Five new icons celebrating British culture today appear on Virgin aircraft

Five new icons celebrating British culture today appear on Virgin aircraft

Illustrator and designer Toby Tinsley discusses the creation of these new icons for Virgin Atlantic.

Introducing Zadie, Oscar, Mei, Ray and Daley.

From paper to plane

Virgin Atlantic is well known for the flying ladies adorning its planes, influenced by the nose art of World War 2 aircraft. 

Virgin is now introducing five new flying icons with different styles that are more representative of modern Britain.

Here, Toby Tinsley, award-winning graphic designer and illustrator and creator of the new iconic and diverse illustrations for Virgin Atlantic, tells Lucy Smith, publishing director of Creative Moment, all about designing the new icons. 

Find out how Toby, along with his team including Fay Dalton, Mike Griggs and Michael Adamidis create each beautiful image, which always starts with a small pencil sketch on paper and ends with a glossy icon on a plane.

Five new icons celebrating British culture today appear on Virgin aircraft

Lucy Smith: What does Virgin want to achieve by creating these icons?

Toby Tinsley: I think it wants to show that it supports everyone regardless of their beliefs, sexual preferences, gender, colour or upbringing – the buzzword around these is diversity, and these icons achieve this. 

There is no particular story behind each figure. Virgin didn't want to pigeonhole them, they are about diversity so the more detail that was given to them, the less inclusive they would be.

LS: How did you navigate the obvious issues with stereotypes?

TT: The brief from Virgin was very clear and well thought-out from the beginning. 

We simply followed its lead on who the characters are, what their backgrounds and character definitions are and how they should be represented. 

Virgin Atlantic flies millions of people around the world, so if anyone knows about different kinds of people, it is going to be someone like Virgin. 

LS: What, above all, did you want to achieve from the designs? Was there one primary message for each icon that you wanted to get across?  

TT: As usual, we wanted to achieve beautiful pieces of artwork, as they will be on the planes for the next 25 to 30 years. 

They work individually as a piece on their own, but also as a team. 

If you place them in order, which is Zadie, Oscar, Mei, Ray and Daley, they form the sequence of flight which is accelerate, take-off, ascend, flight and arrival. 

Therefore when they work together they visually tell a story which celebrates the ‘Departing the Everyday’ philosophy.

Five new icons celebrating British culture today appear on Virgin aircraft

LS: Where did you begin?  

TT: It all starts with hand sketches of the faces exploring different looks – the look really defines the character and personality right from the start. 

Once the face is agreed we then move onto the pose – however, the poses were already sort off defined as we had the flight sequence narrative to visually work with. 

After face and pose the next milestone is the clothing: we wanted to be ‘of today’, but also create something that does not go out of fashion, so the outfits are classic, timeless designs. 

LS: How much freedom did you have with these designs?  

TT: Total freedom – the great thing about working for Virgin is that it trusts the people it employs to do what they do best. 

We never have a situation where the client is telling the designers what to do and that is why these pieces turn out to be beautiful, because it is a real collaboration between design team and client.

LS: There is an exceptional level of detail in each one, how long does that take to create?  

TT: Approximately eight to twelve weeks each depending on the character design. It’s usually the hair which takes the longest.    

Find out how the icons are applied to the side of planes here.

Lead Designer and Illustrator:
Toby Tinsley
Illustrator: Fay Dalton
Support Team: Mike Griggs, Michael Adamidis, Rayne Morgan

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