The Art of Drones

This has to have been one of the busiest weeks to date this year for me. I took a week away from the day job last week to concentrate on filming for a recent commission, the weather was truly awful all week.

But this week I have pretty much travelled the length of England and Wales, and I am writing this blog post from a hotel room in Cardiff, Wales. I looked at my content plan and decided that this week I would take a break from the recent guides, and write about something that has received very little in the way of mainstream news exposure, and something of a hobby of mine, the comings and goings at Nevada's and The U.S's worst kept secret, Area 51.

Before you click away from the page, yes I am an artist, but I love a good conspiracy, I also love anything to do with aviation, and despite being British, I am deeply proud of the people at Area 51 for firstly keeping a secret, and secondly, for providing the US and its allies with some of the most amazing technology ever invented, and helping the free world to remain free.

Art lovers no longer need to visit New York to explore Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

One of the most iconic museums of all time, with its curving galleries are about to enter the digital age. I have a feeling that this might be in readiness for the upcoming VR technology that we will soon be seeing from the likes of Sony and Facebook's Oculus headsets.

The museum can be seen on Google's Street View and a part of the museums beautiful collection of contemporary art has now been made available as part of Google's Cultural Institute. Visitors are now able to experience the museums swirling rotunda and follow almost a quarter of a mile of spiral ramps surrounding a large plaza, centring around a skylight. Indeed the museum itself is perhaps one of the museums greatest works in its collection.

Wright himself had designed the building which opened in 1959, causing some to liken it as a toilet bowl, and Wright himself complained about the museums New York location. Guggenheim and Wright both died prior to the buildings opening. In 1988, an effort to return the building to its initial architectural concepts commenced.

Although you won't get the full experience of walking around one of the most amazing museums ever created, the digital experience certainly pulls you in. Many museums digital offerings usually fail in some way, but this is a different experience. One only hopes that the experience will allow many more people from around the world to at least take in some art.


Drones are increasingly used by professional photographers, and their popularity is literally soaring, so much so that the issue of operating drones in sensitive areas is now being looked at in a lot more depth. Area 51, the U.S Military site that has for years been the subject of conspiracy theories has recently placed new “No Drone” signs next to the familiar signs that warn trespassers that the use of deadly force is authorised.

Area 51
Don't go on to the paved road..


The drones in question are not the ones that are tested and built on the base, but the drones that people bring along in their cars. Although there are no official reports that anyone has been bold enough to fly their drone over the base directly, it must have crossed some people’s minds.

I have to admit to loving conspiracy theorists, just as one would love a barmy uncle. I have been fascinated with UFO's since I was around the age of eight, and for the last fifteen years I have studied the phenomenon, and continue to do so. Now let's get one thing straight, I do not believe I have ever been abducted, OK, some days when I'm working I feel as if I am on another planet, and I can hand on heart say that I have witnessed some activity in the sky that even I as what you would call a trained observer, cannot totally understand.

You see, this is where the conspiracy theorists get a bad press. There are so many photographs and videos online that are clearly fake, when the 1% of the 5% that cannot be explained are revealed, they are generally dismissed as coming from some nut. When I talk about UFO's, I'm not necessarily suggesting that the aliens have arrived. What I am suggesting is that there is something in the sky that is unidentified. In the late 60's and 70's, the CIA who run operations from Groom Lake, were testing the U2 and Oxcart platforms. Aircraft that defied what people thought was generally possible at the time, in turn whenever the aircraft were sighted, they were unidentified flying objects. In this case, an unidentifiable aircraft. There is a difference.

Of course, the CIA didn't mind the misidentification at all, the last thing that they wanted was to alert the Russians and other nations that they were so far advanced. UFO's filled a knowledge gap at the time, and indeed, the conspiracy theorists became the conspiracy. Covering up the US's real achievements. It also suited the US, and the CIA, whenever the stories of contacting alien life forms emerged. It meant that Russia continued to wonder if that was the case at all. Had the US made contact and developed aircraft from reverse engineering the craft that brought aliens to Earth?

The base was declassified in 2013 by the CIA, despite many years of seeing the name redacted in any official documents. Declassified programs such as the U2, and Oxcart have been discussed for many years, but only recently with the words “designed, developed and tested at Area 51”.

Drones are a no go at the base


For many the truth is out there, although in my 15-years of researching what potentially goes on at the base, I have come to the conclusion that it really is an Air Force Flight Test Center, and is the home to many black projects, some of which are being worked on today, we will unlikely know about for another 40-50 years.

Despite rumors that alien technology from an alleged UFO crash in Roswell in 1947 had its debris taken to the base, the numbers have never quite added up for me. More likely if there was some kind of extra-terrestrial incident that the debris would have been transported to Wright Patterson Air Force base, as Groom Lake as it is also known, wasn’t actually found until 1955.

More recently Area 51, or as it was once known, Paradise Ranch, has been in the news for another potentially hostile activity, by claiming private mining land from the Sheehan family that sits on the far side of Groom Dry Lake.

The Air Force offered the Sheehan’s $5.2m for the land, the Sheehan’s held out saying that the mineral rights alone were worth far more than the offer, meaning that ultimately the Air Force won a case for Eminent Domain and grabbed the land, forcing the Sheehan’s to give up access to the property late last year. The case continues to be fought for a fair and just settlement, and despite the fact that I am one of Area 51’s biggest fans for the work that goes on there, it seems more than a little unfair to claim the Sheehan’s land in this way, despite the family having had claim to and living on the land that overlooks the facility since the 1870’s.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, the Sheehan family was subjected to operations carried out on the base and the adjoining land, now called the Nevada National Security Site, and at one point following a strafing run, it appeared that the mine was destroyed without any recompense from the Air Force. Nuclear tests were also carried out in the area at the time.

The family had to continually request permission to access their land, whenever they visited they had to make contact with the base and provide a list of visitors. The Sheehan’s also suggested that they were subjected to search procedures prior to visiting their property.

I can totally understand the necessity for secrecy and the interests of National Security, but the reality is that the Sheehan’s had not spoken to anyone about the goings on at Area 51 all the time they had been resident, even today they have nothing to say about anything they may or may not have seen. The Air Force have said that they have had to cancel numerous operations at the base when the family were visiting and in turn this has cost millions in lost time for the base activities.

So it seems a little unfair that the cost of the mineral rights alone were not recognised in the offer. No doubt the Air Force and those who have an interest in the property will say that the mine was non-operational, but over 100-years of family history, and the fact that family members are buried on the site should at least count for something.

Indeed in the early days of the base, the family supported the workers sent out to look for somewhere remote to set up the facility. The high desert in Nevada can see both extremes of weather in the same day, without their initial support the people sent out there to find the location may never have survived the harsh conditions. In the case of condemnation through eminent domain, the Air Force has now valued the land at just $1.5m.

The new signage recently erected at the perimeter of the site banning the use of drones, more than a little ironic considering what is going on inside, is a cautious approach. It is doubtful that many domestic drones would actually get anywhere near the base itself, the base being almost 13-miles from the border. More likely that a drone capable of flying the distance, avoiding detection from the numerous sensors and radar, would have probably have been built in the facility in the first place.

This is not the place to fly a drone that would be used by either the amateur or even a drone from a professional photographer. If it could last the distance, there are sensors and likely EMP defenses that would quickly identify its position so that a Black Hawk helicopter could be deployed to shoot it down.

But just to be on the safe side, the signs have been erected. It seems though that drone use by civilians is becoming increasingly problematic and not just for the many who work in such a sensitive facility as Area 51.

The Metropolitan Police in London have been considering the use of eagles to intercept drones amid concerns that the aircraft are being used to commit crime. The Forces interest in utilising eagles follows recent trials in the Netherlands.

Drones are currently used by Police forces around the world to capture footage on difficult terrain, and in areas where criminal activity is taking place. But there are concerns that criminals are increasingly using this technology too.

The UK Air Proximity Board stated last month that drones had been involved in four serious near misses at UK airports. The birds would see the drones as prey and take down the aircraft in the event that they are deemed to be a threat.

However, those who are involved in the care of birds of prey have expressed some concerns saying that the idea is gimmicky, and that as Eagles are big powerful birds, they should not be used in built up areas. Concerns have also been expressed regarding the safety of the creatures. As drones generally have rotating blades, a bird taking one down may encounter injury.

I utilise a total of five drones within my BeechHouse Media work, primarily for low level air photography, and with two of the drones, I certainly would not want a finger in the way of one of the rotor blades, let alone the potential for all four. Even when the blades are slowing, you need to remember that even a relatively small drone such as the ones I use, will quickly lift to a few hundred feet carrying camera equipment. The motors have to be powerful enough to carry a payload and the batteries to power them.

In the U.S, the Federal Aviation Administration have taken a lead in making domestic drone owners register their aircraft if they weigh between 0.55 and 55 lbs. In addition they have also made a B 4 U Fly app available. B4UFLY for iOS is now available for free download in the App Store.

Android users can opt-in via the Google Play store to participate in a beta test.

Drone 2
Amazing results can be achieved from inexpensive drones


B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.

In Europe, EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency have produced videos and numerous publications regarding the safety of drone flying.

In general there are some very clear do’s and don’ts around using a drone. EASA suggest that you do:

Keep your drone in sight at all times

Check your drone before each flight, plan your flight and learn from others

Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully

Keep away from airports and helipads

Remember you are responsible for avoiding collisions

You must have permission before doing paid work with your drone

And the Do Not list:

Do NOT fly in any way that could endanger anyone

Choose an unobstructed site and:

Do not fly overhead people, property, or vehicles

Do not fly within 50-meters from the ground

Do not fly near aeroplanes or helicopters.

Drone 3
Just droning around

You can see EASA’s documentation on their website here:


Even small drones can be used to reach substantial heights, and I have become surprised at just how powerful and small they have become over the last few years. One of my drones actually has an in built 1080p HD camera on-board, can stay aloft for long enough to capture many minutes of footage, and yet fits in a small bag that could quite easily be concealed.

The Phantom 3 is probably one of the best small drones on the market today, and comes equipped with the ability to shoot 4K video, 12-Megapixel photographs, and can stream live HD video to your mobile device and YouTube.

Coming with a 20-minute flight time, which in practice is enough for most professional work, you will find though that 20-minutes of fun flying goes way quicker.

In fact, this might be my very next drone, if the manufacturer would like to send one for me to review!


I will stick with the other worldly space theme for a little longer, NASA, have released a set of Retro posters that depict travel to destinations such as Neptune, Saturn, and leisurely strolls around the Red planet, Mars, amongst many others.

International Space Station
Are NASA preparing us for space vacations?


The posters though have a very cool and modern vibe in that they are designed to look retro. They are wonderful. From the Grand Tour of Jupiter, the collection has three space themes, to Enceladus, and Mars.

The calendars are available to NASA staff free of charge but the public are able to buy the posters online. I have a feeling that this will set a trend for 2016 and we will start to see many retro space posters and prints appearing from artists on print on demand sites. To be honest, they are inspiring and I really would like to attempt creating a few!


News from the auction house this week includes:

Paris – On the occasion of “Drawing’s Week” in Paris, Christie’s France will hold its biannual auction of Impressionist and Modern Art on March 31st. The sale will feature approximately 60 lots with a total value of around €5,000,000. This sale notably includes paintings from the Indosuez Wealth Management’s Parisian collection; an ensemble of paintings by some of the most prestigious early 20th century artists. A portion of the sale proceeds will benefit the bank’s foundation which serves the nation’s most vulnerable individuals, under the aegis of the Foundation de France.

Created in 2011, the Indosuez Foundation invests in initiatives to help the public, might they be elderly, disabled, adolescents and young adults, victims of an addiction or high-risk behavior. The foundation supports innovating charity projects in France, that are intended to maximize a function of social utility, disregarding any commercial profit.

Collected by one of the bank’s founding partner’s during the 1970’s, the selection comprises nine paintings, estimated between 400,000 and 600,000 euros, by artists such as Eugène Boudin, Emile Bernard and Théo Van Rysselberghe, among others. Together, these works illustrate some of the most important artistic chapters in the early 20th century of art history.

Amongst the highlights of the collection is La vue du port de Vathy, Samos, painted by Emile Bernard (1868-1941) in the fall of 1893 (estimate: €150,000-250,000). When Emile Bernard executed this landscape, he was influenced by masters of the period, for example Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The painter realised this powerful view of the port when he visited Samos Island in Greece. Using flamboyant colors and sophisticated aesthetics, the painter proves the major role he held in the Avant-Garde movements, particularly amongst the Cloisonnism, Synthetism and Symbolism.

Executed by Theo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) in 1914, a powerful landscape depicting Cap Bénat, pin sur la côte, is another major work of the collection (estimate: €100,000-150,000). Van Rysselberghe was the leader of the Belgium Divisionism movement; and completed this painting while at the peak of this artistic maturity. The ease and liveliness with which he uses color, the frank touch and the modern construction of this painting are proof of his maturity.

The Indosuez Wealth Management collection also includes Touques, les prairies à marée basse (estimate: €60,000-80,000) a Normandy landscape dated 1888-1895 by one of the Impressionists Masters, Eugène Boudin (1824-1898). The artist was very fond of Normandy as he was born in this region. This painting shows how gifted he was in capturing the weather changes, an ability deeply admired by many painters, including Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Charles Baudelaire.

Sale: Thursday 31 March 2016

Public viewing: Thursday 24, Friday 25, Saturday 26, Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 from 10 am. to 6 pm, and Thursday 31 from 10 am. to 12 pm.

Christie’s: 9, avenue Matignon – 75008 – Paris


And finally my Facebook group the Artists Exchange has passed its first thousand members! That is tremendous especially as the group was set up this past December.

The idea of the group is for artists to come together and share other artists work. In turn other artists will share your work and it significantly increases everyone's exposure on different timelines and news feeds around the world. The group is free to join and is a wonderful and vibrant community of artists who like to connect with other artists, collectors, and those who just have an interest.

As a digital artist, most of my business is conducted online. Sometimes I put hours into a piece of work, list it on social media, and the result is sometimes that only three or four people see it. When I share content from others, more often than not hundreds of people see it. It’s not that my content is bad, I have even been asked to let people know when I post content so that they can keep an eye open for it, and it’s not necessarily that other people’s content is better.

Services such as Facebook use algorithms that determine the reach of any particular post. The algorithm seems to favour the sharing of other people’s content, and whenever a group of people comment and like content, suddenly the counter goes up. Facebook likes engagement from users, the more comments the better the reach. Unless you are paying to boost posts, groups are really the best way of increasing your organic reach without breaking the bank.

So far, it seems to be working. Already people are suggesting that they are seeing their reach extend, becoming visible on someone else’s timeline, and in turn becoming visible in new territories, and some artists have sold work through extending their reach and engagement in the group. I certainly have had more sales, but others have too.

It would be great to see you online in the group, if you are an artist or someone who just loves art. You can join in by logging in to Facebook and going here:

That's all for today, but I also want to let you know that I am soon going to be featuring an artist or two on this blog. If you are an artist who wants a little exposure, please do get in touch either through the contact form below, or find me on Facebook at

All you need to do is to provide a link to your work, or a watermarked photograph, (it doesn't have to be watermarked, but this helps protect images), and a short bio, together with a few words about what inspires you to create art. Even if you are not confident that your art will be liked, it doesn't matter, art is subjective, someone out there will love it!

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