Volume 2, Number 3, January 2001
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There are a number of ways to establish your drawing on the working surface of your choice (paper, illustration board, canvas, mural, etc.) before beginning your airbrush painting. Often the nature of each individual project will give you clues as to which method is most appropriate. If you consider the various options before diving in, you may save yourself a little agony and wind up with a more professional looking end result.
One of the easiest ways to get your drawing down onto the surface to be painted is to project either your preliminary drawing or your actual photographic reference onto the surface using an opaque projector in a darkened room. Many excellent projectors are available from a variety of manufacturers. Artograph offers a broad assortment of models for artists.
I prefer, whenever possible, to shoot my own photographic reference for my illustration assignments. Some illustrators prefer to act as a director and have a professional photographer shoot their reference. For quick reference (for jobs such as comprehensive art, storyboards, photo indications, etc.) we often shoot Polaroids. When better reference is required, I generally shoot a roll of 35mm, which I have printed up within the hour. When even crispier reference is critical, I shoot 35mm slides and project them onto my working surface with a slide projector. Slide film will hold at least a couple more stops worth of information than photographic prints, and when projected using a conventional slide projector, slides give you probably all the information you could ask for. When working from slides, I usually visit a copy center for a laser copy of the slide(s) to use as reference once the actual painting process begins. Those of you with digital cameras can project a printed out image using an opaque projector.
I usually draw the image lightly in graphite, but there are times when establishing a drawing in color (using non-waxy hard to medium-hard color pencils such as Berol Verithin, Faber Castell Col-erase, or Rexel Cumberland's Derwent Studio pencils) may be more appropriate. If you are working from a photo, always edit the information to your advantage. That is, only include the aspects of the reference photography that work for you. Don't be afraid to "improve" on your reference, and don't be a "slave" to whatever information is presented in your photo.
For a couple of reasons, most professional illustrators do not project the initial reference, but prepare a "pencil tissue" (graphite drawing on tracing paper). Most projects require approval from the art director before painting may begin. The drawing is normally faxed or e-mailed to the client for approval. So, a pencil tissue is a natural starting point for most illustrations, whether in airbrush or other media.
Another reason for establishing your drawing first on tracing paper is that the actual surface to be painted remains pristine until you are ready for it. Excessive handling of and making repeated erasures upon the actual surface (or any other violations of the surface) can lead to unfortunate results once the painting process finally begins. Establishing the drawing on paper first allows you to change the composition or any aspect of the image to your heart's delight without jeopardizing the surface to be painted. And then, of course, there are those pesky revisions asked for by that fussy art director client of yours, as well.
So, now your drawing is fine-tuned. How do you get it onto the surface you intend to paint? If the drawing is the same scale as the intended scale of the painting, we're off and running. (Of course, if you are using an opaque projector, a drawing or reduced photocopy of the drawing can be projected at this point.) Sometimes, I prepare a drawing smaller than the actual painting scale (such as a project that requires a lot of perspective plotting, for example), in which case I simply enlarge the drawing up to the appropriate scale on a copy machine, even if I have to piece it together. (My in-studio copier doesn't accept larger stock than 11x17, but a copy center can make larger proofs for you.)
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--A graphite transfer sheet may be placed between the tissue drawing and your working surface, and the drawing retraced with a sharp, hard pencil to apply the drawing to the surface to be painted. (I usually use a 4H lead or harder.) Assuming that you taped the tissue drawing down to your working surface at the outset, periodically check the transferred image as you work to make sure you are getting the quality and density of line you want--and to make sure you haven't overlooked some critical detail. This process may seem tedious to you, but I consider this transfer phase of an illustration project one last chance to perfect the drawing. I only transfer the linear info I need to get the painting done. There is often more complete information on my pencil tissue than what I actually transfer to the illustration surface. Although I make my own transfer sheets using graphite and tracing paper (sheets which can be used over and over) commercially available sheets such as those made by Saral work well, too. The Saral transfer sheets come in colors, as well.
--Another method is to thoroughly coat the back of your drawing with graphite before retracing to make your transfer. A graphite stick will coat faster than any ol' soft pencil. This method usually gives you a crisper transferred line than the transfer sheet method, because you are tracing through only one layer of paper.
--Occasionally I draw an image flopped (mirror image), or if the project is symmetrical enough to be right reading when viewed either way, I simply draw the image at working scale using a soft graphite pencil. Turn the tissue over so that the drawing side is down to the illustration surface and burnish the tissue (using a flat, plastic burnisher) to transfer the drawing. This is a timesaver, because no tedious retracing is required.
--Let's say that your initial masking will be done with frisket film and you want no drawing at all on the actual surface to be painted. You have two choices. You can either transfer your drawing to the surface of matte finish frisket film using a transfer sheet or the graphite coating method described above; or even easier, if you executed your pencil tissue with a reasonably soft pencil, adhere your frisket film directly to your drawing on tracing paper. If you burnish the frisket film down with the heel of your hand, the graphite drawing will adhere to the tacky side of the frisket. Now, separate the frisket film from the tissue and stick it down to your working surface, and you're all set to cut your windows and begin painting.
--If I am going to paint on paper (Strathmore 2-ply or thinner material) I often photocopy my original drawing onto tracing paper. This gives me a black line on a translucent material. I place the copy on a light table, tape down the paper I intend to paint upon on top, turn the light on, and I can see through both well enough to trace my final drawing onto the actual working surface.
--I frequently paint upon photostats using Com-Art Transparent acrylics and other media. By photostat, I do not mean a copy from a photocopy machine, but a velox print or a PMT (photomechanical transfer, also known as a direct positive). This is a print (a line shot of my drawing) on photographic paper. The paper is very smooth and works well for airbrush applications.
--I occasionally proof a drawing to an appropriate paper surface using a photocopy machine. Use your head, and if you're doing this for the first time, experiment to make sure this method will work for the project at hand. Remember that if frisket film is to be used, some of the photocopied toner will probably be lifted off when the frisket film is pulled up. A drawing proofed on a photocopier will, of course, be black. Too dark for your taste? Either make a new copy using the "photo" setting, or use your airbrush to fog a light coat of gesso over the surface of the photocopy to subdue (ghost) the value of the proofed line drawing. Be sure you don't let gesso dry in your airbrush, though! I just completed a series of illustrations using this method to proof my drawings onto LetraMax 2000 Premium Ruling Bristol. I have an illustrator friend who regularly proofs his drawings onto colored Canson paper when he doesn't care to work against a white surface.
--A drawing can be applied to the surface of your choice by photomechanical means. This method is called "guideline process," and with a little research on your part, you may be able to find a repro or blueprint house that is still willing (in the age of high tech) to photosensitize your working surface and burn your drawing photographically, thus eliminating any painstaking tracing. If you are not an illustration professional, you probably never heard about this method, but it has been used extensively over the years by artists who do covers for comic books and artists who tackle complicated, highly technical subject matter that would take days to transfer by hand.
--I have worked with illustrators who used the "Xerox transfer method" of releasing the toner of a drawing proofed as a photocopy (laid face down on the working surface) using solvents or solvent-based marker blenders. Except for special effects, I rarely use this method, as I find it a bit too sticky to control in terms of the quality of the transferred image.
--Own a reproduction camera? Since I discussed a photomechanical method, you may be interested to know that there was once such a thing as photosensitive frisket film. It was made by Agfa, but is no longer produced. This easy cutting, low tack film called CP Frisket (short for Copy Proof) is exposed and processed the same way, and using the same chemistry, as for film positives or PMT prints. It, of course, eliminates the need for any hand transferring, and I have used this material on numerous jobs. Great stuff, but hard to find. Since this material is out of production, I only mention it because if you are able to find a supplier who still has a stash of Agfa CP Frisket and you have the means to work with it, I would advise snatching it up.
Well, airbrushers, there you go--another "Cacy's Corner." Yes, there are even more ways to get a drawing down onto the board before you turn your air on, but maybe one of the methods explained here will come in handy on that offbeat job just around the corner.
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Imagine trying to brush an even gradation of color over a large piece of greenware or plaster. There is virtually no way to blend the colors by brush to create a subtle change from one tone to another. Brush strokes show, colors intermingle and when multiple layers of glaze or paint are needed, there can be the added challenge of keeping the colors true.
With airbrush application, all those challenges are eliminated. After certain preliminary steps are completed, airbrush application of glazes or paints can be very fast and give superb results.
With ceramics, the most important element is preparation of the surface. Prior to airbrushing, be diligent in creating a smooth, clean, dust-free surface onto which to apply glaze. If the piece is a hand thrown work, all trimming should be completed and surface imperfections should be smoothed before application of the glaze. If the work is cast greenware, extra care should be given to all seam lines and joints--any roughness of the surface where collections of clay exist. Scraping with a knife blade/scraper and then sanding is the most expedient way to remove all excess. After scraping and sanding, use a soft cloth to remove all dust from the surface. Fire appropriately for bisque. After bisquing, the work is ready to glaze.
Plaster works are handled in much the same way. Sand all lumps, bumps, and casting seams that are visible. The smoother your work is before you apply paint, the better the item will look once the paint is applied. Scotch cloths (household cleaning pads) make great sanders. For extra fine surfaces, complete the sanding/refining process with an emery cloth. Be sure to wipe the piece down with a soft rag to remove all dust before airbrushing.
Many ceramists prefer to apply a base coat over which other glazes are applied. This affords a uniform foundation for the glazes to "rest" upon. During the firing of the pottery/ceramics, the two layers work together to form an even tone. A strong base coat of white or cream for light clay bodies is advisable. For dark clay bodies, a brown or gray base works best. Avoid excessive application of the base coat because heavy layers can shift during the firing cycle and cause colors to run.
Plaster finishing works best when a base coat is used, with colors applied over the base. If you are using light tones on the finished work, use a light base coat. Using a medium to dark tone as the base strengthens dark tones. Uniform application of the base coat prevents absorption of subsequent colors into the porous surface of the plaster. Once the base coat is applied, it prepares the surface, and even the lightest whisper of paint will be visible on the surface. Airbrush any clear acrylic sealer over the surface for durability.
Many tones can be added, one over the other. Each minute droplet will blend with all the other droplets to create a cloud of color. It is often surprising what happens when colors interact. For instance, clear red airbrushed over a medium blue yields a field of mingled purple. Sometimes the order in which colors are applied creates new and unexpected tones and hues. Keep a journal of all unexpected results. It can help you recreate them at will.
Here are a few tips that will help you succeed with airbrushing clay or plaster:
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--Avoid handling the pieces once they are prepared and ready for glazing or painting.
--Don't use hand lotions while handling the art items. Fingerprints that contain oil/lotion may act as a resist, preventing the glaze or paint from adhering to the surface.
--Once a piece of ceramics is airbrushed with a glaze coat, avoid touching it. Your fingerprints will lift off the powdery surface and cause an interruption in the color. The best way to handle the items once they are glazed is to lift them with special tongs that have rigid wire jaws. Only the points of the tongs touch the glazed surface, causing no disturbance of the glaze. Load the kiln using these same tongs. Fire the glazed ceramic piece as soon after airbrushing as possible.
--Paint the surface of clean, dust-free plaster as soon after sanding as possible. Before painting, repair surface pits and holes with a mixture of plaster dust and white glue.
--Thick glazes are not suitable for airbrush application. Beginner's airbrushes, those with glass jars and single action operation, often have a large enough orifice to facilitate spraying a glaze of cream consistency.
(For dried/silk flowers - not designed to hold water)
Scrape and sand the entire surface of the vase or jar. Sand with fine sandpaper or use a Scotch cloth (plastic sandpaper) to create a super smooth surface, free of lumps, ridges or casting marks. Wipe away all dust from the surface with a soft cloth. (Dust it again just before you apply the paint.) Apply a base coat. Light base coats are suggested when you want to use light to medium colors. Medium to dark base coats are suggested for dark colors. Use from 2 to 4 layers of base color. You want a super-smooth foundation. Apply your colors over the base. Gradations of dark at the base to light at the lip are very effective, but any combinations are good. Airbrush with stencils for repetitious designs. Seal the surface with an acrylic medium to create a lasting finish.
To help keep the application even, use an inexpensive kitchen turntable to rotate the jar as you airbrush. And remember to paint the foot of the jar as well for the perfect finishing touch.
Great drawings don't just happen. They are a result of planning, editing and refining. Over the years I have developed a process that allows me to transform a good idea into the great drawing that the client is anticipating. This strategy entails creating a drawing in five steps, each time taking the best lines and reworking the others until I get a clean, polished, professional image.
Use a piece of 8-1/2x11 bond paper to start the sketch. Recycled paper from the copy machine works well. You'll have plenty of this paper on hand because part of this process is using the copy machine to adjust the size of the images.
Divide the page into fourths to keep the drawings small. This way there is less detail and more design. Keep the drawings loose at this point. Use lots of sketchy, expressive lines. We're hoping for happy accidents here that you'll stumble upon and then end up using. Experiment with different poses, angles, and expressions. Explore. Experiment. Do what you need to do to get what seems like the best solution. If you're not having fun, take a deep breath, relax and let your imagination go. No one sees these drawings. It's just you and the great "Muse in the Sky" messing around.
Once you have a drawing you like, enlarge it in the photocopier so it fits on an 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper. If you need to repeat this step, remember, these are quick drawings that are fun to do. Keep working at it. Don't cut yourself short at this stage.
Place a piece of tracing paper over your enlarged thumbnail. Use low-tack tape to secure the tracing paper to the bond paper. Use a "Light Blue" "color-erase" #20068 pencil or something similar.
At this point you should have lots of loose lines on your original drawing from which to choose. Editing is the key here. Don't just recreate the original drawing. Think of it as a starting point and look for ways to improve it. Periodically detach the tracing paper and move it around over the original drawing to see if you need to reposition anything. If you are doing a drawing of a person, this is a perfect time to place the head squarely on the shoulders or shorten or lengthen the legs. Continue drawing over your original. If it's not going well, rub a tissue over the tracing paper to remove some of the blue pencil. Then begin refining the drawing again.
Flip the tracing paper over and attach it to a clean piece of bond paper. You are now looking at the drawing from the back side or mirror image. This can be an amazing moment. You will really notice the imperfections by looking at the reversed drawing.
With a mechanical graphite pencil, trace the image onto the back of the tissue. Draw the lines lightly. You're still exploring and perfecting. Again, don't just trace what you see. Imagine how it could be better and draw it that way.
Once this drawing is done, flip it over. Attach it to a clean piece of bond paper. Take a tissue and rub away the blue lines from the front of the tracing paper. Now you are looking at your graphite drawing from the back, which is the original view.
Use a "2B" pencil at this point to draw over the image with bold, confident lines. Things should be looking pretty good at this point. If not, (and this often is the case) enlarge the drawing to 11x 17 and start Step 2 again. It's a good way to concentrate on detail. The bigger the drawing, the more detail can be added. Remember, good drawings take time.
For paintings, photocopy the image to the appropriate size and trace it onto your art board.
For ink drawings, place a piece of transparent medium such as vellum or heavy weight tracing paper over the image. Ink the drawing to create a finished black and white illustration that is clean, polished and professional.
Good luck and remember to have fun!
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Modelers can be different from each other in many ways. The choices that we make in what we build can set us apart from "the rest of the pack." In terms of choices, the hobby for the average modeler consists of kits with some significance in the real world (whatever that is). Usually with vehicles, common subjects include armor, military or civilian aircraft and cars. This is what you see in "bare-bones" retail settings and in the highest numbers in most hobby shops with large selections. That's what most people build so that's what's in the stores. Or is that the other way around? Shops with more divergent selections will also have kits of real space and sci-fi vehicles, figures and imported or otherwise unusual subjects.
The kits most often seen are made from molten polystyrene plastic injected under pressure into heated metal molds. The molds are expensive to make, as is the injection process itself. If the subject is under a copyright or other such restriction, permission to release the kit must be obtained through expensive licenses. For these reasons, big companies usually produce injection kits in large numbers. This also has the effect of limiting the range of subjects to those that upper management feels are most likely to appeal to the larger market.
There is a whole side to the modeling universe that most enthusiasts never get to see. Some of the characters and vehicles we grew up with on TV and in the movies have been immortalized in plastic. These kinds of kits are rarely found in shops catering only to the mainstream. Leading the pack in this area, Polar Lights/Playing Mantis/Aurora produces injection kits of entertainment themes. Some of these are reissues of the popular sci-fi and fantasy kits from the '60's and '70's. More varied in theme are the even less common kits in vinyl and resin. With the growth of the Internet, obscure and unusual kits are becoming more accessible.
Most, if not all, of the resin and vinyl kits available today can be classified as garage kits. The name comes from the small-scale operations that made kits in someone's garage when things were just getting started. Today, it's close to being an industry. A typical garage kit begins its life as a small-scale sculpture. The sculpt is used to make molds, sometimes being cut up in the process. If you know where to look, it is not difficult to find these limited issue kits of characters or vehicles from the movies, video games, comics, animation and television. The quality of the kits varies as much as the possibilities in themes. There are a few companies that are passing the test of time by making new additions to their lines and/or maintaining standards of high quality and reliable customer service.
Molds for resin kits are made from RTV silicon rubber. In simple and general terms, the sculpt/pieces are embedded half way in clay. The clay is set in the bottom of an open container. Liquid RTV is mixed and poured over the clay and pieces. Once cured, the clay is removed and the other half of the mold is made from more RTV poured on to replace the clay. The two parts of the resin are mixed, poured into the molds and allowed to cure. The parts are pulled from the molds and are, in some cases, cleaned up before the next step. A little packaging, perhaps some instructions and "wamma-jamma," and you've got a garage kit! The materials used to produce resin kits are readily available and relatively inexpensive so there are new companies coming and old ones going all the time.
Vinyl kits are a bit more involved. The molds are made by electroplating metal over a wax copy of the original. The wax is melted out and molds are cleaned up. This accounts for the lack of mold lines on vinyl kits. The individual mold cavities are welded into a pan fitted with hooks and a handle. The hooks are to hold the mold in place in a centrifuge. When filled with room temperature liquid vinyl, they are spun to drive the vinyl into all the nooks and crannies in the mold, thereby eliminating air bubbles. The pan with the molds in it is lowered into a vat of 400° liquid such as paraffin, oil or saltwater. I guess it's like making fries at McDonalds. This cooks the vinyl from the outside in. After 10 seconds or so, the pan is pulled and the remaining liquid vinyl is poured out. The mold is then put back into the hot liquid for a short time for curing. Once cured, the molds are hung on a rack and the parts are pulled out while they are still hot.
Unfortunately, the "garage kit industry" has two skeletons in its closet. These are unlicensed kits and recasts. As I mentioned earlier, many garage kits are from TV, comics and/or the movies. To issue one of these kits legally, the kit producer must purchase the rights to use the character, name, likeness and/or vehicle design from the original owner. This can be quite expensive--more expensive than the average garage kit producer can afford. This fact can drive the price of kits up beyond its already high level. There are many larger garage kit companies that buy licenses for their kits. GEOMetric Design is a good example. They also usually produce in larger numbers. There are companies that work in original concept pieces only, needing licensing from no one. In addition, there are also companies that buy the original molds and reissue kits legally.
If a kit producer with a new Batman bust, for example, fails to buy a license from DC Comics, the kit is an unlicensed production. The producer has pirated someone else's concept and used it without permission for his or her own profit. (Please keep in mind that the profits we are talking about here are usually relatively small.) The producer can be served with a cease and desist order issued by a judge at the request of the original owner. Litigation is an option, but one rarely taken. The majority of garage kits produced in the US are unlicensed.
If a different producer buys someone else's kit, licensed or not, makes his own molds and sells the castings, that producer is now considered a recaster. He or she has pirated someone else's kit and used it for his or her own profit without the permission of the original producer. It would seem like a double infraction to recast an unlicensed kit. The majority of kits produced in Asian countries other than Japan are recasts.
In all honesty, both producers have committed a crime related to intellectual theft. Regretfully, both are also integral parts of the garage kit hobby. The moral implications of the situation have caused intense feelings on all sides of the issue. The debate gets quite heated in some circles. Producers of unlicensed kits curse recasters for stealing their work. Recasters often justify themselves with the fact that most of what they are stealing is unlicensed. Since the unlicensed kit producers are also guilty, it becomes something like the pot calling the kettle black. Some say recasting is killing the hobby. Others say it is keeping it alive.
The most morally sound solution would be to buy no recasts or unlicensed kits. That would certainly limit the choices. If done on a larger scale, it would also kill many smaller garage kit operations. Unfortunately, a quick glance at the kits on the market and it is clear that most people aren't so motivated. In many cases, consumers may not know how authentic their latest purchase is.
Rumor has it that recasts are typically poorer quality and somewhat smaller than the original. I had the opportunity to compare an original with a recast of the same figure, and the two were virtually identical. Just like original kits, the quality depends on the caster's skill and dedication to quality. The packaging isn't much help either. Some original production companies spend little on their box art, and some recasters have started dressing their boxes up. If you are uncertain, ask.
So, with this in mind, I leave it to the reader to make the choices regarding recasts and unlicensed kits or any other of the multitude of modeling choices. In any event, the possibilities for painting adventures are great in the model kit universe. Enjoy the hobby. And try to remember it's just a hobby.
Special thanks to George Stevenson of GEOMetric Design for my basic education in the production of vinyl kits. If you like high quality kits with a horror theme, check out their website: GEO34@ix.netcom.com; http://www.geometricdesign.com/.
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The new Spectrum 2000 Color Changer from Silentaire Technology is a revolutionary new product for the airbrush artist. A real timesaver, this system makes it easy to change or blend colors and to create special effects. A color dial connects most bottom-feed airbrushes to the Color Changer, which holds 9 jars-8 for colors and 1 for cleaner. Any airbrush compressor or air tank is suitable as an air source. All types of paints may be used and, because the system is pressurized, they will not dry out in the jars. This product eliminates the need to have multiple bottles for color changes that often results in messy cleanup. The Spectrum 2000 provides greater convenience and will increase your productivity. See your retailer for this revolutionary new product or contact Silentaire at Silentaire@silentaire.com for further information.
Pearl Great American Art Event 2001
Ft. Lauderdale Airport Hilton
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
February 23 and 24, 2001
Come to warm, sunny Florida on the above dates to attend Pearl's first Great American Art Event at this location. A variety of workshops for all skill levels will be available at a nominal fee. There is free admission to the consumer trade show where many art supply manufacturers will be selling products at tremendous savings; and there will be free parking, hourly raffles, demonstrations and exhibitor seminars.
Among the 40 different classes to be held are "Learn to Airbrush the Fun and Easy Way," "Temporary Tattoo and Body Art Applications," and "Make Your Paintings Come Alive with Claybord Techniques" with renowned artist/instructor Pamela Shanteau. See a complete class listing at http://www.arttalk.com/workshop/workshop.htm. For information, call 305-474-7404.
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|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.|
Look for the next issue of AirbrushTalk©--April 18, 2001