Volume 1, Number 3, January 2000

Published four times a year by The Paschal Group, Inc.
Publisher: Robert Paschal
Editor: Jeanne Paschal
Also see — The Newsletter for Visual Artists

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with Michael Cacy

Thoughts on Becoming an Illustrator

As careers go, there are probably easier and more lucrative ways to make a living than working as an illustrator. So why would anyone choose to do so?

Illustration is actually a broad term that includes editorial art (story illustration, book or magazine cover art, etc.) and advertising art (finish art which serves to promote a product or service to the public). Illustration is generally art created for reproduction, art that comes before the public eye. Presentation art, or the concept artwork referred to in the trade as "comprehensive art" (or simply "comp art") is another type of work typically executed by professional illustrators. This is art required in the advertising or film trade that explores a concept but is not intended for the public eye. Comp art includes storyboards for film or video and photo indications for print media such as an advertising campaign. Since illustration is a broad field, most professionals specialize in one direction.

Naturally, there are pros and cons, but, first, what does it take to be an illustrator? Desire counts. So do talent, tenacity, creativity, a modicum of business sense, and a little luck. Formal art education was helpful in my case, but as long as you can show your credentials in the form of a portfolio, academic degrees don’t really make much of a difference to those wishing to buy your time. Assuming that a person has some or all of these assets, what drives an illustration professional? Each project is an opportunity to grow and learn while, at the same time, you earn a living by creating a unique commodity. Having your work reproduced and seen by millions of viewers or readers is an ego booster. If you work as a freelance illustrator, you are your own boss; and you can enjoy the freedom of accepting or refusing projects that are presented to you.

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If these aspects sound good to you, let’s consider some of the less attractive realities as well. These may include long hours (many people work harder for themselves than they would for someone else and deadlines must be honored), erratic cash flow (the fact that you have plenty of work doesn’t guarantee that the money will arrive in any sort of logical pattern of frequency), and the stress of operating your own business could be hazardous to your personal relationships. Consider that, if you are a freelance illustrator, you operate your own business and pay for your own health insurance, licenses and taxes that many employed workers never heard of as well as pay for all the operating expenses that make up your overhead. A portion of your profit must go toward self-promotion of some kind.

With an understanding of the pros and cons, the business of freelance illustration should seem more in balance, not unlike any other business endeavor.

Because you learn a little something with every piece you paint, illustration is a career that allows you to grow, improve, and constantly reinvent yourself. The personal satisfaction of completing each successful work of art is probably the greatest reward for anyone working in the creative field. If your passion is drawing and painting, then a career as an illustrator pays you to do what you love to do anyway. When an art director selects you to execute his or her project, what you bring to the table is your talent and your style--that part of you that makes your art unique.

In the next "Cacy’s Corner": Some thoughts on self promotion, working with an artist’s rep, how illustration is bought and sold, the relationship of traditional media vs. electronic media, and more.


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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.


Painting Murals in the style of Ron Gress

by Bess Wiley

(click on a Ron Gress Mural to see more of his work)

GRIZZLYBEARS-sm.jpg (17750 bytes)Step into the Reno Hilton Casino and be prepared at every point of interest to view a mural by Ron Gress. From the registration desk to the Sports Book, his work depicting the four seasons, the Grand Canyon, endangered wildlife, and the Reno Air and Balloon Races covers thousands of square feet. Ron was awarded this project because of his extensive art background, particularly as a scenic artist in the film industry.

The constraints of a complete remodeling of the hotel and a functioning casino required that these murals be painted on canvas in a separate studio rather than directly on the walls - and above the gamblers’ heads! The preparation under these conditions was extensive and included photographing the mural areas completely, reviewing the architectural plans, prepping maquettes to present to the hotel executives for their comments, revisions and approval, and stretching and preparing vast rolls of seamless canvas ranging all the way up to 18’ x 125’.

Once the themes and maquettes were approved for the final murals, huge frames were built to accommodate the canvases in a large studio rented specifically for the project. The canvases were attached to the stretcher bars and then gessoed just like any other canvas might be prepared for painting.

AIRRACEDETAIL-sm.jpg (14267 bytes)In the case of the largest murals, i.e., the Air Race and Balloon Race murals, the skies and clouds were laid in using pre-mixed colors and large spray guns from an electric scissor lift. Any land surfaces, specifically the mountain ranges surrounding the Air Race site, were painted in using large brushes and custom designed rollers. Then, the chosen planes and/or balloons were projected onto the painting and drawn by hand using artist charcoal. Each plane was then painted meticulously from extensive reference photographs, using brushes, airbrushes and stencils down to the tiniest details, including rivets, panel lines, weathering and lettering.

GRANDCANON-sm.jpg (22408 bytes)The Grand Canyon murals required a slightly different technique. Because they were to be viewed at close range from restaurant tables, they required extensive brush and detail work, especially in the foreground. The aim was to depict the vastness of the Grand Canyon, yet get a feel for the intimacy of the plants and creatures living along the rim.

FLAMINGOMURAL1-sm.jpg (16017 bytes)The Registration Desk mural depicted the "Four Seasons In A Day" of the Reno-Tahoe wilderness along a 165-foot canvas. Extensive reference material allowed an accurate depiction of the area and its local flora and critters. As this mural was designed to entertain guests awaiting check-in, the vignettes in the painting were either comical or dramatic--such as mountain lions stalking their next snack on the hoof, raccoons frolicking in the trees, bears diving for honey, and Baron Hilton’s executives hot-dogging the local slopes.

REGDESK3-sm.jpg (13425 bytes)All the paint was vinyl acrylic, which required a top coat of clear acrylic as a sealer. The tools included Binks spray guns, Iwata and Paasche airbrushes, Artool stencils, and a wide variety of brushes and rollers. Once the murals were completely dry, they were carefully detached from their frames, rolled onto large cardboard tubes, and then shipped to the hotel where professional paperhangers were engaged to glue the murals to the walls.

The scope of these projects within the time requirement imposed by the hotel required a crew of artists to carry out the designs. They included the very capable and lovely John Stewart, Daveed Schwartz, Susie Miscovich, and Renee Rabache. Without their help, this work could not have been completed.

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Building Model Airplanes

by Kirk Lybecker

I remember building model airplanes as if it were yesterday. Nothing was quite so sublime as stinking up the house with a witch’s brew of fumes from toxic paints. Picasso never created so fine a work of art as the delicate tracery of my own gluey fingerprints on the canopy. And there was no feeling of accomplishment like the heady rush of soaring that I would do when my latest creation was complete. But that may have been the glue.

I am much pleased that technology has caught up with the craft of model building, especially now that I am doing some of it again. The fast drying glues that preclude the need for holding on to parts until the slow dry stuff has finally decided to harden seem to me to be the brightest part of the technology. I am, however, very impressed with the introduction of water-based acrylic paints for models. The major breakthrough is that you can clean up with water. This, in turn, allows you to use tools and techniques that were too much of a bother with solvent-based paint. It also allows you to indulge in much more creative painting and greater depth of detail.

One of the many things that I always had problems with is that I don’t have particularly steady hands. I could never get a precise level of sharp detail on things like the canopy. Even when I was using the best detail brushes, it appeared that I was using a mop. Also, the precision on things like invasion stripes left a great deal to be desired. They were uneven, wavy edged and never seemed to come out at the same place on opposite sides of the plane. I have overcome much of the need to use a regular brush with the use of tape and an airbrush. The trick with tape and other masking materials is that you use them to block out the areas that you do or don’t want to paint. The beauty is that you can use them to get crisp clean lines and regular edges, and you can make mistakes where you can easily correct then.

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Silent compressors for use with airbrushes, spray guns, and air tools from Werther International.

Tail Painting

One of the things that I found out from going into art supply stores is that they have different types of tapes. Some stick well to plastic and some are better suited for wood. The main criteria for a tape are that it should not come up when using an airbrush and that little or none of the glue from the tape should stick to the plane. This part--called tack--is what you have to find out for yourself. Start by doing some experiments with combinations of tape and paint on the inside of the model. Another thing that is useful to know is that there is a thing called graphic arts tape. It comes is various widths from about 1/32 to 1/2 inch wide. This will let you paint the stripes that you need rather than the stripes that you get with most tapes.

When I was painting the tail of the Yellow Jacket, the first thing that I did was to paint the area to be striped a uniform white. This will make the yellow show up better. Some colors like black don’t need an undercoat as they cover rather well, but colors that are transparent or fairly light become brighter if they are on a white base rather than the gray of the plastic. The general rule of thumb is the light to dark method. This is because darker paints cover better than light ones. Hence, it is easier to cover a light paint with a dark one than vice versa.

First paint the area yellow and let it dry. You can accelerate the drying of water-based acrylics by using your spray gun with air only. Spray a light coat at first because you can always make it darker and this will also keep the paint from seeping under the tape. Another tip is that the farther away your spray is from the target area, the less likely the air from the brush is to lift the tape. Next you tape the areas that you want to remain yellow. It also helps to burnish the edges of the tape. This can be done with a piece of the plastic frame that the model parts came on. Just sharpen it slightly and use it to press the edges of the tape over things like rivet lines and other surface interruptions. In the case of the tail, I put separate pieces of tape side by side. This will assure that the lines are straight, even, and regular. Then spray with a black paint.

Next, I masked off the area around the canopy. The real trick to this is to get it to look even. I do this by making straight lines with the tape from a central point to places that are the same on each side of the fuselage--say where panels come together. Then if you need to, you can cut a piece of tape off one side. Then use that as a template to cut the other side. You can also use a flexible template such as one by Artool to get a more regular curve. A sharp stencil knife will be your best friend in this case.

As I said, I never had the skill to paint the frames of a canopy. Even with the best artist’s rigger brushes, I always seemed to make a rather large mess with a rather small amount of paint. Now I use an airbrush and some tape. This takes a bit more time, but the results are well worth the work. The first thing to do is not to try and do it all at once. The F-14 is a relatively simple canopy, with only one bar over the top and the edges to paint. If you have a plane with a greenhouse nose--like a HE-111, a B-29 or a B-36--you will want to break the job down into more manageable parts. I try to do bars that are similar, such as the horizontal ones separate from the vertical ones. You can also cut tape to fit the open spaces of the canopy. I recommend that you use a clear tape, as it is easier to see where the cutting needs to go. The most valuable thing is that the tape is easy to remove and replace if the pieces are crooked or out of place. You can’t do that with paint.

For some of the unique markings such as the Yellow Jacket insignia on the tail, I use a type of frisket called canvas mask. This material can be put on a design, cut, lifted and placed on your model. First I make a design on a piece of paper or tracing paper with a hard surface. (Don’t use typing paper.) Then I lightly lay the canvas mask on the drawing. With a sharp stencil knife I cut out the general shape of the design. Next I place the design on the plane and spray it white. I do not make two masks but rather turn the mask over and hold it in place and spray. I use a regular brush to paint in the details with black. I try not to throw away any of the designs; rather I place them on a piece of acetate and save them for later.

The same holds true for more mundane things like the Navy marking on the camouflaged jet. I put the canvas mask directly on the decal sheet and cut. Then place the lettering sheet with the appropriate masks on the place where you want the markings. I have to be sure to keep the triangle that is in the A from Navy and carefully put it in its proper place. This I also keep on a sheet of acetate to use later. As paint rather than decal, it has a more realistic look.

NOTES: ARMY and NAVY are rather easy insignia to cut; UNITED STATES MARINES is a little more difficult; and LUFTWAFFE in Germanic script is almost impossible. Another note is that you can generate templates of anything you want on a P.C., print it out and use the canvas mask to make a stencil. If you are doing this, you may need to put a piece of acetate between the canvas mask and the artwork, as the paper you print on may want to stick to the canvas mask better than it should. Alternatively, you can put the computer-generated art on top of the canvas mask and cut through both layers. This never seems to cut as precisely as the other way around but you can do it.

I mentioned graphic arts tape a moment ago. You can also use it to make some fancy detail such as spirals on bombs and propeller spinners. I did this by painting the bombs the color that I wanted the spirals to be. Usually the easiest way is to just dip a bomb into the color of paint that you want and let it drip dry. Then take the graphic arts tape and wrap it in a spiral. I had to do this several times to get it the way I wanted, but it was fairly easy. Then I sprayed the bomb with the color that I wanted for the whole. When you take the tape off, you have a nice spiral of yellow on an otherwise black and white bomb.

You can also use the graphic arts tape to make thin lines on the body of the plane. First you put the g/a tape down where you want a line to go. Use this to put larger pieces of masking tape down on both sides of the g/a tape. When you lift the g/a tape, you will have a nice clean line to airbrush.

I saw a picture in a book on airplane markings that I rather liked. It showed a somewhat irregular three-color scheme designed to confuse the outline of the plane. I wanted to do a similar scheme in the three-color mode, but I did want a softer outline. First I painted the pieces that were to be white while they were still on the plastic sprews (tabs). You need to do most of the assembly to get a camouflage scheme to work. I did this covering up the things that I didn’t want painted such as the black around the canopy. Next I mixed up the dark blue and the blue gray using white, black and blue. The airbrush is a very stingy tool in many ways, and as such you don’t have to make a lot of the specialty paint. Usually 1/2 oz. is enough. In this case it was easier to hold the plane by the jet exhaust holes. I hadn’t put in the afterburners, as they were a different color. It is best to have an easily moved model to continue the camouflage effect. First spray the light gray and next the dark blue gray. With some practice on controlling the airbrush, you will find that you don’t need to mask off the bottom of the plane.

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NOTES: You may want to have a clean, well-ventilated area to work in. The airbrush does tend to kick up dust and sawdust. These things seem to find their way right to a freshly painted area. I also find that it is easy to put down a sheet of paper to work on, mostly because it makes parts easier to find. Even if you have a well-ventilated area, you will want to have a trashcan with a liner and an overspray eliminator. These will allow you to get rid of excess paint without a lot of sloshing in a sink. I also find that a squeeze bottle and a pointed tip are very useful for getting paint out of your airbrush.

Of the things that I recommend highly, at the top of the list is the Iwata Eclipse series of airbrushes. I use Iwata brushes in some of my other work so I was familiar with the high-end Micron brushes. I got to use an Eclipse and found it to be a superior workhorse for the thicker model airplane paints. I was using an Eclipse C for this project, which is a gravity fed brush that can use just a little bit of paint or a large amount of paint.

Sometimes you may want to mix up just a pinch of paint to do a special area. Use a Q-tip to dip into your paint bottle and squeeze the paint out on the side of the color cup. This will save time and paint. Because of its relatively simple design, the Eclipse is a snap to clean up with a pipe cleaner and Q-tip. If you are using a lot of a color--such as white--the siphon fed brushes are a better deal; but if you do paint a lot of different colors, you will find the gravity fed brush a more useful tool.

I am using a Great White Shark compressor from Medea. This may be too much for most people, and a smaller compressor will be better for general use. Any of the water- based acrylics work well with airbrush. They may need to be thinned slightly for easier application, but on the whole they are a tremendous improvement over the solvent-based paint.

All and all, I think that for today’s modeler, an airbrush is fast becoming the tool of choice.

...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.


A High School Airbrush Program

by Debbie Eastlack

(Click here to see the High School Airbrush Program's Artwork)

I have had the pleasure of teaching airbrush painting to high school students for six years. Painting with an airbrush holds an acute fascination for teenagers, and as a result, the airbrush classes have become one of the most popular electives offered at our school. Students who have never set foot in an art room before are drawn to try their hand at airbrushing. Often spurred by the success of their peers, many students discover hidden artistic talents that they were unaware that they had.

Students frequently bring their friends in after school to show off work in progress that they are particularly proud of. Public displays of student airbrush work always elicit a tremendous response from parents, administrators, board members, other students, and even art teachers from other school districts. Many students have found work using their airbrush skills to paint T-shirts, cakes, murals, faces, tattoos, signs, surfboards, musical instruments, autos, motorcycles, and even commissioned fine art. Students have been extremely successful in competition with airbrushed entries, winning scholarships, cash, and awards, not to mention the recognition that comes with being a winner. Several students have gone on to study illustration in college, motivated by the success of their airbrushed illustrations in class. Student success generates support for the airbrush program and for the art department in general.

Our school offers two one-semester courses in airbrush - Beginner and Advanced. The beginner course offers students the opportunity to learn airbrushing skills for freehand applications such as T-shirt painting and illustration skills for fine art or commercial applications. A myriad of techniques and technical information is presented, which allows students to have a solid foundation for just about any application they choose to pursue. Students learn the basics of airbrush operation using Iwata Eclipse airbrushes on sheets of pellon. They do what must seem like endless freehand drill work and learn to use all of the Artool Freehand Shields before progressing to painting a T-shirt. Most students choose to paint portraits or animals, and many achieve levels of quality closely rivaling the professionals.

After painting freehand T-shirts, we move on to explore illustration techniques using Iwata HPC's and ComArt Paints. Students appreciate the fact that they are using quality equipment and materials and are aware that many of the professionals that they admire use the same airbrush and paints. We learn various masking techniques such as frisket, liquid frisket, acetate, and cut paper and further refine the use of our Artool Freehand Shields. We learn to achieve textures and special effects such as fabric, wood, chrome, liquid, stone, clouds, smoke, fire, hair, fur, and marble. We learn to layer transparent ComArt colors, using erasers and scratching with knives to push and pull color from the surface of the illustration board to create textures. Using photographic reference, students render subjects of their choice for a final illustration project. I encourage them to shoot their own photographic reference, if possible, or alter photographic material found in books or magazines; and to encourage originality and creation of their own "vision," I do not allow students to copy other artist’s work.

Many students choose to continue into the Advanced Airbrush class, where application of airbrush painting is the focus. Students are given assignments that they must complete using an airbrush for major portions of the work. I encourage them to incorporate other art tools and media as well - colored pencils, brushwork, markers, Xerox transfer - whatever works to complete the desired result in the most effective way. Competition entries become assignments for Advanced Airbrush classes, and I am proud that we have always had at least one student receive an award in every competition we have ever entered. Many times we have had multiple award winners in the same competition. This phenomenon has even prompted press coverage about the airbrush classes and their "amazing" artwork.

Students learn to SEE in an entirely new way after having the experience of creating airbrushed art. They are much more adept at evaluating quality in painting (airbrushed or traditional brush) because they have had to become aware of color, value, texture, hard and soft edges, and composition.

Our school is located in a beach resort area where local T-shirt shops and airbrushed murals abound. It has been gratifying to me to hear students evaluating the work of other artists. Even if students never use an airbrush again after walking out of my classroom (although most do!), they have gained valuable insight into the process of creating art and can make informed judgments on art they see in the world around them. They have also acquired a marketable skill. Not every kid (or adult) on the block can paint with an airbrush - so it makes him or her feel special and contributes to self-esteem. Regardless of level or skill, I try to make sure that all students have success. I avoid painting on their work; if I need to show students how to do something on their art, I paint on a piece of acetate or Mylar laid over top. This way they retain "ownership" of their work, and they learn more effectively than if I painted their pieces for them.

Airbrushing is an exciting discovery for most students, and their enthusiasm makes my job easy. The airbrush classes have given a major boost to the enrollment in the art department at our school and have helped place our school "on the map" for innovative programs. Other art teachers have contacted me about setting up programs in their schools. If you would like more information, please contact me by e-mail at, or write to me at Mainland Regional High School, 1301 Oak Ave., Linwood, N. J. 08221.


New Book on Automotive Painting

Automotive Cheap Tricks and Special F/X by automotive airbrush icon Craig Fraser is the most comprehensive how-to book ever published for car "kustomizers." This unique new book guides readers through a series of full-color step-by-step drills and important technical information in a clear, easy-to-follow, and detailed format. Experts, beginners, and anyone in between can use the specialized information to master both new and time-tested painting techniques. Topics include realistic granite and stone f/x, wood graining techniques, marbleizing and cut marble finishing, graphic layout and design theory, "Hot Rod" flame layout, pin striping techniques, helmet painting, full-sized truck graphic layout, full hood mural fantasy layout, biomechanical design, chrome f/x, space, nebula and planet mural f/x, materials theory, urethane airbrushing techniques, and much more. Published by Airbrush Action, Inc. 1-800-876-2472.

Workshops and Events

Airbrush Action Airbrush Getaways:

Feb. 7 – One day classes on Intro to Airbrushing, Fingernail Airbrushing, Body Airbrushing

Feb. 8-11 – Four-day classes on T-shirt Airbrushing, Automotive Airbrushing, Signs & Custom Lettering, Canvas Airbrushing, Commercial & Technical Illustration

June 19 – One day Classes (see Feb. 7)

June 20 – Four-day classes (see Feb. 8-11)

June 23 – Annual Vargas Awards Presentation and Dinner

For reservations and details, call 1-800-232-8998.

Sign Industry Calendar:

Jan. 21-23 – New Orleans, LA - PrintImage International 2000 Mid-Winter Conference - (800) 234-0040;

Feb. 16-18 – Sewickley, PA - "Advanced Photoshop," sponsored by the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. (412) 741-6860.

March 23-25 – New York City - 58th Annual OBIE Awards Judging sponsored by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (202) 833-5566;

March 25-27 – Chicago, IL - "P.O.P. Marketplace" sponsored by Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute. (202) 530-3000.

April 27-29 – Orlando, FL - "International Sign Expo 2000" sponsored by the International Sign Association. Conferences, exhibitions and education. (703) 836-4012;




Look for the next issue of Airbrush Talk©--April 15, 2000