May 17, 2019
Jeremy Sutton is a digital artist who was onboard our very first flight to San Francisco. This is his story.
Twenty five years ago today, we took off to fly to San Francisco for the very first time. For us, it was a historic and memorable day. Our customers were were welcomed onboard by Richard who was joined by his family, and the usual gathering of celebrities, journos and travel writers that come along on these press trips. During the flight, live music was supplied by Clarence Clemons, the legendary sax player from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Also onboard that day was Jeremy Sutton, a Brit who had moved to San Francisco to work in the tech sector some years earlier. The flight would prove to be something of a turning point in his life. A physicist by trade, he’d settled in the heart of Silicon Valley, been introduced to the exciting new art medium of digital paint (his hobby was drawing portraits of people), but early in 1994 he was at a bit of a crossroads having recently got his Green Card and then, shortly afterwards, been laid off from his job. When Jeremy read about the entrepreneur bringing his young airline to San Francisco, he had an idea. He’d always enjoyed drawing and was fascinated by the new and burgeoning world of digital art that he was exploring. Spotting an opportunity, he wrote to Richard on a whim to ask him if he could create a digital portrait of him when he landed in San Fran. The response from our PR team was an invite to fly to London, spend the weekend with Richard, then fly back home on the inaugural flight where he could draw digital paintings of Richard and some of the guests onboard. The idea brought the pioneering spirits of Virgin Atlantic and Silicon Valley together perfectly. Before setting off, Jeremy talked to Apple and somehow managed to persuade them to lend him their latest prototype before it went on sale (imagine that now). It was the mighty PowerBook 150 laptop, a predecessor to today’s MacBooks. This was teamed with an early Wacom tablet and software called Fractal Design Painter X2 (sold on two floppy disks at 1.4mb each).
“San Francisco was always on our list of great cities of the world that we wanted to fly to, so it’s a very proud moment for the airline finally to be launching this service”. Richard Branson, 17th May 1994
Twenty five years on, Jeremy reflects on the flight that changed his life. “For me personally and professionally it was of great significance. The inaugural launched my professional career as a digital artist.
”The whole thing was a huge success. Digital painting was something very experimental, and Richard was clearly fascinated by this new form of art, so much so that he invited Jeremy back a month later for our 10th birthday party the old London City Hall on the south bank of the Thames. Since then Jeremy’s long and successful career and his craft has benefited from advances in software and hardware. He uses the latest iPad Pro instead of the PowerBook and has also branched out into developing fields such as AR and VR 3D painting, always exploring new artistic possibilities and technologies like gesture-driven ‘air painting’ and even a form of eye painting controlled by eye-tracking and blinking.
We’re really grateful to Jeremy for sharing his memories from that amazing trip and can’t wait to see where his art takes him next. Find out more about his art or take one of his online courses on his website You can also see more of the paintings he made on that flight 25 years ago here