Fuselage, wings, engines, fin or rudder – those and some others are the visible parts of an aircraft when seen from the outside. What’s behind the hull remains concealed from the human eye. This ought to be changed, said Tim S. Leung to himself, a graduate of Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University and Senior Technical Service Engineer at Cathay Pacific. So he started drawing airplanes with utmost meticulousness turning their insides out.
Today, Tim is one of the very few artists worldwide who brings cutaway drawings to near perfection. Pictures hanging on the walls of Cathay Pacific, German freight carrier AeroLogic or the
Deutsches Museum in Munich prove how famous Tim has meanwhile become.
We spoke with him exclusively about his fascinating passion.
Tim, when and why did you engage in drawing pictures displaying the exact structure of aircraft?
In 1988 when I won a technical-paper competition in mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong by creating a turbofan engine with “Best-features-you-can-get” with a cutaway drawing. The prize was a flight to Germany, enabling me to visit the Deutsche Museum in Munich.
Twenty-eight years later, our Engineering Director Christopher Gibbs of Cathay Pacific invited me to produce a cutaway drawing for the new Cathay Pacific A350-900. Accomplishing the work within two months has resulted in lots of kudos from my colleagues, especially from our Frankfurt office and it has now re-appeared in four different prints, mainly for promotional purposes.
Which are your target groups?
I create an image of a live airplane on canvas. With the simplest outlines to directly illustrate key features of a very complex machinery. My three target groups are:
- Engineers, pilots, cargo loaders & airline executives alike,
- Aviation enthusiasts in general,
- My best of interest is for children’s education. If these drawings can reach the
kids in under-privileged regions it would be meaningful. The quest for flying is a
means of progression.
What’s your professional background as artist and what motivated you engaging in this rather unusual hobby?
I had no education or training in drawing. All my drawings are based on intuitive concepts. My simple belief is to depict sufficient technical specs and their unique structures, including engines and components that bring out the inherent beauty of an aircraft.
The outgoing AeroLogic Chief Ulf Weber, whom you know since some time, told us about your engineering duties at Cathay. Did this job inspire you as well to model aviation reality, next to your inherent passion?
Certainly, my job keeps me in direct contact with technical features of both Airbus and Boeing planes. It’s similar to an avionic engineer colleague of mine who knows every wiring and computer of the aircraft for performance optimization and troubleshooting; no different to that but I choose to express my knowledge in the form of an image design.
The well-received cutaways can have a future for developing smart IT systems. Starting from my MPhil study years ago, I believe that if you can touch each of the components by finger on the computer screen, almost all of my roughly 5,000 items displayed in my drawings can be accessed to related IT systems. The artistically arranged graphics for the airplane as a whole or the down-to-detail components may help to improve the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and aircraft development.
Ulf said you presented your artwork to Deutsche Museum in Munich. How
come they approached you and what was the outcome of the invite?
As mentioned before, our Frankfurt colleagues have some great ideas for promoting the Cathay A350 product through my drawing. So initially, we approached a modern art museum in Dusseldorf, where our A350 flew first to in Europe. They were enthused but told us that Deutsche Museum in Munich would be a more adequate place to exhibit the drawing, due to their concentration on industrial technology. So we did. I guess it was the right timing since the museum’s aviation hall will be renovated up until 2019. Beginning then, my A350 drawing will decorate their new aviation section in the building’s main hall.
Are you the only artist worldwide drawing such pictures or are others out there that have engaged in similar kinds of drawing?
There are ten people worldwide that I know of who are doing this kind of airplane cutaway drawing professionally. Every one of them prefers his own style, as I do. I would say that my drawings
have one unique style and that I’m the only one to draw the core engine in detail along with the airframe. If you check other thousands of pictures, there is none equal.
Finally, do you draw planes just for fun or is this based on commercial reasons?
Drawing is a passion, making me feel good, particularly when listening to the music of Rachmaninoff or Mozart during work. But finishing a 7ft artwork in detail is not only fun but a tough job, needing high concentration. I’m very glad that my wife supports my work. The ultimate joy is immense satisfaction after completion of a demanding drawing, even the more if colleagues and friends are happy with the outcome.
Thank you for giving us insights into your unique artistic work. We wish you many more cutaway drawings of this kind.