In Conversation with Aviation Artist Rehan Siraj

With improving security situation of the country, the nation now has the opportunity to see and enjoy display of the air power of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after a long gap. Last one and half year has been quite happening and heavy in terms of schedule of the air warriors responsible for demonstrating capability of putting up air displays at local and international events. The aerial and static displays on Pakistan Day and Independence Day had left people in awe. It resulted in surge in public interest and love for the Armed Forces in general and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in particular.

Earlier, it was the PAF communicating to the nation either through Directorate of Media Affairs or ISPR. With the advent and rise of social networks, the equation has become more balanced with many young individuals contributing immensely to portray bright side of the country and military might it enjoys. Therefore, we see many blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube Channels showcasing articles, images, and videos today, which are not intellectual property of the PAF in any way but a huge contribution of some hardworking people in their humble capacity to represent soft image of the country and rejuvenate the passion in the youth to join Armed Forces for the honor and distinction.

Our part of the world has not produced many aviation artists. The talent is quite rare and less privileged in terms of recognition at state level. Nevertheless, there are some individuals who are taking the bull by the horns and contributing to create more awareness in the masses through their dazzling work.

Rehan Siraj is a famous aviation artist, a name many reckon with for his unique contributions and achievements to showcase several untold stories of the PAF through his flawless vision and strokes of pencil and brush. Aviation art is his hobby and he calls it his first true love. He has represented Pakistan in many national and international events and received accolades for the country. He came to prominence after winning 3rd position in Art Exhibition held in Romania in 2001. At different occasions, his paintings were presented to many war heroes and high rank officers of the Air Force. This week, we got lucky and had the opportunity to talk about his passion i.e. to sketch and paint fighter jets. For the readers, we are sharing the conversation below:

Please tell us something about yourself and your background?

My name is Rehan Siraj. I belong to an airforce family. My father, CWO Siraj ud Din was drill instructor and ground combatier in PAF. Many people in PAF know him of making wooden models (especially grenades) to train his students. My brothers and sisters also do painting and sketching. This is in our family.

How did you get into this field of sketching and painting? What was your inspiration?

My elder brother, Squadron Leader (retd.) Adnan Siraj. I have learnt a lot from him. When I was a kid, I used to see him painting and sketching, how he makes an aircraft, how he composes, how he applies paints etc. Side by side, I used to study the work of different well known artists, like Keith Ferris, RG Smith, Robert Tailor, Roland Wong, Group Captain (retd.) Hussaini, etc. At school, PAF Inter College Chaklala, I was member of art club. I learnt many techniques from my art teacher Ma’am Nayyer, I can say that she is also the one who polished my skills.

“Haiders of the Air” The painting depicts Mirage V PA3 of PAF’s No 8 Squadron “Haiders”, dedicated for Anti-Ship operations, flying over Arabian Sea.

“Haiders of the Air”
The painting depicts Mirage V PA3 of PAF’s No 8 Squadron “Haiders”, dedicated for Anti-Ship operations, flying over Arabian Sea.

When was the first time you painted a fighter plane? How was the experience?

As far as I remember, I used to draw the planes before I joined the school. I think at the age of 4. Painting and sketching always refreshes me. I remember in school after lectures, I used to draw an aircraft on the corner of the page. I feel fresh by drawing.

"Thunder over Dubai" The painting depicts a JF-17 Thunder of No. 16 Sqn “Black Panthers”, flying over Dubai’s famous Palm Jumeirah. Thunder made its graceful appearance in Dubai airshow 2011, performing solo aerobatics and static displays with wide range of lethal weaponry.

“Thunder over Dubai”
The painting depicts a JF-17 Thunder of No. 16 Sqn “Black Panthers”, flying over Dubai’s famous Palm Jumeirah. Thunder made its graceful appearance in Dubai airshow 2011, performing solo aerobatics and static displays with wide range of lethal weaponry.

Aviation artists are quite rare at international level. You represent a niche. Was there anyone who caught your attention in the past and motivated you to pick brushes, pencils and start playing with colors?

Yes, aviation art is not like normal fine arts. It is a bit technical in nature. An artist must know how an aircraft flies. My parents encouraged me a lot and my elder brother was always there to guide me. The Air Force environment and my family support helped me to get into this field.

Aviation artists are quite rare because still we don’t have any degree in aviation art anywhere in the world. In the past, aircraft designers and pilots were aviation artists.  From WWII onward, aviation paintings started coming. Then historical events of WWI and WWII started to be depicted in paintings, Korean War, Vietnam war dogfights etc. American Society of Aviation Artist was established in America. Now there are many societies of aviation art working in the world, arranging exhibitions and art contests. People are getting aware of aviation art and its demand is on the rise. Even in Pakistan, people love aviation paintings.

What is your step wise approach to paint and sketch the aircraft? Is there any particular technique you use in your work?

I always prefer to paint actual encounters. I am always in search of these events. I research a lot. Date, time, area, weather, aircrafts involved, their markings and configuration and more important, how that happened? How the enemy aircraft was shot down? When I get this data, I make rough sketch. As I am not a pilot, so to ensure technical accuracy I need the help of some pilot to verify it. There are a lot of retired officers and war veterans, who are always there for guidance. After getting it verified, I start marking the painting.

"F-104 shoots down Su-7" On Dec 4th,1971, S/L R.A.Bhatti scores a kill over Amritsar by shooting down an IAF Su-7. The Sukhoi pilot didnot survive. The painting was published in a German Magazine with an article about PAF F-104s.

“F-104 shoots down Su-7”
On Dec 4th,1971, S/L R.A.Bhatti scores a kill over Amritsar by shooting down an IAF Su-7. The Sukhoi pilot didnot survive.
The painting was published in a German Magazine with an article about PAF F-104s.

Sketching and painting are two different ways of expression. Which is more demanding in terms of effort and time?

Both have their own value. Sketching takes less time as compared to painting. Encounters normally look good to me in paintings. Pencil sketches look antiques. I enjoy doing both.

Tribute to the legend - WC Mervyn Middlecoat One of the only two PAF pilots have a bar on Sitara e jurrat (Star of bravery). Led the daring air defense and photo recce missions on F-104 in 1965 and 1971 war. It was one of the mission, on 12th December 1971, he was shot down by an enemy Mig-21 while exiting after successfully completing his raid on IAF base Jamnagar. He ejected over the sea but his body was not found. He was officially declared missing in action. For his courage and bravery, he was awarded a bar to Sitara e Jurrat.

Tribute to the legend – WC Mervyn Middlecoat
One of the only two PAF pilots have a bar on Sitara e jurrat (Star of bravery). Led the daring air defense and photo recce missions on F-104 in 1965 and 1971 war. It was one of the mission, on 12th December 1971, he was shot down by an enemy Mig-21 while exiting after successfully completing his raid on IAF base Jamnagar. He ejected over the sea but his body was not found. He was officially declared missing in action. For his courage and bravery, he was awarded a bar to Sitara e Jurrat.

The Viper Driver of the PAF F-16 Fighting Falcon

The Viper Driver of the PAF F-16 Fighting Falcon

Do you paint only Pakistan Air Force themes or air force in general?

Being Pakistani I always love to paint PAF aircraft. I have also made paintings for Pakistan army and friendly air forces like: Turkish Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force. Besides military and aviation, I love to paint landscapes, wild life, etc.

"The Panterlers" - the painting depicts a Turkish Airforce F-4 from No. 111 Filo known as Panterler (Panther) Squadron taxiing for a mission.

“The Panterlers” – the painting depicts a Turkish Airforce F-4 from No. 111 Filo known as Panterler (Panther) Squadron taxiing for a mission.

“Hunted by an Eagle” The painting depicts an F-15C Eagle of Royal Saudi Airforce, piloted by Capt. Ayed Salah Al-Shamrani, firing sidewinder at Iraqi Mirage F-1EQ-5, after shooting down the first Mirage F-1. The encounter took place on 24th January, 1991 over Persian Gulf in which Iraqi Mirages were intercepted by an Eagle. They were believed to be on the way to attack Coailation naval units. Both Mirages were shot down.

“Hunted by an Eagle”
The painting depicts an F-15C Eagle of Royal Saudi Airforce, piloted by Capt. Ayed Salah Al-Shamrani, firing sidewinder at Iraqi Mirage F-1EQ-5, after shooting down the first Mirage F-1. The encounter took place on 24th January, 1991 over Persian Gulf in which Iraqi Mirages were intercepted by an Eagle. They were believed to be on the way to attack Coailation naval units. Both Mirages were shot down.

Which plane do you enjoy the most while painting and why?

F-16, I am in love with this aircraft. It is beautiful in design and performance of course. It is known as an aircraft designed by an artist!!!

"Fuel time baby !!!!" The painting depicts F-16B from PAF's 9 Sqn "Griffin" coming for refueling during exercise Red Flag/Green Flag held in July 2010.

“Fuel time baby !!!!”
The painting depicts F-16B from PAF’s 9 Sqn “Griffin” coming for refueling during exercise Red Flag/Green Flag held in July 2010.

What is best complement you have received so far?

I always value the complements from many war heroes. All are the best.

Bhairab Bazar Operation 15 April 1971 - the painting depicts F/L Khalid Mehmood strafing the railway station, while the leader is pulling up after his attack. The Mukti Bahani supported by Indian army Gurkhas captured the food reserved in silos and planted bombs on the railway bridge. A joint services operation was planned inwhich Pak Army SSGs, led by Maj TM, supported by Navy boats, had to defuse the bombs and clear the area, while 4 F-86 sabres led by S/L Abbas Khattak provided the cover. F-86s rocketed and strafed the enemy position while the commandos did their job. The mission was successfully done and the area was cleared.

Bhairab Bazar Operation 15 April 1971 – the painting depicts F/L Khalid Mehmood strafing the railway station, while the leader is pulling up after his attack.
The Mukti Bahani supported by Indian army Gurkhas captured the food reserved in silos and planted bombs on the railway bridge. A joint services operation was planned inwhich Pak Army SSGs, led by Maj TM, supported by Navy boats, had to defuse the bombs and clear the area, while 4 F-86 sabres led by S/L Abbas Khattak provided the cover. F-86s rocketed and strafed the enemy position while the commandos did their job. The mission was successfully done and the area was cleared.

Since you are not a pilot, what is your inspiration when you decide to paint a flight subject? Do you use real aircraft photos or scale models or you sketch and paint without even looking at the object?

My all family members do painting, so I am doing it since childhood. My mission is to cover the PAF history. I normally take help from aircraft photos, only for referencing. Sometimes scale models help a lot. I can also make many aircraft without any reference pic.

If someone wants to buy some of your work where can he find it on the net or a gallery?

One can contact me on my arts page on Facebook by searching for “Aviation art of Rehan Siraj”.

"Shoot Them All" This painting depicts a pair of F-86 Sabre rolling out for takeoff on a Close Air Support Mission during 1965 War.

“Shoot Them All”
This painting depicts a pair of F-86 Sabre rolling out for takeoff on a Close Air Support Mission during 1965 War.

Is it not demoralizing and frustrating that you can paint planes but cannot fly? If yes, how do you cope up with that?

Yes, it is. Becoming pilot is my unfulfilled dream. Sometimes it is very demoralizing to see my batch mates flying F-16s, Mirages and JFTs but i believe Allah has better plans for me and I admire these guys a lot. I express my love of flying through painting.

Is it the only profession you are part of or there is some more about you that makes you an interesting person?

I live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and am serving as financial consultant in Saudi Telecom. Besides painting, I do scale modeling of aircraft, collect patches and souvenirs.

"Thunderbird 3, call sign, FiFi" Dedicated to Major (Now Lt.Col) Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot to become USAF Thunderbird team member as No 3 right wing.

“Thunderbird 3, call sign, FiFi”
Dedicated to Major (Now Lt.Col) Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot to become USAF Thunderbird team member as No 3 right wing.

Artists are usually ‘introvert’ in their nature. What is your personality type? Are you social?

I am not that much social, I enjoy being with friends and family but also try to save time for myself and painting of course.

Rehan Siraj - the Aviation Artist at Riyadh Aviation Museum

Rehan Siraj – the Aviation Artist at Riyadh Aviation Museum

What is your advice for a novice who wants to become an aviation artist?

Allah has given everyone a hidden talent and I believe it is our responsibility to find this talent and use it in a positive way. Aviation art is the best for me as I express my love to my dear Pakistan, its air force and flying through it.

For aviation art, knowledge of aircraft and fine art skills are very important. There is no degree, so the only known way is practice and studying other artists work. I am always available for the new aviation artists and air enthusiasts for guidance.

This interview was conducted on May 2, 2012. Work of the aviation artist can be seen at his Official FB page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *