Volume 2, Number 2, October 2000
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Thoughts About Painting Gouache Through an Airbrush
I recently fielded a question in Airbrush Action magazine from someone who was having problems airbrushing with gouache. While the question seemed simple enough, I was a little surprised at how much information it took to respond. Lengthy as my reply became, as one avenue opened up yet another, some potentially useful points were raised which might--one of these days--be of use to you.
Gouache (pronounced "gwash") is an opaque watercolor medium that will paint beautifully through an airbrush, but there are a few unique qualities to this paint that you should bear in mind. Always insist on the finest quality materials available. I normally use Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, but have used other brands, as well. This medium is one of the most opaque paints that we can apply with the airbrush, and it will cover an existing area even quicker than opaque acrylic media. The difference here is that when dry, gouache remains water soluble, while acrylics become permanent or, in theory, at least, impervious to moisture.
Don't confuse gouache with tempera. While both are opaque water-base paints, the pigments in tempera are milled (or ground) more coarsely. If one were to spray tempera through an airbrush, it would be almost impossible to prevent the atomized pigment from air drying (turning to powder) before reaching the surface of the painting. The result: powdered, poorly adhered pigment lying on the surface of the art just begging to be damaged. My point in mentioning tempera is that, even though the pigment in gouache is ground finer (and is mixed with a small amount of gum arabic as a binder), the same adhesion problem can arise when using gouache if you're not careful.
Practice makes perfect, and I've learned the same way as everyone else--trial and error. If the surface of the gouache you've painted looks like suede or sandpaper, that surface is, indeed, very fragile. If this symptom sounds familiar, we need to discuss how to keep the pigment from air drying before it arrives onto the painting. Properly painted, the surface should resemble the smooth finish of a chalkboard.
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Painted gouache has poor adhesion and/or looks too fragile?
The problem may be the result of:
Once you have got A, B, and C in balance, you can be confident that you're painting gouache like a pro.
The artist who initially posed the question about gouache mentioned that he was painting on Strathmore 4-ply Bristol. This is a good, professional quality surface. Many airbrush illustrators paint on Strathmore 2-ply paper because, in addition to being reliable, it is flexible enough to be wrapped around a laser-scanning drum for color separations. If the art is not for reproduction, or is to be separated from a transparency or digital photography, the weight of the paper or board is simply a matter of personal preference, and 4-ply is a nice, substantial weight. I have been airbrushing on Strathmore 500 Series for years. It is acid free, 100% rag, excellent quality, and available in a variety of weights. Either the hot or cold press surfaces can be airbrushed, but I normally work on cold press (sometimes referred to as "medium surface" or "vellum surface"), which has a low, subtle tooth to the surface. As long as you aim your airbrush directly at the art, the slight tooth is not likely to alter the smooth look you may be after; and because the surface is slightly absorbent, it will give you better adhesion than a very smooth hot press surface.
Here's a hot tip: For years, airbrushers have favored Strathmore 500 Series medium surface 2 ply as an appropriate ground for art to be reproduced, but we work on the reverse side of the paper, which has a slightly lower tooth or texture than the top side, making it ideal for airbrush applications. This stock has an embossed Strathmore thistle logo in one corner allowing you to discern which side is the top or reverse. Illustrators rarely prime this surface in any way for an airbrush painting.
The inquiring artist also asked about the use of fixatives. Whenever possible, I avoid using fix, glazes, or other sealers over a finished airbrush painting rendered in gouache because the fix may change the look of the paint that I have worked so hard to achieve. For example, fixative may darken the value of one pigment, while not affecting an adjacent color. I usually just hope that my work gets scanned for reproduction before it gets mishandled. This is not to say that fixatives are never used with gouache. Sometimes necessity rules. I occasionally use Krylon Workable Fixative to seal a layer if there is a specific need, but I prefer photo retouch lacquer. The one most commonly used by professionals is Suregard Retouchable II #PL55 (formerly McDonald Protecta-cote Retouch Lacquer #951) and can often be found in photo supply outlets. Shake the can well, and if you're working in a cool studio, warm the temperature of the can up to about 70 degrees before spraying in a very well ventilated area. I spray retouch lacquer outdoors, not inside the work area of my studio.
If a glaze is necessary, a light coating of Krylon Crystal Clear sprayed directly from the can will seal and protect the painted surface and bring out the colors (darken you darks and make colors appear richer overall). Be advised that this product will put a gloss on the surface if you coat your painting heavily with it. I recommend testing on a painted swatch before taking it to your finished painting.
One last tip regarding airbrushed gouache renderings:
Gouache, as you know, is a very vulnerable surface even when painted with a brush. The surface of an airbrushed gouache painting is susceptible to skids and scratches. Should one of your paintings ever sustain a mar (skids and scratches usually show up lighter than the undamaged painted area), try spraying clean water through your airbrush--broadly, but lightly misting the affected area. After a few careful "misted" passes, the damage may magically and painlessly disappear.
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Up until this phase of my creative career, art-making for me has been more of an arena of concept than craftsmanship. Attention to detail and neat, finished work came second to the completion of original ideas. If the work was a little bit sloppy or textural, I got away with it by using "artistic license" as an excuse.
With motorcycle custom painting, my audience and clients are in search of "clean" work. I could be the most ingenious and imaginative illustrator out there, but if my airbrush work looks like it has been sprayed with a "sputtery" gun or my colors look a bit bland, I'm not going to get anywhere in this business. Such is the case with one client in Rocky Point, NY.
In the past several years, I've made some really good contacts in the Queens and Long Island area painting motorcycles. I could bang out some impressive paintings in very little time and deliver within a week's time. My forte has been illustrations rather than graphics for the simple reason that graphics demands a true discipline for neatness and extreme mechanical control--something I detested from the start. In fact, I hoped never to have a client ask me for any pin striping or flame jobs because it would ask me to go through the pains of reaching for "perfection."
Perfection is not a child of art, but of science. It requires the steadiest hand, the cleanest work ethics, and the highest quality equipment. One's eye must discern all flaws meticulously as opposed to the flight into creativity and aesthetics. My comrades in the field have convinced me that there are artists, designers, and technicians. They say that it is smarter for an artist to have a team of specialists than to learn the hard way.
Certainly coming home from a two-hour ride to my client in Rocky Point with the same graphics paint job that I had to re-touch (severely) was a valuable lesson (and an expensive one). To discern when to be an artist and when to be a scientist was a humbling tap to my ego.
Just because I was using Iwata airbrushes doesn't mean that I was using them correctly. I confess that I WAS the biggest slob when it came to cleaning them. The client saw some embarrassing spatters on the graphics where his eye was expecting to see it smoothly blended and calmly asked me to "retouch it." When you go through the steps of clear coating and buffing a paint job, it's a much more expensive job than most people think.
I came home and immediately took apart my entire airbrush collection down to the valve spring. It was there that I faced the woes of my bad habits. I chose Iwata for its capabilities to spray the finest mist, but I also discovered that when paint is caked up in the barrel, you might as well be using a Windex bottle to paint with. I could no longer press the trigger of my HP-B (detailing gun) because the valve was so clogged, and my Eclipse needle was also quite the sight. I inspected my entire system and also discovered a virtually undetectable air leak in the hose that gave me an odd pressure reading in the PSI gauge.
Days later, I re-delivered the work perfect. I was quite proud of myself and maintained my integrity with that shop. Not only did I impress the client with my quality guarantee, but I also received three other clients immediately after. Gone are the days of shortcut cleaning.
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I enjoy creating what is commonly referred to as "pinup art" or "good girl art." I have 50 Vargas and Petty pinups displayed in my home. I like pinup art so much that I researched how they were done, copied the "masters," and after years of creating my own, I can now say with a certain pride that I, too, am a pinup artist! Only I am 60 years too late to be one.
I find drawing and painting the human form extremely challenging. It will be a challenge for the rest of my life. Just as I finish one, I realize that starting anew is to start all over again. There are many variations on the proportions, perspectives and physical contours just by altering the pose in the slightest way. Facial features and expressions alone are enough to keep me drawing and experimenting for the rest of my life. Then there is the consideration of themes for the illustrations. What kind of costume or prop do I want to incorporate and why? These and many other decisions on detail open up countless variations and possibilities that I can have fun with while creating my pinups.
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I paint pinups because I really like them and want to create my own with the same type of look and feel as the pinup art of the 30's and 40's. I can¹t afford an original Petty or Vargas, so I paint my own. For me it was never about recreating today's woman or "the Varga Girl of the nineties." I was trying to emulate and carry on the tradition of pinup art and I wanted my work to look nostalgic. As I create a pinup, I ask myself "What would Petty do with this theme or costume if he were alive today?"
If you like pinup art and want to create your own then do it because you like the look, the subject matter and the process. Don't do it because you think this is the hottest trend and it will make you a lot of money. Chances are it won't. Back when pinup art was the hot publishing commodity, there were still only a handful of artists who were earning a wage doing so and that only lasted until Hugh Hefner reinvented what pinup was. And if you call yourself a "pinup artist," be prepared to accept the perceived limitation of your capabilities. Some won't realize that you can paint something else because, as they see it, a "pinup artist" can only paint girls.
The painted pinup art form all but died many decades ago but has since been resurrected by quite a few artists. This type of art is being appreciated again, just as it was when Esquire and True Magazine were publishing them.
Pinup Art and airbrush templates have a related history. In my research of how my favorite pinup artists worked, I found that both George Petty and Alberto Vargas not only used the airbrush, but also utilized what they called loose masking templates or "shields." I created my own hand-held acetate shields by cutting random curves from acetate. I'm able to quickly mask off an area and airbrush the form or cast shadows, and this aids in giving the figure depth and dimension. The features are slowly sculpted with an airbrush such as an Iwata Custom Micron, and the use of one or a few of these shields helps to define muscle tone or cast shadows. If I want a hard shadow, I hold the shield with the appropriate curve close to the surface; if it is to be a soft shadow or subtle curve of the anatomy, and then I hold my shield with some distance from the surface and spray my paint upon the painting with the shield blocking some of the spray. The area blocked will still receive some overspray and this will give the form a soft edge. It takes practice but you will find that it is a quick study. These shields help to speed your work some and keep you from having to cut frisket film to protect areas from receiving sprayed paint or accidental overspray.
Manufactured templates have been around for quite some time, but they were usually made of thick plastic and were too rigid for any real airbrush use. When I discovered ARTOOL manufacturing flexible random curves (that they called freehand shields) I was very excited. Today you can find my own personal custom curves reproduced in the FH-10 Pinup Shield manufactured by them. It features all of the curves that I find useful in masking off parts of the anatomy when airbrushing. By all means, if you find these shields useful I would recommend that you buy them all. I have found the shields designed by Andrea Mistretta to be invaluable in the production of my pinup art as well!
Although there isn't a lot of money to be made creating pinups, in our generation they are still desirable among pinup enthusiasts and collectors. However, I create pinup girls for me and if others like them, then I suppose that makes me quite a successful pinup artist!
The Airbrush and Decorative Stenciling
There is no other artists' tool that can equal the even, multi-colored tone that an airbrush can create. Any airbrush, from economy to professional quality, is capable of rendering subtle gradations of tone and color nearly effortlessly. Color tones are actually thousands of minute droplets that are broadcast by the airbrush over a specific surface. Individually, these droplets would scarcely be visible, but in large numbers they form a "dusting" of color. In the process, these droplets create unique, edgeless, velvet-smooth tones.
One application of the airbrush--not commonly explored by artists--is decorative stencil work. Stencil designs can be applied in many environments from office to home, but most specifically, it is the quality of tone, the speed with which the work can be completed, and the subtle tone variances that make the teaming of airbrush and stencils so outstanding.
Any airbrush can be used. There are many models available and each offers different features. One low cost airbrush (single action) uses a siphon feed mechanism and small jars, so quantity of paint available from the jar is its strong suit. Another uses different tips or orifices on the tips to create different patterns. Others use small cups so color changes can happen quickly. Select the one that best meets your current and long-term needs.
There are a few tips that can assure complete success. The first would be to experiment with whatever style of airbrush you buy before you start your project. Learning to control the airbrush spray pattern, fluidity, and density are paramount to good results and mean a far greater degree of comfort in the task. Frankly, a single color can be used with incredible results. Darkening the edges of your open stencil areas, using soft tones to impart the look of concave or convex shapes, or adding simple hand-painted curlicues and pizzazz to your finished work can make a single color look exceptional.
When you abandon one color in favor of multiple tones, you automatically open huge vistas of creativity. First, you create a near limitless range of colors to complement every décor situation. And, secondly, you get to experience the interaction of color - what happens when one color is applied over (or under) a second. Different tones can be used to add dimension to shapes, and that is an important element in stencil work. Some stencil patterns seem to leap off the wall (table, etc.). These are the patterns with good shading, strong darks and lights and eye-catching coloration.
You could use commercially manufactured stencils or create an original stencil. If single use is all that is required, you can cut your design from card stock or file folder material. If multiple use of the design is expected, you might want to create your master stencil from Mylar or a heavy stencil type of vinyl material. You can carefully cut all these materials with a stencil knife.
Planning the design is important. The easiest way to create designs with stencils is to cut separate stencils for every color you want to use. This eliminates the problem of lost detail. If you want to create a design with a single-stage stencil, you must remember to leave interior detail attached to the stencil paper/Mylar or the shape will simply read as a solid area of color. And don't forget to add hand- painted finishing touches to your design, perhaps a bit of script brush work, or spots of detail applied with a fine paint brush. These small brush strokes elevate a simple design to new heights and add personality and individuality to your work. Additionally, shadows used with stencil designs can add an element of depth and dimension. Unlike other painting methods, with airbrush, the shadows can be added after the design is completed because application can be very strictly controlled.
The paints you use could be special airbrush acrylic paints, or many artists/designers use a variety of liquid acrylic, as long as it has the correct viscosity. Some airbrushes have small siphon filters to eliminate clogs, making it less likely that clogging will occur.
Holiday Project: Poinsettia Blossom Canvas Placemat/Floor Cloth
Create a single stage stencil of a poinsettia blossom by cutting the shapes from card stock. Cut the petal, stem, leaves and center shapes as individual openings that have some amount of card stock between each shape.
Apply a snowy white base coat to the placemat/floor cloth (one to two coats). Using red color, airbrush medium coverage over the blossom openings. Change to a softer, somewhat rosy tone. Add that tone to the center areas of each petal in the blossom, especially those that would indicate the top petals or those closest to an imagined light source. Allow a small amount of the pinkish red tone to spray where the green leaves and stem will be and a very small amount where the center shapes have been created. This rosy tone will mix with the green (stems and leaves) and yellow (centers) to make the entire blossom seem more natural. Now apply the green tone to the leaves and stem. Allow a bit of the background color to show through, especially on the center area of the stem (representing a round shape). Mask off the blossom area and apply yellow to the center of the blossom. Perhaps a bit of yellow might be allowed to accent the leaves or petals as a highlight. This also helps make the image more natural. Finish with a script brush, adding wisps of color like "sprigs" from the center of the blossom and maybe a few specks of white as accent on the blossom center and a few on the leaves for just a little pizzazz!
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For the past 15 years I've made a living as an illustrator, specializing in cartoon characters. I've worked as a freelancer with companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera and their characters. (I don't mean the art directors and staff, I mean the familiar cartoon characters that you see everyday on clothing, toys, packaging, and television.) In this case my job is to create exact replicas of each licensed character, (Mickey, Minnie, Bugs Bunny etc.) without changing any of their predetermined attributes. Throughout the years, I've managed to take the discipline and precision required to draw and render licensed characters to design and develop original characters. This is the first of a series of articles regarding the world of licensed and original characters.
As with any foray into all aspects of the art world, I knew that I had to have a good (great) portfolio. If I wanted to work with licensed characters, I had to show samples of characters that were accurately rendered or "on model." I spent a great deal of time developing pieces for my portfolio, demonstrating to clients that I was capable of doing this type of work.
I Got the Job - Now What?
When I get an assignment for a licensed character, I know that I'm going to need some reference materials. This is usually in the form of "model sheets" which are examples of the character in a front, side and ¾ view, and are usually accompanied by several views of the character in a variety of poses and facial expressions. Many times the clients will provide model sheets. If not, model sheets can be found in books about the characters, or possibly on the Internet. It doesn't matter how you find them; you simply must have the proper reference to get the character just right. The art director will insist that you maintain the integrity of the character.
Maintaining Character Integrity
Since each character is unique, you must get to know the character you are drawing. Believe me, the art director does. Each character has physical attributes assigned to him/her that allow him/her to move, bend and stretch, or have extreme facial expressions. Each character also has a personality all his/her own that dictates what he/she would or would not do. It would be wrong to show Minnie Mouse holding a bloody knife with a crazed look in her eye, while many other characters such as Ren or Stimpy would look completely natural in that same situation.
Along with the model sheets, you'll need to know the color call outs of the character you are rendering. Each color that makes up a character such as Bugs Bunny or Winnie the Pooh is very specific and must be followed exactly. You'll need to match these colors to the Pantone Matching System (PMS) -- the universal color matching code. You can buy a Pantone Color Selector at any art store.
Building Good Characters
Dealing with the confines of working with licensed characters prepared me when creating original characters, as I apply the same rigorous standards to both. The art director depends on me to bring her/his vision into reality. Many times this character is representing a product or service. If a teddy bear is on the front of a cereal box, he is selling the cereal. He's got to have the right appeal for the kids by being cool and fun, and he must demonstrate a sense of integrity and honesty that will make mom or dad feel good about purchasing the product. Personally, I love this aspect of the business, as it feels as though I am breathing life into these little guys. And the money's not bad either!
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One of the fun parts about being a figure and sci-fi modeler is getting to go to shows in different parts of the country. The best West Coast show I have been to is the Mad Model Party at the Pasadena Convention Center. This year, it was held on July 8-9.
New to Mad Model Party this year was the education program of demos and Make-N-Takes that I coordinated. Anyone attending the show on either day could learn new modeling techniques at the demos or try something new at the Make-N-Takes. Two of the Make-N-Takes offered landscape pieces from Woodland Scenics and injection model kits from Polar Lights. But the most popular Make-N-Take was the Airbrush Test Drive sponsored by Medea/Artool, and Soaring Eagle Artist Group.
At the Airbrush Test Drive, participants got to use Iwata Eclipse HP-C airbrushes and ComArt Transparent Paints at no charge. Mark Krabbenhoft of Soaring Eagle Artist Group created an original bust of a grinning, toothy troll called "Say Cheese." The bust made its premier at Mad Model Party 2000. Thirty attendees airbrushed one of the signed and numbered original pieces with the paints and equipment provided by Iwata/Medea and Artool. There were people of all ages and skill levels having a blast with this opportunity!
The built-in gravity feed cup of the Eclipse HP-C made it easy for the first-time airbrushers to change colors. Once the cup was empty, a quick rinse with cleaner and they were ready for the next color. Some participants had the patience to learn the use of Iwata's variable air valve. This gives the artist the capability of controlling the working pressure at the trigger. True, it would be difficult for a new airbrusher to master the finer aspects of the Iwata Eclipse in 40 minutes. But they got a good taste of the equipment, nonetheless.
From an instructor's point of view, the Eclipse was a dream. I have conducted many such events with other manufacturers' products. This was my first Make-N-Take with Iwata. In total, over both days of MMP, I probably spent less than three minutes helping participants with fussy equipment. This is at least a ten-fold decrease in such lost time when compared to the equipment I have used at other events.
The Smart Jet compressors were a big hit. also. Many people commented on how quietly they run. This was a welcome change for me, also. At most of the other events I have done, we used a large compressor with a storage tank that was very noisy. I was very happy to use good, quiet equipment, as were the neighboring vendors at the show. Besides the low noise level, the Smart Jet works well, too. Working pressure is about 20 lbs. with the valve on the moisture trap completely closed. This compressor is the perfect companion to a double action airbrush with a variable air valve.
The transparent paints were new to me, also. Unlike opaque paints, the goal is to apply successive thin layers, NOT to cover the piece. It isn't too difficult to get stunning results by applying thin layers of the paints. Mark gave me an extra "Say Cheese" to paint up before I left for Pasadena. As this was my first attempt with transparent paints, my hand turned out to be too heavy. The end result was a collection of rather heavy layers, leaving my troll looking rather dark. Some of the nicer pieces done by MMP Test Drive participants had several thin layers. The trick to using these paints, I have learned, is to have a light touch. It would also help to learn which colors would give you the desired end result when layered. Fortunately, this sounds like a practice thing to me! ComArt's choice of packaging gets an "A." The dropper twist-open caps make it very easy to precisely control the amount of paint going into the cup. It also makes cleaning the lip of the container and using channel lock pliers to open gummed-up lids a thing of the past.
That was a great weekend for me. One of the high points was doing the Airbrush Test Drive. I also learned that many figure modelers already know how good Iwata airbrushes are because they use them themselves. It was nice to be able to introduce others to them. I also learned a lot about the ComArt Transparent Paints from watching the color combinations chosen by some of the participants. Plans are already being made for next year's Mad Model Party. It's going to be a good one. Hope to see you there!
Credits and Contact Information
Special thanks to Allen Cornwell and Kenny Kim of the Gremlins in the Garage figure modeling Internet community. Thanks also to my sons, Gary and Andy, for coming along and helping out. Success is only as great as the team that does the job. You guys were fantastic!!! Thanks also to Jim Bertges, Joe Graziano, Fred DeRuvo and Mike and Cindy Morgan of Modeler's Resource Magazine for presenting some of the demos.
Mad Model Party
Mike Stannard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
20th Century Productions (http://www.primenet.com/~toyriffic)
PO Box 2037
San Bernardino, CA 92406
Soaring Eagle Arts Group (http://www.soaringeaglearts.com/
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Environmental Lighting Concepts
1214 West Cass Street
Tampa, FL 33606
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Great American Art Event 2000
Sponsored by Pearl Art and Craft
Huntington Hilton, Melville, NY
November 17 and 18
The following are included among the tuition-paid airbrush workshops to be offered at the Ninth Annual Art Event:
Basic Airbrush Fundamentals - Pamela Shanteau
The Airbrush Applied - Pamela Shanteau
Temporary Tattoo and Body Art Application - Pamela Shanteau
National Model & Hobby Show
Rosemont Convention Center,
The largest U.S. model hobby show will include nearly 400 exhibitions. Trade Show: Oct. 19 and 20; Public Days: Oct. 21 and 22.
The Hobby Show
International Centre, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Look for the next issue of AirbrushTalk©--January 15, 2001