Meet Airplane Artist Sam Lyons
Although Sam’s amazing airplane art speaks for itself, we thought you might like to know some facts about Sam’s background, personal life, quirks, and interests. Here is a snapshot of the artist and the man.
Did you know that Sam ….
- Has been making a living as an aviation airplane artist for 37 years as of 2022.
- Is a pilot and has owned two Cubs, a classic Stinson and a Hatz biplane.
- Was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in Feb. 2009; and is the first artist to be so honored.
- Was inspired by his father, Samuel A. Lyons Sr., who was a B-24 pilot during WWII. (See tribute painting to Samuel A. Lyons Sr.)
- Earned a degree in Biology from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
- Has a brother, Thomas (or Tommy or Tom) who used to be a professional football player for the Denver Broncos and is now a renowned surgeon. (They are a family of underachievers!)
- Donates many works of art, both prints and originals, to the military and other worthy causes.
- Actually owned the 1951 black Chevy Truck he “hides” in all of his paintings.
- Is a true Southern gentleman, born and raised in Atlanta.
- Escorted hazardous materials with the Chemical Corps during his two-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Army.
- Owned a hobby shop for 10 years called Historical Hobbies and honed his model-building skills while running the business.
Sam is a self-taught artist. After mastering the art of model building, he decided to learn how to paint. Aviation was his primary subject matter.
The video interview below with Sam Lyons is from 2009. Some of Sam’s contact info is outdated in the video. Current 2022 Contact inormation and location are as follows:
Current 2022 Phone Number:
Now living in Lakeland, 15 min. from the Lakeland airport.
Sam Lyons Aviation Art – Fly/In Cruise/In
May 15, 2009
Lee Bottom Flying Field Hanover, Indiana
CURRENT 2022 Phone Number:
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Ray Johnson interviews Sam Lyons:
Ray: We’re on a flying trip today and we flew down to Lee Bottom airport. We’re just south of Hanover, Indiana. We met up with Sam Lyons. And Sam, you’re well known in the aviation community for your artwork. You’ve been doing it a long time; Sam, what inspires the artwork you do?
Sam: Well, number one, coming to a place like this which is a lot of fun, and I bring my camera, needless to say. I walk around and take pictures of all the neat airplanes that I can and add it to the stack I already have, which is (gestures a tall pile) that is about this tall of all the photographs I’ve taken. Coming to these things is really what turns me on about aviation and doing the paintings of the airplanes.
Ray: What’s interesting, Sam, is you actually make your living doing this, but you do it all in the realm of aviation art.
Sam: Well, I’ve always loved aviation. Aviation – my Dad flew in World War II, flew in B24 Bombers, so from the get go I have enjoyed airplanes. You know, when I was growing up, we, my Dad and I built models and stuff. And so we had a great time with flying model airplanes and things. Then, when I was about five years old, my Dad rode me out to the airport and got me a ride in a Stinson that a friend of his owned. I can remember looking out the window of the Stinson and thinking “Boy, this is really cool!” And I guess that’s when I got really hooked.
Ray: Your art: You’re self-taught. You didn’t major in Art?
Sam: No, I majored in Biology, of all things, but I always liked art. I remember running into my old college roommate after several years being out doing this, and he said, “You know I look at what you do, and I think back and I remember you used to make A’s on all your Lab Book drawings” (when I drew all the dissected things) and he said ” I think you figured out what to do with that and which way to go.” So that was really neat.
Ray: Where do the ideas come from?
Sam: Well, you know I do a lot of commission work for people and sometimes people will come up and tell me that they have something, an idea of what they may want me to paint, and they want maybe an airplane here, and a building there, something like that, and they send me pictures and I put things together for them. Or I’ll come do a show like this and then I will photograph airplanes here. Then I’ll have a building or something that I’ll like, an old gas station or a country store, and I’ll put them together and make a scene of them.
I like the nostalgia mostly and I like to do a lot of nostalgia-looking scenes. It’s always good when the people let me run with the ball, they say “You know what I want, have fun with it.”
Ray: So they give you an idea but give you full artistic freedom?
Sam: If they do that, it’s best, and you know that! (laughs)
Ray: I do! There’s a painting that’s really dear to my heart “Lost in the 50’s”? You’re really known as the master of reflections. I mean the actual detail work, Sam, when you stand back- many people think your art are photographs!
Sam: Yes. Back when I had the Hobby Shop, I ran into a guy named Ron Gress. And Ron Gress was an airbrush artist and he painted the models for Star Trek that they used in the movies. He was great with that. But he also did great paintings. So we were doing a demonstration of an airbrush that both of us used at a show, and he taught me how to do a reflective surface. And when I saw that, I went like “Oh yeah, I can do this!” Now, every time I look at a reflective surface, I see what he was talking about and I put it together in my mind and can do like thhe B51, polished aluminum Swiffs or 170s or whatever. It’s interesting.
Ray: Sam, many artists have a hook. Something that they always do in their paintings, and people who know your art, there’s something they always look for. Tell us where that came from.
Sam: Well, I have a 1951 Chevrolet pickup truck, a black pickup truck. I needed to restore it way back when, and I started restoring it, but I couldn’t do the cosmetic work on it. I didn’t have the wherewithall at the time to do it, so I thought I’d add a little painting of the truck in my painting, give it a little token paint job. And I did it in a couple paintings because it kind of fit, and then people started seeing that in the paintings, and then they started asking every time I did a painting “Where is the pickup?”
So then I started having to put it into the paintings, and finally it became one of my trademarks. And now if you look at any of my paintings you can find the pickup trucks somewhere in the painting.
Ray: So, you have a website?
Sam: Yes, we’re at lyonsstudio.com and everything is on the website. Right after OshKosh this year, we upgraded our website and it’s a lot more user friendly and we have a lot more visuals on it now.
Ray: Every year, you have a big display at OshKosh and also Lakeland, Florida, Sun ‘n Fun.
Sam: That’s correct. We have a big presence at both of those places.
Ray: You have artwork around the world?
Sam: Yes, we actually have one couple that comes about every three years to OshKosh. They’ll always buy something and take it back to Australia. We have people from Germany, South Africa, and we just sent two prints to a guy we met at OshKosh who lives in Singapore.
Ray: And something special coming up Sam; the State of Georgia has the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame? And I wanted to bring it up, it’s coming up soon, you’re going to be inducted. I believe the first artist to be inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. What an honor!
Sam: Yes, tremendous honor! I go and look at the people who are in there already, General Robert L. Scott and gosh, all these great people, and all these astronauts and all the aviation pioneers, and here’s lowly me! (laughs). I get to be in the Aviation Hall of Fame.
Ray: I know your artwork can be found in some military installations?
Sam: Yes, I belong to the Air Force Art Program, so it’s basically in a lot of airforce bases. I do paintings that I will donate to the Air Force Art Program and then they will keep them in a log, and say if a General wants something for his office, he can go to this inventory and pick out a painting and have it brought to his office so it’ll sit there for the time he’s there, then it’ll go back into the system.
Ray: You’re in the Atlanta area, people can come to your studio?
Sam: No, we are currently located in Lakeland, Florida as of 2022. We are 15 min. from the Lakeland airport.
Ray: It’s a real honor to talk to you and have you on today. Keep up the good work!
Sam: Thank you, appreciate it!
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FlyIn CruiseIn Video Magazine
- Relocated to Lakeland, Florida in March 2010, with his wife and business partner Mindy and three cats. A major reason for choosing Lakeland was because the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In was located there.
- Had careers as an Army officer, a biology teacher, sailboat captain, scuba diver, and hobby shop owner before becoming a full-time artist.
- Often has to use a brush as thin as a hair in order to paint tiny details so precisely.
- Thinks that aviation legend Bob Hoover is one of the most down-to-earth people he has ever met.
- Laughs like crazy over the Three Stooges, loves old black-and-white movies, and gets teary eyed during sentimental moments including Hallmark commercials.
- Spoils his three cats Amelia, Sweetpea and Spunky.
- Likes to play the harmonica and has two he keeps in his SUV so he can play along with the radio.
- Can’t stay on dry land too long before the call of scuba diving becomes irresistible.
- Celebrates his birthday on November 23, which sometimes falls on Thanksgiving.
- Has won multiple awards for his artwork in a number of nationwide competitions.
- Never took an art lesson and basically taught himself how to paint in his super-realistic style. His paintings are often mistaken for photographs.
- Will celebrate his 15th wedding anniversary with Mindy on November 16, 2017. Just goes to show that a Southerner and a Yankee can live happily ever after.
- Enjoys classic Southern food such as fried chicken, barbeque and collard greens most of all, but will pick up chopsticks and eat sushi too.