Painting the Blimps
If you've seen the Met Life blimp or one of Sea World's Shamu airships, you've seen the handwork of Burt Dodge, a signpainter
from Wall Township, NJ. Dodge has worked with Airship International since 1985, although he plans to incorporate his own business
as Super Murals, lnc. later this year.
Dodge was working with central New Jersey's J.C. Willams Outdoor Adv. Co. (now a division of Gannett Outdoor) when a call came in from Lakehurst, NJ. Airship International needed a blimp lettered. "Reluctantly, I got in touch with them and went down to Lakehurst," says Dodge. "When I went into the hangar, I was pretty awed by the size of the blimp. I wasn't even sure I could do it, but I did."
Later, Airship International asked Dodge to paint over a McDonald's blimp.The new client, Sea World, wanted silver on the top and the bottom, a white stripe across the center, and its logo.Dark blue stripes stretched the length of the ship up on to the tail section.
Dodge paints the blimps freehand, assisted by cherry-pickers,
Just about everybody has seen this former area man's work
By RAYMOND FAZZI
AFTER YEARS of painting billboards and wall murals, Burton Dodge's artistic career finally started to take off 10 years ago.
It soared so high, in fact, that you've proba-bly seen his work hovering in the clouds.
Snoopy, Shamu the whale, the Fuji Film-and Budweiser logos, and the wild imagery of the Pink Floyd rock band are among Dodge's subjects -- all painted on helium-filled blimps.
"It's like an artist putting his work up in a gallery, except the sky's the limit," the 46-year-old Dodge said.
A Monmouth County resident until he moved to Philadelphia in January, the tall, lanky artist has built up a national reputation for his high -flying creations.
Dodge has painted blimps about 14 or 15 times over the past 10 years, including the Metropolitan Life blimp that featured two 35-foot-high paintings of Snoopy, and the Sea World blimp with the leaping image of Shamu. He's often painted the same blimp more than once.
Blimps for Budweiser, Fuji and the Pink Floyd rock band are also on the resume of Dodge, who recently spent about a month working on a Kroger Food Store blimp at the Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst that will be one of about a half dozen airships flying over the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
One airship aficionado said Dodge is the only artist he knows of who specializes in blimp painting .
"He's sort of carved a niche out for him-self," said Eric Brothers of the Lighter Than Air Society, an association of airship and bal- loon fans based in Akron, Ohio.
"Mr. Dodge is sort of out on the artistic edge developing new and unique images that are very memorable, and that's the whole idea with advertising."
It's like an artist putting his
Instead, Dodge said he draws out a design on paper, then raises himself to the side of the blimp with a cherry picker. Using a yard-
stick and black chalk, he relies on sight and instinct to trace out a proportionally correct image that compensates for all the curves.
After the image is traced, he paints in the image with paint rollers and brushes.|
"'It's mind boggling," he said. "Let's just say I've snapped a lot of yardsticks and thrown a lot of chalk at the sides of these ships."
Dodge makes $30,000 to $50,000 per blimp, which is just for his labor. The 45 to 80 gallons of paint it takes to paint one blimp are paid for by the hiring company, he said.
Industry observers said Dodge is known for adding his own touch to the blimps.
A Metropolitan Life design he was given in 1987, for example, only called for a 10-foot high Snoopy. Dodge decided the effect would be better with a Snoopy three times that size.
When he was asked to paint a second blimp for Sea World, they only told him they wanted Shamu on its side. It was Dodge who came up with the design that, Brothers said, actually looked like a whale floating in the air.
A former manager for the company that first hired Dodge said the artis's improvisation stood out on a Bud-weiser blimp. Dodge decided to paint the nose of the blimp as a bottle cap, and paint little drops of water, to make it look like a sweating container of beer.
"He breathes life into them rather than just having a structured corporate logo," said Alan Gross, a Flusing, N.Y., resident who has worked for several airship companies.
Dodge, who once dreamed of being a great artist, still sells work on canvas. He paints portraits and other sub-jects out of a studio he recently set up in Philadelphia. But when asked to name the type of work he's most proud of, he points to the giant 200-foot long Kroger blimp.
"There is something about an air-ship. In a sense, it's my creation."