Box Art – An Artist’s Perspective

Does Box Art really sell kits?

This seems to be one of those logical things we all believe.  In my personal experience, I have only bought one kit because of the box art and that was a long time ago.  I am much more likely to buy a kit based on the contents of the box (the subject matter) or the reputation of the manufacturer (the quality of the kit).  I’m not sure whether box art sells the model kit itself or whether the box art sells the whole hobby ‘build experience’ that starts with a historical depiction of the prototype and ends with the satisfaction of a completed model.

In any case I believe box art is an expected component of scale model kit buying.  Thinking about it logically, placing an image on a product would be done to boost consumer interest, to make the product stand out against its competition and possibly to help with the manufacturers ‘brand’.  In the case of box art it serves a practical packaging purpose as well.

What I find interesting is that the ‘Art’ in Box Art has changed over time and has generally reflected the era in which the model kit was designed and released.  With a few exceptions, a novice modeler can pick up a model and know, just from the box art, whether the model kit is old or new.  A modeler with a few years of experience will be able to tell what ‘era’ the kit is from just by looking at the box art.

I think it is an enjoyable part of the hobby for many of us: To see how box art has evolved to meet the desires of the target audience.  Just look at some of the old Airfix, Monogram and Tamiya boxes through the years.

Of course there are exceptions.  Some model companies recycle box art with updated graphics.  Some companies re-box decades old models within a modern package complete with wonderful digital box art.  

Other makers simply took photographs of a completed model – although I believe there was an era where this might have been done to avoid consumer protection complaints and/or misleading advertising claims.  If it were up to me, I’d have the art on the box top with some nice clean close up photographs of the completed model on the sides of the box.  

There have been books written on Box Art and there have been museum and gallery exhibits featuring model kit box art.  Relevant to what I am doing on ModelAirplaneMaker, there are several great blogs and blog posts dedicated or related to Box Art:

Some of my favorite box art

As we all know, art is subjective and what makes an impact on or inspires one person may be a solid ‘meh’ to someone else.  So it is pretty much impossible to assemble a definitive ‘best box art’ gallery.  Instead, I’ll provide some examples of box art that stood out to me and attempt to explain why.

Monogram 1/48 F-4J ‘Showtime 100’

I can still remember the first box art that made an impression on me and the only time it got me to buy a kit.  It was the Monogram F-4J in 48th scale featuring the Showtime 100 marking of VF-96.  I thought that art work on the box was incredible.  From this angle we see the Phantom at its most menacing:

phantom1
Although… I’d definitely drop those tanks before engaging with that Mig!

Yes, I bought that kit way back in Grade 7 with my saved up allowance money and some snow shovel earnings I made along the way.   It did not turn out half as good as the box art but I have no regrets and I still think of this as my favorite Phantom.

Hasegawa 1/48 Macchi C.202

There is a lot going on in this picture.  We have a scene in North Africa featuring some RAF Bostons and what looks to be an injured P-40.  This Shigeo Koike over-the-shoulder view is not very common on box art but it is effective:

folgore

It works on a number of levels:  It might be from that Italian pilot’s perspective and diving in on those Bostons or maybe one can look at it as the RAF wing man’s perspective and coming in to save that P-40.  Otherwise it is an excellent painting with wonderful color, shading and the detail on the Folgore itself.  At least, it works on me.  I say this because the model is of a subject/era/theater that I have little interest in building.  I’ve never bought this kit but I think this is probably my favorite box art picture.

Hasegawa 1/48 Ki-44-II Tojo

This is one of a pile of different box tops of the Tojo by Hasegawa, but in my mind it is the best.  It was also done by Shigeo Koike:

IMG_0509
I tried to capture the original colors but I could not with my camera.

Whether the Tojo was the ultimate high level interceptor or not is beside the point.  It looks like a silver rocket with its huge engine and stubby wings.  In this pose we have the Tojo on an intercept mission, wonderful orangy-purpleish-pink dusk colors, unusual ‘lighting’ coming from underneath the aircraft, and deadly B-29s droning in the background.  The detail on the Tojo is fantastic.  I think it stands out to me because of the colors. It is a striking and unique piece of box art.

Let’s Hear From a Box Art Artist: Jerry Boucher

Of course, these examples are just opinions and they are hardly educated.  I just build kits and occasionally keep the odd lid once I am done.  However, though the comments section of one of my Instagram posts, I met Jerry Boucher.  After exchanging some messages, he wrote that he did the box art on the Zoukei-Mura Nick I was just finished building.  Not only that, Jerry’s work has been featured on many other kit boxes including Pacific Coast Models, Sword, Hobby Boss, Classic Airframes and Hobbycraft as well as on aviation related reference books.  You can see his work at his website: The Virtual Aircraft Website.

I was very fortunate to meet this successful box art artist and after we exchanged a few emails about his work, Jerry was kind enough to assist me in making this blog entry and provide some insight into the making of box art from the artist’s perspective.

MAM: I’d love to get a sense about what it is all about to be on the production side.  How you got into this business.  Were you a modeler who had a talent for drawing or were you a drawer who found a calling for box art? And if either of those are the case, does one submit art to various manufacturers or are you discovered? 

JB: I’m not a modeller at all, mostly because I lack the patience! However, from an early age I’ve always been interested in aviation and box art. I inherited this from my dad, who has life-long interest in planes and is a self-taught artist.
I’ve been working as an artist in the digital games industry since 1996, and in 2001 I started experimenting with digital art as a way of creating aviation art. At that time digital aviation art was quite a small field, but after posting some work on Hyperscale I started to find out that people were interested in it.
Shortly after that, I was contacted by Pacific Coast Models about whether I could provide some box art for them, and in the end I created the artwork and also the design of the box itself. They still use that design today.
Since then I have found work with other kit companies either because I have contacted them or they have contacted me, or one manufacturer has put me in contact with another.

MAM: Do you have any inspirations?  Were there other cover artists or box art that got you into this line of work or that have influenced your art?

JB: I grew up in the 1970s and so the first box art I remember seeing was probably on an Airfix or Frog kit. My parents had very little in the way of a disposable income but very occasionally my dad would buy a kit, build it and paint it. I do remember that this is what he did for me as a Christmas present in 1975 or so – it was a 1/72 Fw190D-9. However, we did look at the boxes in the shops – the nearest town to where we lived had two pretty good model shops – so we would stop by just to look the box art. As well as the Airfix and Frog kits I also remember various Japanese kits, but the main impression I took from all of this was the looser style, the colours and the way a subject aircraft was placed on the background.

MAM: What tools do you use; do you have hard deadlines? Are you given ‘suggestions’ or do you have complete freedom?  Do you pick and choose which models to do?  What is the acceptance process like at a model company?

JB: Everything is digital. I use a combination of 3D modelling and 2D ‘painting’ to create the artwork. I’ve used various 3D programs in the past, along with Photoshop for the 2D element. I sometimes get fairly solid deadlines – i.e. ‘within the next two weeks’ – but as I work fast this is usually not an issue unless I’m asked to create more than piece within a short space of time.
Different kit manufacturers have different approaches to the box art. Usually it’s left to me to decide what the final piece will look like, although I’m always provided with a choice of one or more particular aircraft to depict. So, for example, when creating art for a Sword kit I will usually be provided with a request to illustrate a particular aircraft type and then provided with one or more sets of reference. I then decide how that will combine into the final piece of box art.
When I create box art for Zoukei-Mura, I’m given a sketch of the box art and also reference material. Mr Shigeta (the owner of Volks/Z-M) provides the sketch and I’m tasked with sticking to that as closely as possible, although there is sometimes some wiggle room if I think there’s a way of changing slightly how the sketch works.
Once I have the box art ready for any given manufacturer, I send them a sample of it so that they can request any changes and then tweak things until they’re are 100% happy. Sometimes no changes are needed, and other times a piece might be signed off but I have to go back to it and make last minute changes when some new information about markings, details, etc has come to light. Despite the artwork being digital, this doesn’t mean that making changes is always doable, as there’s only so much tweaking that’s possible without the need to do a completely new image. That’s a very rare exception though!

MAM: What box art examples do you like?  Why do you like them?  What do you try to do when you do box art?

JB: I’m still a big fan of the 1970s Airfix box art, along with a lot of the artwork on Revell, Hasegawa and Roden kits that have been produced over the years. Shigeo Koike is probably my favourite box artist, along with Roy Cross and some other British artists.
They’ve all have a big influence on me because from the outset I wanted to make my digital art look more like traditional art. I have a traditional art background, so I try and bring some of that into my work. Digital art can look very dry and clinical, usually because it’s perhaps too realistic, and so it’s almost as if nothing is left to the imagination. The software will allow you to make all sorts of shortcuts in order to get something to look very real, but to my mind that can tend to make it lose a sense of distinct style and personality.
I prefer a looser, more organic feel with some visual drama, and this stems from the style of those ’70s Airfix kits. At the same time, I don’t like to create anything with any kind of ‘blazin’ guns’, more comic-book feel as I don’t think it works very well. It seems too staged, and I’d rather try and show any given aircraft in a more ‘natural’ scene. If that scene involves combat, I try and depict something from an actual event or a typical event for the type.
I also prefer the aircraft to have a ‘lived in’ look, because they’re working machines and aren’t nice polished display aircraft (but then again I’ve never been asked to depict a nice polished display aircraft!). This overall pursuit of looseness means that creating the background for a piece of box art can sometimes actually take longer to do than the aircraft itself!
I don’t use photos for my backgrounds, partly because to my eye it never sits very well but mostly because it means I’d be more or less a slave to that photo and have to make the foreground fit that. That doesn’t seem particularly organic to me, and digital art can seem more artificial than a painting because of this. Having more freedom with the background means that I can play around with it and the overall composition, the end result being that I can make the foreground subject ‘pop’ more in terms of the overall picture.
At the same time, I always have to bear in mind that box text and other details will be placed around the image and so I have to make sure that what I’m doing won’t clash with that. Generally all of this revolves around the fact that my favourite box art works for me because there’s a sense of place and time, and that the subject is actually flying through the air, or landing, etc and that something is going on as you’re looking at the art.

MAM: Is there anything I’d be surprised to know about the whole production side of models or working with model companies?

JB: If anything, I’d say that there aren’t any surprises. The people involved with making the kits are the same as the people buying them. They’re all driven by the same interest in the subject and want something that compliments any given aircraft. This is true of wherever they are in the world.

Final Thoughts

I definitely learned a lot doing this article and I had a great time looking at box art.  I know what I like but I am sure others have their preferences as well.  So I’d like to hear about them.  What do you like on the box top?  Do you have some favorites you’d like to talk about?  Is there a style or era that you prefer?  Have you ever bought a kit based only on the Box Art – and why?

A special thanks to Jerry Boucher to help make this article happen.  I recommend going to his website and looking at the art.  I especially like the Dewoitine D520, the FW190 that is flying low over a field, and of course the Hellcat and the rest of the Pacific Theatre subjects!

12 thoughts on “Box Art – An Artist’s Perspective

  1. Very interesting post. Funny that Mr Boucher lacks patience for modeling, I would lack patience with a blank sheet!
    I’ll cautiously say, as an adult, I don’t buy based on artwork. But that’s cautious because I know it makes an impact. I love a beautiful box. And I know I’ve sometimes been cautious about less professional looking packages. Even to say, a sloppy looking box may require an extra measure of research before I buy anything. I used to cover the wall of my model shop with the box tops of my completed “victories”. So yeah, I guess I like the box art!

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  2. I think box art can have a role in buying. I don’t usually buy because of it, but some nice art that catches the eye can draw my attention to something I may not have been considering when walking into the store. I also hate tossing old boxes with nice art because I’m a big aviation art fan.

    The only time I’ve ever bought a model for the box art was something on my list anyway and because it was a strange movie tie-in. One of my favorite films is Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni (In This Corner of the World), it’s about the daily wartime life of a Hiroshima-born housewife living in the naval port of Kure. In the movie and from the manga artist’s real life grandparent’s home, you can see the Kure Naval Arsenal where Yamato was built and there is a scene of Yamato pulling into port during the movie. So naturally two different model companies decided to do a tie-in with special Kono Sekai box art, Fujimi re-boxed their 1/3000 scale Kure Naval Arsenal and three years later Pair Dot re-packaged their Yamato with the movie’s beautiful depiction of the ship for the film’s 2019 re-release. Then Fujimi re-reboxed their Kure Naval Arsenal with new movie tie-in art. All this for a limited run niche film with a very passionate fan base. (And director.)

    Anyway, the Kure Naval Arsenal is now beside my Sasebo Naval Arsenal and I’m working up to doing Yamato once I’m confident I can pull it off.

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  3. Does box art sell the kit? Not by itself, but it sure helps! Actually, I didn’t mind the model photo boxtops in the 1970s-80s. But, yes, good art is appealing in and of itself.
    Count me in the number of those who like a good boxtop painting with actual model photos on box sides or back.

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  4. Box art fuels the imagination and gives the potential buyer a look at what is possible to create from what is in the box. So much so that if I remember my facts right, US consumer watchdogs made it imperative that (for US manufacturers at least) actual photos of the model, made from what was in the box was the box art rather than dramatic illustrations of the subject. Guess they thought it was false advertising that you were “guaranteed” to get that result from your purchase? Remember the boxes from the ’70s that Monogram, Revell, US Airfix and others put out? Then I think(?) at some point they relented somewhat(?) and the company could have photos of the actual models on the box sides or ends rather than solely on the box top. I recall boxes like that in the ’80s and after but I’m getting old so take this with a grain of salt 😉

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    1. I seem to remember something about that too. And it does follow there were a lot of manufacturers putting actual model photos on the boxes. I still see the occasional old Tamiya box with a completed model kit picture. Now wearing my practical hat, I’m thinking this was done in response to some new (at the time) and untested regulation and not necessarily in response to claims from the public. But if anyone knows more about this, I’d be happy to know more.

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