a massive army of US and Allied personnel in the field for close to 20 years.
Designed in the 1950s, next to the Boeing B-52 Bomber, the C-130 Hercules is the second oldest aircraft in the US Military's inventory. No longer manufactured, the Herc has been undergoing modernization programs for the past 30 years, new avionics, flight controls, radars, sensors, new engines, propellers, etc... have all extended the lifespan of the aircraft for another 20 years.

Seen here, the Herc is flying over one of the world's most treacherous mountain ranges in the world know as the "Kindu-Kush", translated as The Killer of Hindus.

In panting silhouettes, one may think all you need to do is to paint a black filled outline shape of the object and that's it. In this painting, many of the dark features which appear "black" is actually a mixture of reds, blues, purples, and black.

I enjoy doing paintings where the lines between light and dark are quite dramatic as in this particular piece of work.


One of the eras of aviation which has intrigued me has been what is known as 'The Interwar Period'. The period from the end of the First World War (1918) to the beginning of the Second World War (1939). For the field of aviation, this was the time period of the 'Barn Stormers', the first 'Air Shows', the opening of the US Postal Service Air Mail Branch, the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It was a time period for setting aviation records for the highest flyer, the fastest airplane, time and speed records. It was the era of Charles Lindburgh, Emilia Earhart, Col. Billy Mitchell, the first Black American female of Native descent, Bessie Coleman to make aviation history. It was also the era which saw the first movies heralding the brave and dangerous exhorts of American fighter pilots during the Great War; movies such as "Wings - 1927" and "Hell's Angels - 1930".

Air travel began during this time, first from New York to Chicago, then New York, to Chicago, to Los Angeles... coast-to-coast air travel came into being along with bigger airplanes to carry the people with ready cash, time, and the constitution for air travel.

It was also a time of experimentation in new, advanced, aviation designs to machine and human endurance. This is when we learned that if pilots are to fly ever higher, they need to have the means to keep them from passing out due to hypoxia as well as making sure the aircraft has the ability to at those heights. No pun intended but the sky was the limit.

In spite of the importance aviation played during the Great War, military aviation was gradually accepting the need for a military air wing for both the US Army and the US Navy.

By 1927, fledgling aviation manufacturers such as Boeing, Wright, Grumman, Martin, etc... were regularly designing and producing prototypes of aircraft to meet the military's needs.

In the painting "Navy's New Fighter" we see a Boeing F4B-3 fighter plane. Even by 1927, the biplane was still the developmental standard for aircraft design however, these planes were manufactured using new methods in manufacturing, replacing wood framing with lightweight metals such as aluminum and more powerful radial engines with improved propeller designs.

This particular F4B-3 belongs to the VBF-1 Squadron, known as the 'Top Hatters' from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga CV-3. Many pilots enjoyed flying this little fighter, it had speed, maneuverability, and it was just fun to fly. Unfortunately, by 1933 the world was quickly changing, Japan had been at war in China since 1930, Adolf Hitler will be elected to the Reich Stag in 1932 and begins a robust rearmament program for Germany in strict violation to the Versailles Treaty, and Mussolini of Italy continued it pursuit of imperial glory in Africa. With this global change came a need to keep pace with the three potential adversary's military advancements.

By 1933, virtually all of aircraft developed during 1927 to 1932 had become horribly obsolete.

Light House at Sunset “Light House at Sunset”

Commissioned by President George Washington and overseen by Alexander Hamilton, the lighthouse at Cape Henry, Virginia became one of this nation's very first national lighthouse. The lighthouse was reconstructed in 1881 and still continues to function as an active lighthouse.
Here we see the Cape Henry lighthouse at sunset.

Dancing With The Jellies “Dancing With The Jellies”

"Dancing With The Jellies" is my first attempt at capturing the fauna of this earth. To me, large whales are the great leviathans of the earth and if we could only understand their language, they would tell stories millions of years in the making.

In this painting, I wanted to capture the size yet gracefulness of this Humpback Whale as it 'dances' with the accompanying jellyfish.