Volume 3, Number 4, March 2002
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With Michael Cacy
Using the Painting, Itself, as the Palette And A Few Thoughts on Rendering Chrome
Part of the intrigue of painting with an airbrush is the capability that this tool gives the artist to layer and build colors directly on the working surface. Since one color may be laid over another in varying degrees, even when working with opaque media, infinite blends of various colors are possible. In a full-blown painting, it is not always necessary to actually mix exactly the color you envision as an end result when that color may be the culmination of two or more colors glazed over each other. It should be no surprise, then, that this aspect of airbrush painting plays an essential role in the painting process and even dictates some of the methods airbrush artists employ. This is not big news to anyone who uses an airbrush in his art. However simple and obvious this may sound, this fundamental concept deserves a little consideration.
I often tell my students, "It's so easy to shift color with an airbrush that it's a shame not to do it." That is, if the color within one area leans toward the warm side of the spectrum, it may be to your advantage (for the sake of interest or impact) to exaggerate that shift of color to be even warmer than it appears in your reference material. If the color swings a little to the cool side, then push that a little further, perhaps by using more blue influence in that area. Shadows, for example, often exude a cool or blue influence. A shadow in your painting that swings well to the blue side of the spectrum is a whole lot more interesting than a gray shadow. The highlights on the sunlit coat of a black dog may appear blue, even though we know for a fact that there is not actually any blue hair on the dog (not on my dog, anyway). Be on the lookout for subtle nuances in color that can guide you toward color shifts like this.
Sometimes you just have to forget about what you know to be subjective and really study the play of light on your subject. Reflected light (and, thus, reflected color) can play a major role in the way you interpret that subject. For example, imagine a freshly waxed blue sports car parked on a bluff overlooking the beach. (If you had enough left after taxes, maybe this is your car.) Even though we know that the factory painted this car with only one hue of blue, if we are viewing this scene at sunset, chances are the hood and top of the car are actually reflecting orange. To paint an interpretation of the blue car using only blues, then, would amount to a missed opportunity. And the airbrush makes these kinds of color transitions so easily. Influencing one color with another, right on the surface of the painting, is one of the things the airbrush does best.
Here's a tip that I pass along to my students at workshops. This is a method for "previewing" how a new color might react to colors already existing in your painting. Let's say, for example, you have in mind lightly glazing some element in your painting with ochre to make it look old...but you are unsure just how the ochre will affect some of the colors you've already painted. Tape a piece of clear acetate down to a margin of your art so that the painting is visible through the acetate. Spray your intended color onto the acetate (as if you are painting right onto your artwork). You can flip the acetate up and view the originally painted area (the "before" view) and lay the acetate back down over the art (the "after") to make a final judgment. Now you know, and you didn't jeopardize the painting.
This subject came to mind when I recently fielded questions from another artist about rendering chrome. (You know who you are, and I know you read this column.) One of the questions regarded how to paint the "grays" in the chrome features of a motorcycle. He had started the painting with Com-Art Transparent Colours and was leaning toward painting them with "Smoke" (a transparent gray). Remember that, like a mirror, chrome has little or no color of its own, but borrows colors from its environment in the form of reflections. This, then, is the perfect opportunity to shift around from warm to cool and make those "grays" look interesting. Because there are bound to be some cool influences here and there, Smoke, used on its own, will yield a gray that looks quite warm by comparison. This might work well for surfaces that reflect the ground plane, which may be concrete or earth. I often use a mix of Ultramarine (not Royal Blue) and Smoke for cooler "gray" areas. And where the chrome surfaces face skyward, even clean, pure blues will likely exist. Sorayama uses a lot of violet influence in his chrome. Exaggerate the shifts from warm to cool where you find them and use your painting as the palette--layer and build your colors right on the surface of the painting so that some variety is achieved.
Pay special attention to which edges in reflected shapes are crisp, hard edges and which are soft. Variety is good. Since some hard-edged reflections are inevitable in glossy chrome, you are likely using masking of some sort. Keep in mind that "It's always darker than you think." Assuming you are working against white illustration board or canvas, strive to maintain pure, clean whites wherever the reflections flash up to brilliant light. Some work with opaque white will undoubtedly be necessary, too, but make life easy and leave major highlights the pristine white of your working surface. White is as important in chrome as black and any colors used, and your chrome, while it may look reflective when finished, will just "lie there" (for lack of contrast) if your art is lacking for white areas of reflected light. Contrast is essential when rendering chrome, so don't be tentative about goosing extreme darks all the way to black.
Assuming you've got the best reference in front of you that you could muster, edit the information. That means simplify away meaningless, confusing, or ambiguous information within reflections and capitalize on the best information in front of you. Don't be afraid to be creative and take liberties. You're creating a painting, not a counterfeit photograph. If that chrome were sitting right in front of you and you moved your head (or camera lens) three inches to one side or the other, all those reflections would change, so you need not be a slave to your reference.
CERAMIC AND POTTERY AIRBRUSH WORK
By Janean S. Thompson
When potters and ceramists create work in a volume that can benefit from faster glazing and methods, they often consider airbrushing. Two obstacles usually inhibit their involvement with the media: First is the cost of the equipment and second is the lack of knowledge about airbrushing and the way it applies to ceramic glaze application. Both are easily set to rest, but the clay artisan must push through the fog of unknown details, do a little research, and decide if the expense is justified.
The equipment used to apply glaze materials is not complicated. As is the case with all airbrush work, there must be an air supply. If large-scale glazing is to be done, smaller units will overheat or need to "rest" frequently, so a mid-sized compressor is suggested. Several models are available that run quietly. If you choose a more traditional unit, you can either roll it outside your studio environment and buy an extra length of air hose to bring the air to your airbrush or create a padded box-style cover to muffle the noise. Hoses can be coupled together if you need more separation from your air compressor or if the compressor is shared. There are also splitters so that more than one airbrush can be used with a single air supply. In addition to the hoses and the compressor, you will need an in-line water removal siphon that prevents atmospheric moisture from building in the lines and diluting the glaze. It is not the dilution that is a problem but the unexpected spit of water in the midst of a glaze application that can spoil coverage. Water droplets dilute the surface silkiness and often cut through the glaze to bare bisque. Not good!
The airbrush used for glaze application is usually a more "industrial" unit. And there are bottle feed units that are very inexpensive and can stand up to the rigors of contact with the abrasive components in a glaze. It is not recommended that you attempt to apply glazes with a good quality unit. The less expensive bottle feed units also offer another important capability. By attaching a screen filter basket to the end of the intake tube at the bottom of the bottle, you can stop a clog before it happens. The screens are easy to soak clean and are affordable enough so that you can have several on hand.
Another task that suits airbrush perfectly is a gradation effect in glaze colorants. If the base glaze is airbrushed on, you can use it as an anchor for liquid colorants such as copper, iron or cobalt (alone or in tandem). Diluted and made into smooth, light-bodied slurry, these colorants can be lightly applied over the base. An overall colorant application will give a pastel comprised of tiny droplets. Layering the broadcast spray from bottom to top easily creates a graded effect.
Stenciling is another strong suit for airbrush glaze application. The ceramist can create simple designs, cut from Mylar or other washable material, and use these repeatedly as embellishments on their airbrushed glazes.
Cleanup after airbrushing is essential. Any glaze material left in contact with the metal parts of any airbrush can cause rapid deterioration. But all you have to do is run clean water through the airbrush at the end of your glazing, opening and closing the nozzle to make sure that all glaze is removed. Then flush the bottles, intake tubes and basket filters.
Airbrush on ceramics creates looks unattainable by any other method. Give it a try!
USING PARAFILM® TO AIRBRUSH A CAMO JOB
By Tom Grossman
Camouflage paint jobs are part of the territory if you build kits with military themes. Some patterns have lines that are soft, which can be airbrushed with little of no masking, while others have crisp lines that require lots of masking. A good product for this application is Parafilm®. Here are the first steps in painting camo using an Airfix 1/72nd scale Matilda tank as our subject.
Parafilm® can be purchased at most hobby shops. It can also be ordered online from Micromark, www.micromark.com, in 2" wide, 25-foot-long rolls for about $8 plus shipping. Or you can get a roll 4" wide, 125-foot-long for about $18 plus shipping from Carolina Biological Supply, www.carolina.com.
I like to use a gravity feed airbrush--an Iwata Eclipse HP-C. You can change the colors quickly. There will always be some touch-up work, too. So instead of opening the jars over and over, I pour some of each color into those little empty paint pots you can buy at craft stores. Labeling them helps me remember what and how old they are when I rediscover them later.
Small parts can be stuck to a dowel or chopstick with white glue to make painting them easier.
Most of the time I like to have the best possible vision of the finished piece all the way through building and painting. With this Matilda, I roughed in the color patches as soon as the hull and turret were assembled. If this were a soft-edged pattern, the camo job would be well on the way to being finished.
The next step is to clean up the soft edges by masking over adjacent colors and applying more paint. I stretched the Parafilm® according to package directions and applied it to the tank, as I would tape. I laid the film along the line I wanted for the hard edge, getting as close as possible to the line and used my fingers to press the film in place on the model. Touching a damp paper towel first helps to keep the film from sticking to your fingers. Clay shapers, shown in the next photo, are great for pushing the film into cracks, corners and crevasses. If I miss the line, I just add another layer of film or use sculpting tools to push the edge of the film into place. It's much easier to push the film back to an edge than to pull it to the edge.
Once the masking is complete, the color is applied. For larger parts and subassemblies, I like to use the Helping Hand Tweezers from Excel Hobby Blades, www.exceltools.net. They are self-closing with long, toothed jaws set above the handles. This makes it possible to place them on the bench top with the part held above the work surface.
After the paint is cured, the Parafilm® is removed. It's a good idea to use a sculpting tool to push the film away from the edge of the color patch before lifting the film off. The process is then repeated for the remaining colors in the paint scheme. Once this stage is finished, the piece can be completed with the markings and weathering.
A nice advantage to these techniques is that they can be applied to camouflaging other scales and subjects. I used the same tools and techniques to apply a sharp-edged, 3-color camo job to this 1/144 scale Harrier. Larger pieces can also be painted using Parafilm® and the techniques described above.
Clay shapers can be purchased at art supply stores or online at www.hummingline.com.
Createx Colors--Bond All and Catalyst Additives
Bond All and Catalyst are specialty additives used to improve the adhesion of Createx Airbrush Colors and Createx Auto Air Colors on slick, nonporous surfaces that cannot be properly prepped. The purpose of these additives is two-fold: The Bond All aids in the adhesion of the paint, while the Catalyst reduces the temperature at which the colors need to be heat-set (or cured). However, most applications do not require the use of either Bond All or Catalyst. These additives, in fact, are rarely needed.
Createx Auto Air Colors are specially formulated for use on non-porous surfaces. Generally, the Auto Air Colors will adhere to most surfaces, making Bond All and Catalyst unnecessary. Additives should only be used when applying to an especially slick or oily surface.
Createx Airbrush Colors have a more flexible acrylic binder than Auto Air Colors for performance on porous as well as non-porous surfaces. It is with Createx Airbrush Colors that Bond All and Catalyst may be needed, such as when working with synthetic fibers such as nylon.
When using Bond All and Catalyst, remember that a little goes a long way. Only four drops of each additive should be used with 2 oz. of color. Using more will not improve adhesion and may detract from performance of the color. Also, using Bond All and Catalyst will reduce the color's shelf life to about three days, so these additives should be mixed only with paint intended for immediate use.
In regard to achieving maximum performance and longevity with Createx Airbrush Colors and Auto Air, it is more important to heat-set than it is to use additives. Heat-setting is the application of hot air to the paint soon after it has dried. The air source can be a heat gun, hair dryer or most any other source of heat such as an iron or clothes dryer. Of key importance is to keep the air moving while it is being applied; if you stay on one spot for too long, it will burn the surface. Heating the paint so it is warm to the touch is recommended. The heat causes a catalytic reaction in the paint whereby the individual strands of acrylic polymer cross-link (bond with one another), thus creating a stronger adhesion of the paint to the surface. Heat-setting is best when done in between all layers, from the base to the finishing coats.
New Airbrush Publication
Watson-Guptill has announced the release of The Ultimate Airbrush Handbook by renowned artist Pamela Shanteau. This new publication addresses a very wide range of airbrush applications in detail. Chapters explain airbrush nuts and bolts, airbrush styles and types, air compressor requirements, trigger control explanations and exercises, studio and workshop necessities, and art material recommendations and explanations (masking, paints and periphery tools.) The handbook takes the reader on a tour of the beginner, intermediate and expert levels of airbrushing.
Each chapter features step-by-step instruction in a different area-body art and temporary tattoo application, crafting, scale models and figurine painting, textile airbrushing, interior decorative stenciling, commercial illustration, fine art, and the demanding area of automotive airbrushing. In addition to the various disciplines explained, Pamela instructs on how to develop raw images into paintings, how to maintain your airbrushing equipment, the right set-ups for painting on-site, and permanent studio requirements.
Joining Pamela are other airbrushing notables: Robert Anderson (fine art), Lindy Brown (crafting), A. D. Cook (fine art), Tom Grossman (scale model and figurine painting), Sheri "The Mad Stencilist" Hoeger (interior deco stenciling), Kirk Lybecker (fine art), Andrea Mistretta (commercial art), Laura Morgan-Glass (fingernail airbrushing), Mark "The Shark" Rush (textile airbrushing), and Richard Sturdevant (commercial and fine art). Each of these artists shares his/her painting processes through detailed step-by-step explanations.
See your retailer and go to www.pamelashanteau.com.
Airbrush Workshops Scheduled
Saturday, May 11
10am - 1pm
Sunday, May 12
The fee includes the use of equipment and all class materials. Class instructor is Robert Paschal, MFA. Robert has taught these classes internationally and 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. He has received the Vargas Award and American Artist magazine's Art Masters Award for Airbrush Teacher.
Class size is limited and pre-registration is required. For further information, go to www.arttalk.com/workshop/workshop.htm.
If you've always wanted to learn how to airbrush, here's your opportunity!
Look for the next issue of AirbrushTalk©--May 2002