The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Skywriting Day


‘Skywriting is the process of using a small aircraft, able to expel special smoke during flight, to fly in certain patterns to create writing readable by someone on the ground. The message can be a frivolous or generally meaningless greeting or phrase, an advertisement aimed at everyone in the vicinity, a general public display of celebration or goodwill, or a personal message such as a marriage proposal or birthday wish.

‘The typical smoke generator consists of a pressurized container holding a low viscosity oil such as Chevron/Texaco “Canopus 13” (formerly “Corvus Oil”). The oil is injected into the hot exhaust manifold causing it to vaporize into a huge amount of dense white smoke. Writing occurs usually at altitudes from 7,000-17,000 ft. When paraffin oil is used in the process, it vaporizes at 1500° in the heat of the plane’s exhaust and is environmentally safe.

‘Skywriting is never a permanent process. Wind and dispersal of the smoke cause the writing to blur, usually within a few minutes. However special “skytyping” techniques have been developed to write in the sky in a dot-matrix fashion, and are legible for longer despite the inevitable blurring effect caused by wind.’ — collaged


Skywriting the Voodoo Fest 2016 headliners over City Park


The Lost Art of Skywriting

‘In 1922, one pilot staged a “smoke casting” demonstration over Times Square, writing a giant phone number into the sky. (Operators at the hotel on the other end of the line said they received more than 47,000 calls in under three hours. Two years later, another pilot made the first U.S. attempt at skywriting using pink and orange smoke. “Remember Flag Day” was to be scrawled for nine miles across the skies above Manhattan in June 1924.

‘Skywriting became a sensation. Brands like Pepsi, Ford, Chrysler, and Lucky Strike flocked to the skies. Planes left trails of letters like “LSMFT,” the well-known acronym that stood for “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” In 1940 alone, Pepsi scribbled some 2,225 skywritten messages over 48 states, Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and South America, according to the Smithsonian.

‘But as the practice became more common, people began the kind of handwringing that new technology so often prompts. Mainly, they began to wonder if maybe things were better before skywriting appeared.

‘The New York Times called the practice “celestial vandalism,” describing a future in which the skies would be so smoke-choked that apartment dwellers on high floors would have to keep their windows closed. (One might argue that seeing Lucky Strike’s letters in the sky was far less irritating than hearing them shouted repeatedly in television commercials, an approach that came in later decades.)

‘There was talk of cloud slicing machines that would allow for skywriting in any weather. Engineers worked to develop glowing letters for nighttime skywriting. Reporters predicted the skydrawing of elaborate illustrated ads, envisioning enormous shoes and automobiles splashed across the sky. Extraordinary palettes of colored smoke would brighten the sky in vivid reds and electric greens, they said.

‘Pilots dabbled in color but it never worked as well as simple white. And for all the hype, skywriting fell out of favor in a matter of decades. Americans may have been dazzled by what some called “smoke casting,” but it was no match for the broadcast technology that was being developed at the same time: Television. Clear TV reception was no guarantee in those days, but skywriting was completely dependent on fine weather.

‘”We have to have blue skies,” said Suzanne Asbury-Oliver, an Oregon-based pilot who runs one of the last remaining full-time skywriting businesses in the country. “You couldn’t say, ‘I am definitely going to write at noon on Friday over Times Square,’ because it might be cloudy or it might be snowing. And even if you could, you couldn’t really say how many people actually saw it.”

‘The allure of better reaching distinct audiences pushed advertisers to TV rather than to skywriting. Radio and print were already defaults. And there were other limitations to buying ad spots in the sky. In 1961, The New York Times described a skywriter who sloppily put out a message that didn’t make sense, only to fly back up, strike a line through the thing, and begin again.’ — SKYWriter


Sky Billboards (1935) Skywriters

Skywriting with Americas Last First Generation Skywriter

Bruce Nauman Skywriting in Pasadena

Write Sky Project

‘Cloud’, by Ron English


How Does Skywriting Work?

‘Skywriting is done by one plane that can generally write up to six characters, with a skilled pilot at times maneuvering upside down as they decide when smoke is needed for the letters. Five to seven planes are needed for longer messages (up to thirty characters) so that the entire message is visible at once. The smoke is usually created by judiciously spraying paraffin oil directly on the hot engine manifold near the tail section of the plane. The pilot decides when smoke is needed to draw one section of a letter at a time. A spotter on the ground may also assist the pilot during trickier maneuvers. A letter can be as high as one mile and take 60-90 seconds to create. A message can stretch up to fifteen miles.

‘Single plane skywriting has largely been replaced by multi-plane ‘skytyping’, a computer-controlled method involving timed puffs of smoke from a synchronized row of aircraft. Smoke is emitted in a series of bursts, like dots. A computer generates the master plan and electronic signals control the smoke output. The blurring of the smoke makes the desired end effect. The choreography involved in traditional skywriting can be challenging. Modern skytyping, on the other hand, requires a steady formation but no letter writing maneuvers. Puffs of smoke are released according to a master program in a computer. This method allows for simple graphics and more elaborate messages, even if it lacks the derring-do aspect of traditional skywriting.’ — collaged


Skytyping (0:31)Sky Typing #2


How and When Was Skywriting Discovered

‘Most sources attribute the development of skywriting (1922) to John C. Savage, an Englishman. In that year, Captain Cyril Turner wrote “Daily Mail” over England and “Hello USA” over New York. The American Tobacco Co. then picked up the technique for their Lucky Strike cigarettes. The first skywriting for advertising was also in 1922. Skywriting continued to grow in popularity as both an advertising medium and a personal message service. Customers could request anything from “Eat at Joe’s” to “Will You Marry Me?” Messages and slogans would naturally have to remain short, but even a simple phone number could generate a lot of curious potential customers for a small investment. The expansion of the national highway system after WWII spelled the beginning of the end for the skywriting industry. Instead of posting a few words in a fickle sky, advertisers could now fill entire billboards with all sorts of graphics. A captive audience of thousands would pass by these new placards every day, unlike the precious few who would encounter a typical skywriting message. Many aerial advertising companies turned to permanent banners pulled behind low-flying aircraft instead.’ — SH


Vik Muniz ‘Cloud Cloud’

A few years ago, New Yorkers could have looked up into the sky over Manhattan and seen something truly quite odd: a cloud. But it wasn’t just any cloud. It was a drawing of a cloud made by a skywriting plane: a cloud made out of clouds. Brazilian conceptual artist Vik Muniz called it “Cloud Cloud, NY.” Not only was it an ideal opportunity to underscore the fleeting nature of the images we see everyday, Muniz’s cloud was another of example of the way these images can have double meanings.

Photos, information, & more videos of ‘Cloud Cloud’


Sky Tagged Over New York to Defend Arts

‘New Yorkers who looked up from stoop sales, soccer games, and strolls across the Brooklyn Bridge saw graffiti artist and fine artist Saber flying five planes in formation across sunny Sunday skies with messages castigating the presidential candidate for his plans to kill funding for cornerstone arts programs like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Public Radio (NPR), the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

‘As one of a handful of high profile graffiti/street artists in the US who have taken the national stage with their social and political commentary, Saber has “gone big” before, but never on this scale and never over New York City in an hour and a half display that he estimated could be seen over a 20 mile radius. “NYC is the art center of the world,” Saber says, “It is quite a good feeling to be able to spread this public message.”’ — Brooklyn Street Art


How to Hire a Skywriter

‘Find a skywriting service in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet. Some skywriters will fly in from out of state for a bit more money if there’s no skywriting service in your area. Figure out your budget. Messages run approximately $800 for up to 30 letters in your local area. Out-of-town rates are normally $1,000 for up to 30 letters plus expenses. Most skywriters can write up to 35 normal-size letters per flight. Hiring a skywriter can be done year-round, even in cold climates. If possible, plan for September and October, which tend to be the best weather months in most areas of the United States.’ — SH


The dying art of Skywriting and the story of one company still doing it.


Lecture on the History of Skywriting: Anne Carson


Prudence Peiffer ‘Sky Writing’


25th. Septr 1821 about from 2 to 3 afternoon, looking to the north—Strong Wind at west, bright light coming through the Clouds which were lying one on another.

‘These jotted notes are on the back of a cloud study in oil on paper by John Constable dominated by dark, smoky clouds blotting out most of the sky and piling up like pillows. Red paint is employed as primer, and the clouds are teased up from that dark surface, smudged with the flat side of a brush in bold strokes of chiaroscuro. The overlapping colors give the sky an infinite depth and emphasize the reality that even as Constable was painting the scene its clouds and colors were shifting. As Constable wrote at the time, “We have had noble clouds & effects of light & dark & color—as is always the case in such seasons as the present.”

‘When John Constable went “skying” in the English countryside in the early nineteenth century, paintbox resting on his knees, paper pinned to its lid, oils at his side, it was not merely to produce small sketches of clouds as exercises for the background of his larger “finished” paintings. These squares of sky, with careful notes about location, time and conditions scribbled on their backs, read today as surprisingly modern works that hover between minute documentation and textured abstraction. They are executed quickly, the paint applied in thick swaths and deliberate strokes as Constable followed the clouds across his own scumbled surface; in stormy skies, the studies take on a violent realism that led Constable’s friend Leslie to remark that “Fuseli wished for an umbrella when standing before one of Constable’s showers.”

‘These cloud studies are objective yet Romantic mappings of the sky fraught with anxieties felt by the artist in placing so much faith in a piece of air. The clouds can also be read, as Constable seemed to encourage in his many metaphorical attachments to the sky, as symbolic of thoughts themselves passing across the mind. William Wordsworth, Constable’s contemporary, took such philosophy to the extreme when he wandered “lonely as a cloud” through his poem “Daffodils.”

‘In celebrating the nature of clouds through a combination of scientific rigor and sentient experience, Constable created a fixed system for recording the epitome of transience in nature. These paintings emerged in part out of Constable’s working through of the world’s mutability, where “no two days are alike not even two hours, and the genuine productions of art, like those of nature, are all distinct from each other.” (the entirety)


The precarious future of “Skytyping”

‘Skytyping is the fancier version of skywriting, and it requires five planes flying in formation, rather than just the one plane used for skywriting. The method was patented by Andy Stinis in 1964 and has been protected so fiercely by the Stinis family — Andy’s son, Greg, and grandson, Stephen, run the business Skytypers Inc. now — that it might die along with Stinis’s heirs.

‘“It sounds selfish I guess, but when you have a unique business you like to keep it that way,” Greg Stinis told Chase Purdy at Quartz. And “once he’s gone,” Purdy reports, the business “will fall almost entirely to his son, who has no children of his own.”

‘But even before that, the Skytypers successor is shifting his attention away from “the subtleties of old-fashioned skywriting” and toward “brainstorming ways to produce custom logos in the sky, or glow-in-the-dark smoke.”

‘Everything is a metaphor.’ — Taylor Sperry






p.s. Hey. PAPER Magazine has picked ‘Like Cattle Towards Glow’ as one of the 10 best films of 2016, which I’m obviously very happy about. Proof here. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Soukaz is still watched and talked about in France, at least to a certain degree. His films screen in Paris occasionally. When I saw ‘It is Not the Homosexual Who is Perverse’, I didn’t know you personally yet. That’s very cool! I’m going to rewatch the film and look for you. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool, I’m glad you watched and liked ‘Ixe’. Yeah, he’s interesting. Well, ha ha, there’s a bit of a hopefully solveable snag with the boy actor. In a case of bad luck, the day Zac talked to the boy’s father he was in the middle of having a big fight with his son about something and basically said, ‘Milo (that’s the boy’s name) is not going to be in any movie until he gets serious about going to school!’ Our intermediary, the acting teacher, thinks maybe she can convince the father that doing the film would be good for the boy in terms of learning discipline and so on. So … here’s hoping. The boy himself is totally into doing it. Parents, ugh. Yes, if coming to Paris while you’re over this way seeing your brother makes sense, that would be super awesome, obviously! Your mother’s ceramics are really beautiful! Wow! They’re all really, really nice, and I especially really like the plates and things that look like they have kind of ambient swirly color resting on them. And the glasses too, the ones that look like abstracted paper bags. She’s very, very good, isn’t she? A total artist of ceramics. Very impressive. She makes them herself? I’m sorry the Christmas Fair wasn’t a happier experience. More the attendees’ loss. My day was not too exciting. Conferred with Zac about the scouting trip. Everything went really well. It looks like we’re probably going to shoot most of the film in this city called Cherbourg. I’m going to look at the photos he shot today or tomorrow. So, yes, things are progressing well, I think. Today I was supposed to be at the dance rehearsals again, but Gisele literally called me five seconds before I typed this, and now I’m going tomorrow and Thursday instead. So I don’t know what I’ll do today. How was Tuesday for you? ** Steevee, Hi. Yes, thank you a lot for slipping ‘LCTG’ in there. Like I said above, we’re obviously really happy that PAPER put it in their 2016 top ten. I’ll see if I can see ‘Behemoth’ somehow. Thanks! ** New Juche, Hi, Joe. I hadn’t realized that SL makes their out-of-print books available as free pdfs for some strange reason. That’s great! I’ve been wanting to do a post about SL, and that will make it totally possible to do it in a rich way. Have a fine one! ** MyNeighbourJohnTurturro, Hi, sir. Well, gosh, one hesitates to make predictions these days for the obvious reasons. I think, and the general feeling here in France as I can tell, is that it’s unlikely she could win. Barring a miracle, she’ll almost for sure make it to the run-off where she’ll very likely be running against the ‘centre’ Right candidate Fillon. Fillon is quite to the right for France and quite horrible — he’s being called France’s Margaret Thatcher — but the fact that he’s so Right and conservative will likely drain off any support from the centre Right voters that Le Pen would need to actually win. The tricky part is that Socialists and people on the Left understandably despise Fillon and are extremely far less likely to vote for him in order to keep Le Pen out than they would be if a Socialist were in the finals — virtually impossible — or if the more moderate Right candidate Juppe had won the primary, so most of the Left will probably just not vote. So, yeah, it’s complicated, but Le Pen winning is nonetheless not very likely. France doesn’t have a Fox News or far-right fake news sites and things like that to legitimize the extreme right’s positions. We’ll see. I have heard Pivixki but only a little. I liked what I heard. I’ll get further inside them. Thank you so much about ‘LCTG’! Do you by any chance know who’s in charge of film programming at The Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow? I’ll ask Ben and Jamie too. If I can get the right contact there. I’ll submit the film to them right away. We would love too show it there, for sure. Thanks a lot, man. ** Toniok, Hi! Yeah, I hear you about music from the past having a time and place to be explored. But, Parsons is so great, I think. And he’s one of my three all-time favorite singers along with Nina Simone and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. Greetings to you! ** Mark Gluth, Hi, Mark. I will indeed give Zac a high five for you. He will find that very amusing. Or I mean he will find the sight of me offering a high five amusing since I don’t normally go that route. Your ‘Hardy Boys’ does sound complicated in the most dreamy and inspiring way. Wow, yes, your angles and ideas make such fresh sense and are very exciting even to start thinking about. It’s defintely going to be worth any trouble, I think. I did try to give a Hardy Boys-like thing a serious go. At one point, I was going to try to use that idea as the base template for one of the George Miles cycle novels. I actually started working on it, but I couldn’t quite get the outlay to move around and reconfigure internally as much as I would have needed it to. I should look at my draft someday and see if there was anything there. Be well today and onwards! ** Joakim, Hey, Joakim! I’m good! Oh, I’m in the middle of rehearsals with Gisele on her new dance piece, and one of the dancers, Philip, based in Stockholm, told me he’s friends with Eli. I asked if he knew you (Joakim), and he said, ‘Is he an artist going to art school in Copenhagen’? I said yes, and he said he does know you, I guess at least a little. Does that ring a bell? He’s great, an amazing dancer. Eek, about your computer, but whew about the back up. Which reminds me to do mine today. Speaking of Eli, you saw him, wonderful! You’re enjoying being back in the big S? Thanks about the last escorts post. It’s all luck on my part, but it did seem an especially good one. Enjoy everything today! Love, me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yeah, as I asked John, do you by chance know who I would contact at the Glasgow CCA? I’m totally into submitting the film to them. I hope your last pre-Xmas shift went well. Do you and your fellow workers send each other off with holiday goodies or anything? ** Kyler, Hi. Hanging is the name of the game with agents, that’s for sure. Diligence is the only antidote. I never for a second thought the Electoral College could be swayed, but it’s great that people tried. ** Jamie, Hi. Good ‘cos I would have been flummoxed on the reinventing your name front today too. My time at the rehearsals was supposed to be today, but it got switched to tomorrow and Thursday, so I can let you know on Thursday. Well, yeah, budget constrictions are the horrible gods of filmmaking too. That was severely the case with ‘LCTG’ where we only had $40,000 to make the entire film with paying everyone and editing and post and everything. It was intense. With the new film, we’ll have a lot more — in the range of 180,000 Euros — which isn’t Hollywood, but it sure will help. Even so, we’re already having to trim back some of more amibitious ideas. I kind of want to see ‘Rogue One’. I liked the last ‘Star Wars’ a surprisingly decent amount. Now that the dance rehearsals are off, I have to figure out what to do. I think I’ll see Zac and work on the film, probably. The weather is really relentlessly chilly. More than I remember winters here being. Very brrr, even inside. Like I said to Ben and John, if by some fluke you know who at CCA we should submit ‘LCTG’ to, I’ll get right on that. Winter busting love, Dennis. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. You made it back. Geez, your poor mom. You’re like a drill sergeant or something. It was good for her though, right? I happened by Trump Tower the last time I was in NYC. He was still the scary joke candidate back then, so I’m sure it wasn’t the no fly zone it is now. Yeah, I don’t know, I just can’t find anything about him funny right now. He’s too dangerous. Aw, thanks about this blog’s educational properties. I should make you guys write theses. Ha ha. ** Julian, Hi, Julian! Ah, right, that is about as unsurprising a reading list as there could be. I went to community college, so, yeah, I remember, and I hear you. I went to community college longer than I went to university. I guess there’s value in reading the basics. I get the theory behind that. I think I mostly just skimmed them and hoped the teachers wouldn’t call on me. ** Bill, Hi. I think maybe, at least over here, a couple of the earlier Soukaz films might be on DVD? Not positive. As you saw, a bunch of them are on youtube in full. You choose books on long flights over bad films. You’re a good man, unlike me. Good luck getting everything ready. ** Okay. Oh, not very interesting, but there was a Skywriting Day on my killed blog, and I was looking for reruns, and I almost reran it, but it seemed kind of skimpy, so I started beefing that post up as much as I could, and I ended up making basically a whole new post. And that’s your snack today. See you tomorrow.


  1. Hi Dennis, Just spend a very entertaining 10 minutes on the telephone with various employees at the MAC VAL , none spoke any english and my french is bad so i am none the wiser about tickets/reservations for I APOLOGIZE. Any tips on how to get reservations ? Couldn’t find the event on their website.

  2. I’d love for someone to Skywrite “Donald Fucks Ivanka in The Ass!” over Washington D.C. on inauguration day.

    I appear in a segment of Rosa’s film called “Reaction of the Audience” that he shot after showing “It is Not The Homosexual Who is Perverse But the Situation in Which He Lives” at the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse. I was the only one defending the film. My other screen appearances are in “Vito” and “Making The Boys”

  3. Hi!

    Oh my! I really hope the father calms down a little bit and reconsiders. I think he will, especially if the teacher talks to him, too! The fact that Milo is into the idea is fantastic, though! Fingers crossed so very much! I hope he’ll come around!
    I’d really love to do that and meet up!
    Wow, thank you so much for the kind words about my mom’s ceramics! Yes, she makes them herself, every single piece! I especially love the ‘paper bags’, too.
    Very nice news about the location scouting trip! How are the photos so far? What do you think?
    Oh. A little change of plans, then. What did you spend your day with, in the end?
    Here, everything’s good, though nothing special happened. Christmas cookie decoration. Some reading and writing. The usual stuff.
    I hope you have a lovely day!!

  4. Dennis, congrats to you and Zac on LCTG in Paper! One of the rewards I promised myself once I finished my book is that I could watch it! I’ll order a copy soon as we’re back from Australia! And thanks for the kind anticipatory words bout my book. That day on the French filmmaker was really interesting. Do you know if he and Guibert knew each other? Have a lovely night and day, Axo

  5. @ DC, re the CCA, I can’t offer much by way of contacts I’m afraid. There’s a team/board page on their website so it could be worth enquiring via there maybe?

    Re work, we send each other off with anonymously bought holiday goodies, a ritual called “Secret Santa” which is kind of nice really. And today I got a £10 voucher for the Waterstone’s bookstore so that means I can get anything off their website. Result!

  6. For the past six weeks, my pants have been feeling very loose. Ever since I got a scary cholesterol reading on a blood test in August, I’ve been following a mostly vegan diet, and it seems to have done wonders for my weight. In a few months, I’ve gone down from size-40 pants to size-38 pants. I only own one pair of size-38 pants right now, so when I visit my parents for the holidays later this week, I will pick up another pair. I’m not sure of my exact weight, because I don’t have access to a scale.

  7. Dennis, I’m not really a high fiver either, I have no idea where that came from, ha! Thanks for your encouragement, I think it will turn out in the end, got just keep my eye on the ball or whatever. I’d be really interested in what you find if you dive back into your serious go at Hardy Boys thing from way back when. It’s been years since I read Frisk, but that has a bit of a character investigating a mystery, no? Or investigating bones they find? Perhaps I’m combing misremembered pieces from your books, if so, sorry

  8. Hey Denolition Man.
    Best I can do with the CCA is put you in touch with my friend who owns the restaurant in there & also puts on some events. He’s a great fellow & if he can’t help you directly he can surely point you in the right direction. I messaged him today & he said to get in touch, so let me know & I can email you his email. Hope that’s helpful.
    Seems like you may still get the guy for the film? I like that working in your movie may give him the discipline that he needs, there’s something wonderful in that.
    Did you get some film work done? My work day consisted of sending one email then a 3 course lunch. We badly need to move into our office.
    Excellent post today. I wondered if Surrender, Dorothy was going to be featured, but I guess it’s about planes not witches. I got a nice woozy feeling looking at all the photos towards the end and I love the difference with skywriting & skytyping.
    What’s your Wednesday shaped like?
    Hope it’s all good & the temperature is the one that pleases you most.
    Lots of love to you,

  9. I’d like to read a mystery by you, not necessarily a HARDY BOYS novel. It seems like the genre is so reliant on formula that there’s something to be gained from exploding them, as Burroughs did to some extent to CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT (a book my father picked up and started but did not finish when he realized it was not a conventional detective novel.) In another medium, David Simon turned crime fiction into something akin to modern-day Balzac.

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