Volume 14, Number 4, November 2012
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Airbrushing a Skull Cake
By Wes Hawkins
Here's the cake with just the frosting applied. You can get a general idea where the shadows and highlights will need to go. The icing wouldn’t spread over the teeth very well so I decided that I’d have to use the airbrush to draw the teeth in.
I loaded up my Iwata HP-CS with some airbrush-ready black food coloring from a previous project. I’ve used food coloring before on a gelatin project a few years ago but this time I was spraying on icing, which was a lot different. At times the coloring beaded up on the icing and other times it blended right in.
I experimented with the air pressure and decided that 10 psi was about as high as I'd need to go. I learned this through trial and error, and unfortunately the error revealed that too much air would blow the icing off the cake. Notice the teeth and you'll see what I mean. At first I was concerned that I had ruined the project. This turned out to be a good thing, however, as I was then forced to compensate using the airbrush. This allowed for a little creativity and that’s something I thrive on.
Here you can see the cake starting to take shape. The sides of the skull are flat, so I needed to add shadows to the temple and lower jaw. I'm lucky enough to have Craig Frasier's Mastering Skull Master DVD, which was a big help in learning where the shadows and highlights need to go. To finish up with the black, I misted the color over the entire cake to help blend the shadows and to also break up the base color. You’ll see in the next pic that misting the black came in handy when I added the highlights.
Now I went in with white food coloring and began by fogging around the eye sockets, bridge of the nose and across the forehead above the eye sockets. As I mentioned earlier, misting the black helps the white highlights to stand out easier and also helps achieve the look I needed without spraying a lot of white. It saved time and materials, too.
Here's the cake with the camera flash. This really points out the shadows and highlights. While the cake isn't extremely detailed fresh out of the pan, you can see here that adding some colors in the right places--and using a little patience--can pay off. I want to give special thanks to my amazing wife Melissa for baking the cake and spreading the icing. (She made the icing from scratch, by the way!). I hope you enjoyed this article and I’ll see you next time!
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Today we will continue working on our freehand drills… imperative skills for any airbrush artist. The "Dagger Stroke" has been cursed by many a student of mine… but is a necessary evil and, once mastered, anything can be accomplished with your freehand skills. As you work, you will be amazed how often this stroke is used!
A few thoughts before we start...it really helps to keep your air on before and after the paint flows out of the gun...this will help tremendously in avoiding tip dry. I often have my beginners start with paper towels for their drills. It absorbs a lot more than paper, so it is a little harder to make mistakes in the very beginning. Also if you find your hand hurting, just loosen up your grip on your gun or try moving your hand back a little on your brush—just remember to relax! Unless you have a physical challenge, standing really seems to help when airbrushing freehand. Remember to have the surface you are painting on set about mid-chest and always keep your airbrush perpendicular to the surface.
When doing drills, I use Transparent Com-Art Black. I find that it clogs less than opaque paint. I am using my favorite airbrush, an Iwata HP-C. If you want a greater challenge, try working on ordinary paper, because it is inexpensive and gives its own challenges of being fairly nonabsorbent. Surfaces used later will be more forgiving, but I find it helps to work with a more difficult surface, as it makes skills stronger.
With air on, move your gun from left to right… pull the trigger back quickly to get a thick starting line from rather far away; and as you proceed right, push the trigger forward while moving your gun toward the paper until no more paint comes out. These are quick drills, so practice them in many different sizes. Then do the same drill from the right to the left. You will probably find one easier than the other, so guess which one needs to be practiced more? The ultimate goal is to be equally comfortable with either direction.
Same technique here, only thing different is you will be working from top to bottom (pictured) and bottom to top.
Start out with the same technique as described in Step 1, but curve your stroke from the bottom to top, then top to bottom (pictured). The try the same from left to right and right to left. Work on small and large curves over and over again. This is the basic stroke in varying degrees of cursive lettering and many other things.
Try writing your name in cursive using lots of thick and thins. Remember to keep moving with a fluid motion! Don't forget to move close and far away from the surface depending on whether you want thick or thin lines.
Probably the most difficult, this exercise starts out with a skinny stroke before merging into your traditional dagger. Remember to keep moving and follow through! I find that it helps to exaggerate the forward, back, forward motion to the surface.
The way that I got really good at dagger strokes was painting palm trees on tee shirts at an amusement park (my first airbrushing gig as a teenager). Make a larger tree trunk, then four or five strokes in a "moving star"… all with curved daggers.
Then, simply fill in the palm fronds with many smaller curved dagger strokes. Add a few for grass and a shadow below… and tada! A palm tree! Practice tons and tons of these trees and watch your skills grow like crazy!
Often I have been told that daggers are like rubbing your tummy while rubbing your head… unnatural at first. But don't give up! When you master this stroke, you are well on your way to becoming an airbrush master!
In my next article, we will discuss the freehand shield and how to use it to your advantage.
Take care and Happy Spraying!
Shen's work may be viewed at: shenstudio.com
Skulls are probably the single most popular request in the auto and motorcycle airbrushing industry. That being said, you can imagine how important it is to airbrush skulls quickly and cleanly. When I first started airbrushing, I freehanded most of my skulls with mixed results. Then several years later Iwata, Artool and Craig Frasier got together and created the Artool Freehand Airbrush Skull Master Templates. http://www.iwata-medea.com/index.php/artool/freehand/skull_master.
These stencils streamlined the skull painting process and made it so incredibly easy for beginners that they became an instant hit. Since that day there have been many variations released, all producing great results. Today we will be examining the use of the original Skull Master stencil.
The Skull Master stencil family is available from Artool and has many distinct advantages. First of all, it is translucent, which makes aligning the stencil very easy. Secondly, almost all of Artool’s stencils are solvent resistant; this comes in handy for automotive airbrushing because auto paints do not exactly wash off with soap and water. Lastly these stencils are very flexible; they are made to bend around curves in things like motorcycle tanks and fenders, while preserving their detail. That being said the stencils produce much better results when you know how to use them.
The way to master any new equipment is to practice, practice, practice. So that is exactly what we are going to do. Using a new sheet of heavy matte drawing paper to airbrush on I chose the Iwata HP Plus for spraying. The HP Plus will come in very handy in this situation for a few reasons. First off, it is a good brush that does detail exceptionally well. Secondly, it has a built-in needle set mechanism that will come in very handy when using a small stencil like this. I am using a 3hp compressor and keeping the brush at a medium to low pressure, 30-40 psi. This should work out just fine for the detail. Also, for this exercise I am choosing a transparent violet purple to airbrush. Lots of artists use this color to do two-tone images because you can get a great range of shading and it builds very slowly. This transparent color is great for practicing things like portraiture and creepy purple skulls!
To begin we will use the negative skull outline, referring to the part of the stencil with the skull punched out. Using this outline as a guide, spray a very faint haze around the inside edges.
Fig. 1 – Position the stencil and lightly spray around the inside.
Keep your strokes extremely light and consistent. As I said, this violet color mimics an automotive “candy” color; it builds darker on itself, so if you start and stop during the process, your work will look blotchy and ruin the realism. The misted skull should look a bit like this:
|Fig. 2 – A light outline of our skull.|
After this is complete, it is now time to use the positive part of the stencil to put in the eyes, nose, etc. Flip to the part of the Skull Master stencil that has a face on it. I like the one with the droopy, less angry looking eyes, so I will use that one. Once you have that positioned correctly on the skull it is time to lightly darken in those areas of the eyes and nose and the tops of the teeth.
|Fig. 3 – The skull taking shape.|
Now that we have used the stencil to properly lay out our skull, the rest is up to us. We are going to use some of the marvelous free handing techniques that I hope you all have practiced over the last few months. What’s that? You didn’t practice? Oh well, we can fake it. To begin I like to go around the edges and reinforce the skull head. I could spray them darker in the first place, but as I build on the painting I want to have an area to make mistakes. Also, the freehand outline of the head will give it a softer, more realistic look. As you progress, try to remember to build the dips and crevices darker by overlapping them again and again. Also keep in mind that the cranium of the skull is round and the light must be painted according to its shape. It is sometimes hard to explain an intricate freehand technique, and it is frustrating to try and fail; but as you practice, you will begin to feel what is right to do. You will develop your own comfort zone with the airbrush and your body will memorize the muscle control necessary to do the techniques. So be patient with this and try it over and over again.
|Fig. 4 – Using various tones to build a realistic skull.|
So once you have a skull on paper, try some more. There are many more ways to use the stencil utilizing the other sets of eyes and the jaws. Once you have a faint outline from the stencil, try using the shading to create an expression on the skull’s face.
Here is another handy tip. The Iwata HP Plus has a needle set screw on the back, as I’ve mentioned earlier. When doing the free handing on the skull faces try dialing in this screw to avoid spraying out too much paint. Dial the screw all the way in so no paint comes out when the trigger is pulled back. Then while spraying on some scrap and pulling back the trigger, dial the screw out slowly to a small spray pattern. When you are finished with the project, just dial the set screw all the way back out to get your full range of spray again.
|Fig. 5 – The needle set screw on the Iwata HP Plus sure does come in handy!|
So have some fun with this practice and the next time someone wants a mean looking skull, you can bust out your Craig Frasier Skull Master Freehand Airbrush Template from Artool and go to work. Well, until next time, Keep on Paintin’!
|Fig. 6 – The finished skulls!|
Ever long for a storage unit the size of a city bus? Most of us could fill it and more! But, rather than lament the quantity of "stuff" we have, why not take a mini step towards micro organization? To that end, this issue's craft project is the transformation of a small, lidded container--from landfill fodder to small trinket/office goods/workshop storage. Any container that will accept acrylic paint as decoration can be used. My choice is an empty International Coffee tin. (Photo 1) Love the rounded corners and red, soft plastic lid.
|Photo 1: Recycling, repurposing and decorating all at the same time.|
So, with the tin selected, all we need is to gather the materials and tools to do the job. I love to use my favorite Iwata Revolution CR Airbrush and my air source, the Iwata Studio Series Smart Jet Compressor, both of which have given me many years of loyal and trouble-free service. To these basics I add several colors of airbrush acrylic paints; sandpaper; tack cloth or other cleaning material; painter’s tape or strips of masking material, if needed (both work very well to prevent over-spraying); and stickers, faux stones, metallic markers, etc.
Step one is to ready the container for its transformation. Begin by lightly sanding the outer surface of the tin with a medium to fine sandpaper. (Photo 2) This will give tooth to the surface and will allow better adhesion of the acrylic paints. When the sanding is done (and of course you don't have to remove all of the printed material on the tin), you simply clean the surface of dust - either with a tack cloth or a soft old rag.
|Photo 2: Once sanded and clean - the surface is ready for base color!|
Select the colors you want to use, as many as you want for your project. I love the vivid tones that seem to jump out so I will use chartreuse on blue. Fill the cup on the airbrush with your base coat and apply at least two layers so that the entire surface is covered. A base coat can be a third color or simply added coats of the main tone of your project. It often helps to cover the ad art on the container with a basic color like brown, cream or even black...but that is up to you. I chose to use several coats of the blue, since it will be the main color, with chartreuse added for accent. (Photo 3) These tones will coordinate with the topical decor I plan to add after the painting is done: beautiful butterfly stickers.
|Photo 3: Base color in place - ready for another blast of contrast.|
With the fourth coat of base color dry, it is time to add some contrast with the chartreuse. The stickers I plan to add will use both yellow-green and blue, so just a spritz of chartreuse is all I will use. It may be necessary to carefully apply double applications for the light tone to read true, so use care when applying and let the coats dry between applications. (Photo 4)
|Photo 4: Less is more in the case of a second color; be gentle with the application and allow both to complement.|
After all the airbrushing is done and you are pleased with the look, let it dry completely. Once dry, you can add any "dressing up" you might like. A couple stickers to complete the look of my new seed storage micro-mini storage unit and it is done! Totally fun and easy to do--a small seed envelope storage box. (Photo 5)
|Photo 5: Completed micro mini storage. Voila!|
Using this small, simple project might let you consider doing an entire storage unit in coordinated colors: baskets and shelving, clear storage boxes with airbrush coordinated lids, redo an old file cabinet or upright office drawer unit. Just think how cool it will look and how easy it is to do!
|Medea Com-Art Colours|
|All airbrush colours are not the same. Com-Art is considered to be one of the finest and most versatile professional airbrush colours in the world. Because of a common hydro-carbon base binder, Com-Art transparent and opaque colours can be used together without bleeding between colours. This non-toxic, ready to use paint is specifically formulated for use with an airbrush and never needs to be filtered or strained. Com-Art colours are heavily pigmented and light fast, allowing for accurate 4 colour separations. They provide superior atomization, smooth spraying, and they dry instantly.|
The new Com-Art Creature Paint Kit created by Steve Riojas is designed for monster/fantasy fans to help them achieve otherworldly, undead and just plain creepy skin and body effects. The 10 different flesh colors are meant to be a starting point. The mixing and matching of any or all of the colors is limited only by your imagination. See your Iwata-Medea retailer for this new product; and for tips and techniques by Steve Riojas, visit www.iwata-medea.com.
|The professional Iwata Airbrush line is imported and manufactured exclusively by Medea Airbrush Products, along with commercial spray guns, Medea Textile Colours and Com-Art Airbrush Colours.|
Date: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Time: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m.
Place: First Presbyterian Church, Beacon, NY
(65 miles north of NYC on the Metro North Line)
If you’ve always wanted to learn how to airbrush, here’s your opportunity!
For thirty years Robert has used this curriculum to teach thousands of students the basics of airbrush technique in this hands-on workshop.
Designed for the person who has never before used an airbrush or for those who have used one without success, this time-proven class in basic airbrush techniques has been taught throughout the U.S. Students will learn how to handle and hook up an airbrush, air sources to use, compatible materials, suitable work surfaces and their preparation and the simple maintenance procedures that are required. A high-quality Iwata airbrush will be used by students as they render a series of pre-printed exercises, while learning the fundamentals of airbrush technique.
All materials/equipment are supplied for use in class. Space is limited.
...the link between you, the visual artist, and the manufacturer of art materials.
|ARTtalk is a monthly eight-page newsletter available FREE-OF-CHARGE from Participating Art Material Retailers in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. Each month you'll find informative articles that deal with a variety of subjects such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, arts and crafts, and more. These explain various techniques—how to work and paint with watercolor, oils, or acrylics; use pastels or pen and ink, airbrush, and more. You'll find information on art history, current events and art world news, as well as an occasional "Kids' Korner." Subjects vary and change each month.|