Volume 3, Number 3, January 2002
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With Michael Cacy
The Sky’s the Limit!
When I sit down to write this column, I usually focus on one technique or one facet of airbrush art. This time out, I've chosen to go in a different direction.
The following commentary is not intended as an "ad" or "testimonial," but as a personal ode to an almost magical piece of equipment (a gift from the art gods) that allows me and a broad array of artists and craftspeople around the planet to do things we otherwise could not.
What an absolutely incredible tool an airbrush is! Have you ever pondered what an indispensable asset the airbrush has become for artists working in so many different pursuits? Wow! It boggles my mind. In my illustration work, alone, this metal paintbrush is an integral part of my arsenal. I've been airbrushing or, more accurately, "using" the airbrush since my teens, and I can't imagine how all that work could have been created without the luxury of pushing paint with air. The secret weapon, especially when combined with other media like watercolor (or any water-based media), oils, marker, and so much more. And on any surface. Paint applied with air makes a perfect underpainting for dry media, too, (such as pencil or pastel) because color can be put down in such a way as to avoid altering the nature of the original working surface. You can even mimic the look of the media to come later (such as laying down a tone as a fine stipple to suggest the texture of pencil rendering on a cold press surface) for the sake of continuity. Or how about the ability to alter a value, intensity, or palette by glazing color over a previously painted area?
For years, I've been called upon to execute comp art, as well as finish art. The term "comp art" is ad biz jargon for comprehensive art, which means conceptual art such as TV storyboards, photo indications, or roughs for visuals to be created later as artwork. This art (usually rendered in marker on special marker bond) is supposed to look painless and fresh. Many professional illustrators are too proud to do this type of work because it is never seen by the public, as is finished illustration art. No glory, but it pays as well as finish art (as long as you are willing to commit to short-fuse deadlines). Maybe because I started my career as a motion picture art director, I still enjoy being involved with the initial creative stages of design and advertising campaigns.
Transparent airbrush acrylics have given me an extra measure of control with marker art, exceeding the limitations of markers, while still looking consistent. In this case, I use the airbrush "secretly" so that my comp art always looks as if the imagery was created purely with marker. Art directors have even called me to ask what brand of markers I use...only to discover that I use the same brands they use. I guess the secret is out now. I'm no more a wizard than anyone else...I just cheat. I get away with similar chicanery in my watercolor paintings...and just about everything else I do, regardless of style or media.
But enough about my work. What got me thinking about this in the first place is the almost infinite world of possibility to which airbrush lends itself. Take a look at some of the unique applications for airbrush that we know about. Airbrush is used in taxidermy, cake decorating, glass and ceramic art (using oxides which become fused into the surface when fired in kilns), 3-D scale models, automotive decoration (including cycles, racing vehicles, helmets, mountain bikes, watercraft, ski mobiles, and full size buses), signage, fabric art, dolls, guitars, murals, furniture, art conservation and restoration, and on and on. Fishing lures have been painted for years with the airbrush to make them enticing to the elusive catch. An entire industry of fingernail artists has evolved over the last few years. And, not too surprisingly, we paint on flesh. There are now sophisticated body paints, cosmetics, and tattoo colors formulated especially for the airbrush. I've only used body paints at Halloween, but they're more fun than should be legal. The airbrush has been used in movie making in a number of ways. How about the amazing work of Ron Gress on the 3-D models or miniatures you saw in every flick from Star Trek, Poltergeist, and Ghostbusters to Titanic? There is amazing airbrushed fine art on metals which the artist grinds off or polishes with power tools with astounding effects that change as the light around the art changes. Airbrush art on canvas, especially in Europe, has reached a new plateau of respectability and value as fine art. And still the momentum grows.
When I teach my workshops, I often encounter people wishing to learn airbrush for unusual applications. One of my regular attendees (you know who you are) is a woman who is a former professional race car driver who now paints 50th scale metal race car miniatures of the dirt track variety that are historically correct down to the most minute detail. I can't divulge her final presentation for these models, except to say that they are actually immersed in solution (which includes specially researched "dust") inside glass domes so as to appear that they are actually in the act of racing. I've had several attendees at recent workshops that are wood turners. Now, admittedly, this is a specialized field I knew nothing about. These artisans create sizable, artistic vessels of exotic woods, which are turned on precision lathes to within a sixteenth of an inch in thickness. The vessels are then meticulously carved, drilled (with dental instruments), airbrushed, and otherwise manipulated into priceless works of art, highly sought after in the international fine art market--almost a cult following amongst collectors. I saw examples valued at over $30,000, and I recently saw a piece executed in one of our workshop classes end up in a multimillion dollar collection. Yet another of my attendees builds finely crafted custom flutes upon which he paints beautiful, intricate designs and scenes.
Well, we've seen jack-o-lanterns, shower curtains and toilet seat covers airbrushed. We've seen faux koi ponds airbrushed onto patios. I know a famous (you'd know the name) fantasy artist in Europe who airbrushes faces on river rocks...and they sell. Debbie Eastlack once airbrushed a live pony to be another animal altogether. (I think it became a flying monkey, but I'm sure I'll hear from her if that isn't quite correct.) What's next? I guess the sky is the limit. (Okay, I guess until I see someone actually airbrush upon the stratosphere, maybe the sky is the limit, but who knows? Probably someone out there working on that one right now.)
When I first picked up an airbrush as a kid, nobody could tell me exactly what it did or how to use it. That was exactly what I needed to get started, and I was very excited about the whole deal. I knew that, with a little experimentation, the airbrush could open up some new avenues. I had no idea how many. After all these years I'm still excited.
By Glenn Hetrick
(Click on Glenn's pics for a larger view.)
Hello again boils and ghouls! This time round we are going to be tackling a little more realistic-style paint job. These are arms for a shark-type demon for an episode of “Buffy” that we recently handled. They are made of foam latex and we, once again, used rubber cement-based paint for all of the work. We used a few different techniques here that I would like to share with you.
I want to start by stressing the need for reference material. I suggest getting yourself one of those folding files and tearing through all the magazines and old books that you have laying around the house first. Categorize your folder to make it easy to locate the type of picture you may be looking for at any given time and then fill that baby up! You should have everything from elephants to head wounds in there.
Focus on good, clear, close-up pictures. Include lots of shots of the skin tones of different races. (Realistic looking flesh has MANY subtle color combinations and is very difficult to master!) Also include many different types of specific animals, fish, insects, reptiles, etc. For instance, you should have at least 15 different snakes with separate color schemes and patterns.
You can use these references as a guide no matter what you are painting. Aliens and monsters almost always have human or animal color schemes and patterning in them to make them seem natural and believable. This whole reference thing may sound a bit too studious or excessive, but believe me…IT WORKS! If you don’t believe me, try painting something with a bunch of reference shots pinned up all around your work area. Now compare that paint job to something you painted previously without reference…big difference.
All right, now back to our shark arms. We used some shark-type skin and also some frog-type patterning (frog is a big favorite of mine) as a guide here. First, a base coat of our yellowish flesh was BRUSHED on using a cheap disposable chip brush. (Get them at Home Depot’s painting section.) Next, go on with that dark green color…here is the important trick to this. Define your color edges, either freehand with a really soft spray or with a piece of frisket at a distance (to create a stippled overspray line), so that you have a clear but soft edge to divide the colors. Study reference pictures to get a feel for the effect I am referring to. This edge is what will make or break the paint job; too hard will make it look fake and too soft will appear muddy and unnatural.
With your color edge defined, fill the dark areas with a BREAK UP PATTERN!!! Not solid green or brown, but use layers of green and brown in figure eight or blotchy patterns, allowing some of the base to show through in small areas. This will give it that “natural” look. Again, go to the reference pictures and look at some frog skin or other reptile examples. In very few places will you see solid color; it is almost always layers of colors that make up any given color that you perceive as a solid area. Leave the underarm base tone for now as well as the top of the bicep and some of the hand areas.
I went in and hit the plates on the knuckles and hand and the fingernails heavily while I had my dark colors loaded. Generally speaking, I keep an Iwata Eclipse loaded with one color, another Eclipse loaded with my base tone to lighten up anything that gets a little dark or needs defining, and my Iwata HP-C loaded with my third patterning or breakup color.
Now load up some brown-green and dark brown and start laying on very small spots all over the whole piece, including the underside and bicep. If you have any areas were the color edge is too drastic, break it up with spotting. Remember to make most of the spots very soft edged. Very few should be dark, solid spots. Most importantly, keep the spotting ASYMMETRICAL!!!!
It is harder than it sounds. Mother nature is not a big fan of symmetry; even though it may sometimes seem that things are symmetrical, in truth it is their subtle and balanced asymmetry that makes them look so unique, alive and real. Hit one or two areas with lots of spots and leave some areas with only one big one or none at all. For some reason, at least in my experience, my brain tends to make little clumps or piles when I try to do asymmetry.
You must keep stepping back from the work and looking at it from a distance…that is the whole trick. It often seems that you are doing a natural breakup while you are staring at the area that you are painting in, but then you step back and the whole thing looks like it is covered in polka dots! It is a necessity to force yourself to step back and away from your work OFTEN. It saves time in the end when you avoid making mistakes that have to be repainted.
Finally, hit the whole thing with a light mist of a very thinned wash of your dark green color. I mean VERY lightly and VERY thin. This will help tie all of the colors together.
Well, that’s it for me and you have some magazines to start looking through for reference shots so…until next time, STAY OUT OF THE WATER!!! (Did I mention that I am actually deathly afraid of sharks?)
AIRBRUSHING WITHOUT PAINT
by Janean S. Thompson
Airbrush painting gives the artist a tool that offers almost unlimited variations of texture, gradations and blends. The minute speckles of paint can be broadcast in any coverage, from feather-light clouds of color that are barely visible to very dense opaque areas. While painting is great, what else might there be once you are set up with air hoses and an air supply? The answer might be sandblast etching. It does require a special gun with a special pickup and broadcast system, but the remainder of the airbrush setup is directly applicable to sand etching work.
Although they may look a lot different from conventional airbrushes with their larger nozzle and reservoir, the sandblaster head works by employing the very same principles as the most compact art airbrush. Rather than paint, the sandblaster unit draws up and then broadcasts ultra-fine sand or beads or pumice-type material. The result of the spray is a grinding, abrasive path that can be used to quickly etch or cloud the surface of glass items and mirrors or even metal.
Two important facts: First, sandblasting must be done outside. There is considerable "blow by" as well as too much mess for inside. Like sawdust, the pumice/sand spreads and then settles for a great distance from the work site. Second is the need for a respirator, goggles and gloves. It is wise not to hold the item as it is being etched because any mishap might allow the sand to erode flesh.
Project: Etched Mirror
Materials needed: mirror, masking material, stencil knife, sandblast unit (with pumice, hoses and compressor).
Work out a basic design. Consider that "depth" and dimension in "tone" can be accomplished with repeated application of the erosion material. Apply masking material to cover the entire top of the mirror. This is needed so that accidental overspray will not mar the open mirrored surface. Draw the design onto the masking material, and then cut the design along drawn lines. Remove masking where you wish etching to appear. Begin with a light to moderate application over open areas in the design. With a bit of practice, you will be able to judge the amount of abrasive contact necessary to achieve the degree of frost you want. Carefully remove a portion of the mask to check the etch. Replace mask and re-blast as needed. Remove masking. Use clean air to blow away any remaining residue. Magnifica!
By Leo Gonzales
|Silent compressors for use with airbrushes, spray guns, and air tools from Werther International.|
After the commission work was completed, I was down to five days to do my own show. I could have entered my old stuff hanging in my bike shops but, frankly, I thought I'd be doing injustice to my first gallery show by doing that. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I decided to visit my "least used" supply shelf. I was rummaging for experimental materials that would inspire me to do experimental work. Underneath cans of House of Kolors and PPG urethanes sat this plastic envelope with a ridiculous number of paint rings, color splotches and dried goop. The bottom was epoxied to the Jackson Pollock shelf for such a long time that I had to rip it out with a scraper just to release it.
I brought the templates into my homemade spray booth where there awaited several prepped tanks ready for mural work. There was Spawn on a fat bob tank, Bettie Paige on another and Swamp Thing on a wide glide fender (a heck of a trio). I knew immediately that if I exercised my usual method of paintbrush-then-airbrush, I'd be here forever. Moreover, Gerardo at the body shop would have a fit for giving him more clumpy paintings to clearcoat that he'd have to apply 12-15 layers to just to make them smooth.
Inside the fog and mist of heavy overspray, I reached for one of the Artool French curves (for the very first time) because I couldn't seem to find a bendable business card. I wanted to add shadows to Spawn's muscle and it somehow made sense to use the curves of the French curve as a mask. To my surprise, the curve was exactly the curve that I wanted. Unlike photo paper or card stock, the template material had absolutely NO paint buildup. It left a sharp and crisp edge with no paint seepage underneath.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but this was the most fun I have ever had airbrushing. It was like a game to flip these templates around to find the right curve or shape that I needed for a desired area. I was stunned at how clean my airbrush work was with these templates. I was floored at the fact that it took me 1/10th the time to finish these images--and gorgeous, smooth images at that! I've never had airbrush paintings so PERFECT before. I enjoyed "drawing" and "painting" with these templates so much that it allowed me to be even more detailed and more meticulous than ever. Gerardo wondered if I had someone else painting these for me because it sure didn't feel like my usual "relief-map" clumpiness that I sheepishly ask him to bury in clearcoat.
Many of you out there are probably thinking to yourselves--"DUUUHHH! What an imbecile!" It took me this long to learn how to use templates, let alone accept them. But I suppose like anything else, once your attitude has matured to accept change, the world will open an amazing array of opportunities. Nowadays, my custom paintings have taken on a very different spin. People are so much more receptive to the quality of my work--such that I'm booked for months to do paint jobs! I feel so confident in charging a more professional dollar and not a bit insecure that I can guarantee the strongest professional work. I have ZERO stress about my work, and if ever I should keep a customer waiting longer than expected, it's only because I'm enjoying adding more and more and more to the painting with my new best friends.
|WatercolorTalk.com features informative articles on Watercolor paints, brushes, paper, techniques, tips and products.|
ARTtalk.com Gallery at the Square is pleased to announce that workshops in airbrush technique will be offered in February:
Designed for the person who has never before used an airbrush or for those who have used an airbrush without success, this time-proven class in basic techniques has been taught throughout the U.S.
This class will begin where the basic class left off and uses a proven method of teaching airbrush techniques. Students will be introduced to the methods of working with the airbrush in color as they develop images on a series of pre-printed exercises.
Classes will take place at the Gallery, 18 East Main St., Beacon, NY 12508.
In addition to instruction, the fee for these three-hour hands-on workshops includes the use of equipment and all class materials.
The instructor is Robert Paschal, MFA, a recipient of American Artist magazine’s Master’s Award for Teacher-Airbrush and Airbrush Action’s Vargas Award. He is the author of Airbrushing for Fine and Commercial Artists and co-author with Robert Anderson of The Art of the Dot—Advanced Airbrush Techniques.
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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©--March 2002