Volume 5, Number 3, September 2003

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

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Good Reference Makes All The Difference

With Michael Cacy

Regardless of whether you are a seasoned professional or an amateur artist, if there is something wrong with a finished work of art (aside from drawing, of course), the problem likely has something to do with lighting. Just as a story is not necessarily interesting just because the words are all spelled correctly, a painting may fall flat even though the subject is rendered in great detail. Lighting can play an important role in whatever you intend to say about your subject. Landscapes are generally a lot more interesting if shot when the sun is low, like morning or evening. Light a woman or young child with a flatter light source than you would use for a gnarly old man. When we paint with the airbrush, the process demands that we be analytical with the values that describe our subject matter. (The term "value" relates to lightness and darkness.) Color may be a more personal matter, but properly establishing lights and darks is vital to the success of your painting. Even when armed with color photos, I find it less confusing to work from black and white photocopies as I work up my drawing. The fact that copies made on a copy machine usually exaggerate contrast often makes the job of sorting out values a lot easier.

Shooting your own photos whenever possible is, of course, the best way to procure exactly what you want. I understand that this is not always possible. If your project requires you to draw and paint a wombat, and you don't live in the wilds of Australia, you might be hard-pressed to find a live model to pose for a snapshot. Or, if you were asked to paint a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, obviously, he is no longer available to sit for photography. Close-ups of a venomous snake? Not me, thanks. Not unless the reptile is behind a thick glass window down at the zoo. In cases such as this, you have little choice but to use existing photos as reference. We'll deal with the matter of working from existing photographic reference later in this column.

Generating your own photos can, in itself, be part of the fun. And, when I work from my own photos, I find a certain satisfaction knowing that the finished painting is truly my own creation. On those occasions when it is possible to photograph your subject, forget about flash photography. Your task will almost always be made much easier if your subject is directionally lit. So, face your subject in or out of sunlight to your best advantage or light your subject with a photoflood. Don't be stingy. Shoot several photos of your subject so that you can select the best shots as you begin your drawing. If I am to paint a full human figure, I usually shoot close-ups of hands and face in addition to photos of the entire figure. The information revealed in the close-up views will be useful later when I become intent upon detail. If more than one photo is required to accomplish your composition, make sure that the direction of lighting remains consistent. (If, for example, the figure in the foreground is lit from the upper right, the background landscape should also be lit from the upper right.)

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Getting good, crisp reference photos to work from is part of the "homework" before you actually begin drawing and painting. Certain details, especially those dependent on lighting, will be evident in your photos, which would never occur to you "off the top of your head." For example, folds in fabric (whether in clothing, a flag, or a flying carpet) are very difficult to invent convincingly without lit reference to guide you. Good reference gives your work credibility.

A while back, I was commissioned to paint an illustration for a movie poster. The stills shot on location were typically lousy and the motion picture company was reluctant to part with frames from the 35mm work print footage. The still photos shot on location during filming were useable in terms of gleaning information about the period costuming, but offered little detail as to what the actors looked like. The best references I had were the individual promo portrait shots of the actors, which I obtained through the film's casting director. Obviously, achieving a believable likeness of each of the actors would be important. Knowing that there are only so many facial types, I visited a busy outdoor weekend craft market one sunny morning and selected models from the array of shoppers and vendors who had similar features to the actors I was expected to paint. I was surprised how easy this turned out to be. Within minutes, I had everything I needed. I showed each of my models my rough sketches and the existing stills as a means of explaining what I was up to and all were happy to cooperate as stand-ins. Since I photographed my subjects individually, I was careful to aim each subject into the sunlight so as to be consistent with the direction of lighting in the production stills. I had each sign a standard model release form. A few months later at the film's premiere, the director and several of the actors commented on how accurate the likenesses appeared on my movie poster.

Be just as creative in obtaining your reference as you are when executing your painting. I once had to photograph an uncooperative German Shepherd as reference for an illustration project. I placed a piece of cheese on top of the camera lens housing, and for a moment I had his full attention. I was lucky to get exactly what I needed with the first shot, because the second was a blurred photo of an airborne K-9 leaping for the cheese.

Don't be a slave to your reference photos. Edit the information to your advantage, capitalizing on the best information and simplifying ambiguous, confusing, or meaningless details. Even if you're after a photo-real end result, remember that you are creating a painting, not a counterfeit photo.

Be very careful when working from existing pictures from magazines, the Internet, or any source other than your own camera unless you have written permission to do so. If you sell the resulting artwork and a photographer or another artist can prove plagiarism in a courtroom, you could be in big trouble. Also, avoid licensed properties (like cartoon characters) and famous athletes, musicians, or actors, living or dead. (The estate of a deceased superstar can be greedy.) You might be surprised to learn that even many public places like parks, historical landmarks, train stations, etc., require permission to shoot photos, even if the actual photo is not to be published. There are, of course, ways to gain permission and even a couple of exclusions or loopholes, but that's a whole article in itself.

On those occasions when I have no choice but to work from photos other than my own, I am careful to make sure that my interpretation is not recognizable as having come from a specific source. To avoid problems, I regularly refer to books in my studio collection which feature copyright-free imagery of animals and other subjects.

Okay, then, get out there and shoot those reference photos and make the most of your lighting. If you need further inspiration, take another look at how some of the "Golden Age" illustrators (like Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth) used lighting to tell a story.

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Giving Dimension to Objects

By Janean S. Thompson
(Click on any image for a larger view!)

What creates the illusion of dimension for objects in a painting? What gives reality to shapes and items in an airbrush painting? The answer to both questions is shading, the cast shadow or the implied shadow. These shadows and shades are easy to create and the three-dimensional effects they offer are dramatic. The shadows can lift items right off the flat surface, making them appear to levitate.

This exercise is simple. The goal is to make a box, a sphere and a bar float above the surface of the art and cast shadows upon the background surface. This is accomplished in an easy four-step technique that can be directly applied to any shape and in any scene.

In this photo, the forms have been colored and the ART MASK shapes have been replaced on the box and sphere. The strip that will cover the bar is laying on the Friskfilm ready to be replaced.
Step 1

Begin step one by covering your art paper or illustration board with a complete covering of Artool ART MASK Friskfilm. This will protect the background and make possible the creation of the shapes and later the addition of shading and shadows. ART MASK Friskfilm is a medium-tack masking film that adheres to nearly all porous surfaces.

It is especially suited for canvas and can be used on Claybord, gesso board, and illustration board and is great with watercolor paper. For this application, it is ideal because it is easy to cut and does not flutter under airbrush spray. It can be used with water-based and solvent-based paints. Once the Friskfilm is in place, carefully draw the shapes you wish to paint and shadow.

Here the ART MASK covering is being replaced to cover the red square. Notice how each of the shapes can be covered/uncovered independently.
Step 2

Step two is the actual cutting. You may use a stencil knife or other sharp blade. Carefully incise along the lines drawn and avoid wobbly lines or overcuts. Leave the shapes in place for now. What this does is allow you the option of lifting the ART MASK away from specific areas and then repositioning it. This simple exercise builds experience in dealing with not only Friskfilm, but also the methods used to cut, remove and then replace shapes.

After you have completed all cutting, lift off the ART MASK from one of the shapes. I started with the square, but it wouldn't matter which order you airbrush the color onto the forms.

Select tones for your shapes and set up your airbrush. I chose vivid tones of red, purple and green and used the Iwata Eclipse HP SAR single action model. This model is easy to handle for those with less experience and can create an exact paint pattern. Since the shapes have an imaginary light source from the top, the densest tones are on the lower edges.

After the interior tone is applied to the square shape, let it dry completely and then replace the ART MASK. Carefully lift off the ART MASK from the circle shape. Airbrush that shape with a swinging motion for the added illusion of a convex, spherical shape. Again, allow the circle to dry and then reposition the ART MASK over the circle. Repeat the technique with the bar. When the bar is airbrushed and covered, the entire surface is once again covered with Friskfilm.

The ART MASK is carefully lifted from the illustration board to allow for shadow placement.
Step 3

Step three involves the removal of the overall covering of ART MASK from the background. Lift it away gently, being careful at the corners and edges of the shapes. The shapes should remain covered. It is that covering that will protect them from overspray when the shadows are applied.

Following the application of the shadows, the ART MASK is removed to reveal the shapes and their shadows. Easy dimensional elevation.
Step 4

Step four is the actual application of the shadows. Remember that the shadows will be placed as if all shapes are lighted from the top. With that in mind, apply a soft-edged shadow around the lower edge of the sphere. It should follow the shape of the form. For the square, do the same, with emphasis on the lower edges of the square shape. For the bar length, use a straight shadow. Allow these shadow tones to dry.

Lift away the ART MASK from the shapes. Voila! What you will discover is that rather than appearing as flat, toned areas, these shapes have been given depth and seem to be more dimensional. When you have placed the shading in the proper positions on the objects and added darkened areas coordinated with an imagined light source, you will have created realistic, dimensional forms.

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The Aliens Project

by Wes Hawkins
Start Over/W.A.D. Productions
(Click on any image for a larger view!)

Part 1

I'm a huge fan of the film "Alien" and its sequels and yet I've not been able to put together a diorama from this film until now. Please sit back and lend me your imagination for a few moments so I can set the stage for you: A Weyland-Yutani Corporation research station has managed to get its hands on several eggs, but something has gone wrong. It seems that a few over-anxious scientists were careless and ended up infected with Alien embryos. Now the aliens are on the loose and it's up to our hero Sgt Spat to save the day.

Some of the other Marines failed to report in and Sgt. Spat goes to investigate. Peering through the remains of an airlock that originally served as egg storage, it is clear what happened to the Marines. Once the Aliens had captured or killed the remaining Marines, they ripped into this room in order to cocoon the survivors in preparation for embryo implantation. It seems that these Marines didn't give up without a fight, though. An M41A Pulse Rifle lies on the floor. It is, of course, empty. Still, the empty rifle appears to have been used to butt-stroke one of the creatures. The stock has been broken off. An empty flame unit also lies in a pool of blood. A portion of the wall has fire damage.

Can our hero find the Marines before a face hugger can attach itself to him, sealing his doom??

Below are the components used to build this diorama. The diorama includes the following:

  1. Horizon Burst Airlock base. (Out of production, this base can be found from time to time on eBay)
  2. 21st Century Soldier 9th Infantry Division Sniper action figure.
  3. Two (2) Styrofoam egg shapes purchased from a local arts & crafts store.
  4. Magic Sculpt 2 part epoxy putty (used in converting the Styrofoam eggs to Alien face hugger eggs and for making Alien secretions).
  5. Duro brand Spray Adhesive (for Alien secretions).
  6. EVA Models 1/6 scale Colonial Marine rifleman kit.
  7. EVA Models 1/6 scale Face Hugger kit.
  8. EVA Models 1/6 scale Flame Unit kit.
  9. Iwata Eclipse HP-BCS siphon-feed airbrush.
  10. Various water-base and oil-base paints (Delta Ceramcoat, Alclad, and Model Master, respectively).
  11. Pastel chalk in various shades (used to weather the base and face hugger).
  12. Liquid latex mold builder.

To begin, I sprayed a primer coat over the entire base. Next, I laid down a base coat of gray on both the floor and wall. I used a lighter shade of gray for the door because I didn't want the color scheme to look too uniform. Perhaps a different metal was used to make the door as to make the walls? I sponged on a few dabs of Ceramcoat Mudstone to the door and sponged some shades of umber and brown to the floor. The ripped section of the door was sprayed with silver, with some touches of aluminum and chrome. I attached the airlock door to the floor using 5-minute epoxy glue.

Now it's time to indicate some fire damage. Using Iwata's Eclipse HP-BCS dual-action airbrush, I picked out the spot I wanted to look damaged. First, I sprayed on a light patch of gloss black. Once this had dried, I hit it with some Alclad Chrome. This makes the metal appear to have been so hot that the paint burned off, revealing the chromed metal door underneath. Now here comes the odd part. Once my paint had dried on my chromed metal portion, I cover it up with liquid latex mold builder. What on earth for, you might ask? Patience, Grasshopper! The truth will reveal itself shortly.

Now it is time to do the REAL damage work. Using black, shades of browns and grays, we want to spray on and around the latex. Think about those shots of burned out equipment and buildings from the Gulf War. This is the look we're hoping for. Once the surrounding paint has dried and cured, I go in with a sculpting tool and begin to pick a corner of the latex that will be big enough for me to grab. Pull off the latex and TADAHH! We've got a ragged edge where the paint has burned clear through to the metal! A little touchup with black pastel and dullcoat and we've finished the door!

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Part 2

The floor presents its own possibilities. Here I'm going to be placing the hint of our egg nest using the Styrofoam eggs, magic sculpt and spray adhesive. To begin, I decided to make two eggs--one open and one closed. The closed egg was easiest to sculpt, so I'll begin with it. Using Magic Sculpt, I put down a thin layer on the entire surface of the egg. Since the Styrofoam is covered in a porous texture, making the egg texture was easy. Pressing the Magic Sculpt into the surface of the Styrofoam resulted in some interesting textures. I had to build up the top portion of the egg in order to make the "lips" that form the exit for the face hugger. Using a round sculpting tool, I made creases in the surface of the Magic Sculpt. Finally I rolled out some Magic Sculpt "snakes" and built up the edges of the "lips." There--finished!

The open egg was more difficult. I ended up sawing the egg in half and hollowing out each half with a spoon. Once this was completed, I cut a + shape in the upper half of the egg and broke the four triangle shapes off. These will serve as the open "lips" of the egg. I soon realized that the four lips were too brittle to bend into the curved shape that I needed. A coating of Magic Sculpt helped solve the problem. One of the lips was too broken to save so I made a new one out of sheet styrene and bent it into shape by heating the styrene. I coated the inside of the egg the same as I did the closed egg I previously sculpted. Once I had completed the inside of both halves, I placed the two halves together and fixed the seam created from sawing the egg in half. I reattached the four "lips" using Magic Sculpt and blended the area to match the rest of the egg.

One will notice in the film that the eggs aren't just spat out of the Alien Queen. It seems that the eggs have a little nest of "roots." This was probably the easiest of the sculpting chores. Simply make a bunch of snakes and lay them around and under the eggs.

Here we see the beginning of the paint scheme of the egg. This gave me a chance to watch the Alien films again for the umpteenth time. I base coated the eggs and snakes with Model Master Leather. I then took black, yellow, and rust and sprayed a vein pattern on the eggs and began dry brushing shades of grays and browns. A wash of black finished off the egg paint job. I seal my work with dullcoat. Now we get to the yucky and fun part! Using spray adhesive, I sprayed a generous amount at the bottom of the eggs. Once it started to solidify, I used a toothpick to pick at it and attach it to the egg and wall. I got this idea from Geno Savoy upon seeing his excellently done warrior in's reader gallery. I want a messy room filled with alien secretions and carnage but I had to be sure not to overdue the alien mess. I still had needed room to place the empty pulse rifle and bloody flame unit and I didn't want to overcrowd the base and hide the flame-damaged section on the door.

Part 3

EVA Models is the only producer of 1/6 scale USCM armor in the world. The rifleman kit comes cast is a beige-colored resin. Cleanup was very simple using the usual tools (sandpaper, sanding sticks, files, X-Acto knife, etc). This resin kit is uncanny in its accuracy to the movie prop armor used in the film. The kit is actually more accurate than a lot of 1/1 scale armor I've seen on fan sites on the Internet. Each piece is cast cleanly in one-piece molds with the exception of the weapons. Even still, the mold lines are very minimal at worst. I spent more time trying to decide what colors to use than I did on cleanup. EVA Models took their time and made sure they had everything in order before releasing this gem into the garage kit market.

I won't bore you with the details of gluing each piece together, but I will touch on some of the assembly. Most of the parts are keyed to fit each other. This is almost unheard of in small resin kits. I'm still in awe as to how this armor was sculpted and cast. The kit comes with all the accessories such as buckles, straps, cords, wires, etc. As long as the instructions are followed, I doubt anyone will run into any problems. This kit is geared towards the action figure collector rather than diehard model kit builders, but it still has a world of possibilities.

Using pics I found on the Net of the actual armor worn in the film and with references from EVA models' own website, I began the paint job with a base coat of Model Master Silver. Next, I sealed the kit with Testors Dullcoat. From here, I began the camo scheme using Badger Freak Flex Gangreen. Next, Mummified Brown, Rotten Tooth Tan, and Body Bag Black were used to form the odd shapes that make up the camo pattern. You'll notice that there are some white highlights here and there. This was done with a toothpick and Turned Ghost White. I sealed my work with Dullcoat again. Next, I used the back of my X-acto knife to gently scrap away the Freak Flex paint to reveal the silver underneath. This gives the impression that Spat has had his armor on in the past and he's seen some serious action.

To finish the armor off, I used a technique called "washing." I mixed up various shades of brown with a little black thrown in and thinned it down to a watery consistency. Using a round-tipped brush, I smeared and scrubbed this mixture into all the nooks and crannies on the armor. Don't worry about putting a wash on too thick in some places and too thin in others. We're looking for an uneven look to the wash anyway. Once this had dried, I sealed the kit again with Dullcoat to protect the wash and seal it to the kit.

Using a toothpick and a sharp pointed pen, I added personal graffiti to the armor.

I wanted this figure to look as much like the real Spat's armor. (Yes, he's a real person. I'm not making this up! Go to to check him out.)

All right kiddies, we've got our base; but in order to finish off this project, we need the star of the show, Spat! I went to a local toy store and picked out a 21st Century Soldier 9th Infantry Division Sniper action figure. The uniform looked pretty close to the camo pattern worn by the actors in "Aliens" and the scale was right. The figure, however, will require a few alterations before it's ready to don the armor. First, his uniform needed to be aged and worn. I mixed up a bowl of water and bleach at a 50/50 ratio and soaked the uniform. My first try was unsuccessful as was my second. I have no idea what is used to dye the uniforms, but it doesn't fade! Next, I took a rough grade of sandpaper and began sanding the uniform. Yes, I said sanding the uniform. This sounds nuts, but it works.

I had to be careful not to sand too hard or else I'd end up with holes in the uniform. I also noticed that I had to keep changing the position of the uniform so I wouldn't make creases in the fabric.

Next, I had to putty up some gaps caused by the figure's articulated joint. This was done by using Magic Sculpt. The flesh tones had to be matched up to the surrounding flesh. I'm getting lucky in this case because I've folded up the collar of the uniform to hide the neck seam and the wrist is all that has to be fixed. Even still, this is mostly hidden under the uniform and the figure is going to look all dirty & grimy anyway. Using my Iwata Eclipse HP-BCS airbrush, I sprayed the wrist area with a base of Suntan flesh and added highlights and shadows with slightly darkened Suntan flesh, respectively. Now I'm going to use pastel chalk to make Spat look a little more dirty and grimy. Remember, he's been fighting for his life just to get to this level in the complex and now he's getting set to take an express elevator to hell. Using shades of brown and a little black, his armor, uniform and exposed flesh were dirtied up really good. Using pastels is a very simple concept. Caution needs to be observed to make sure that the piece is not overly weathered. Remember, we want a tired grimy professional soldier, not a guy who hasn't had a bath in 6 years. I also had to make his eyes brown, as the real Spat has brown eyes.

All that's left is the weapons, the final blast of gore on the base, and the facehugger. We're closing in on the startling conclusion! Stay tuned for The Alien Project - The Final Chapter!!

Part 4

Here we are folks, the end of the road for this journey through imagination. However, what Alien scene would be complete without a little carnage?

EVA makes two different versions of the M41-A Pulse Rifle. One version is included with the kit, which is cast in one piece. The other (and the better quality one in my opinion) can be purchased separately from EVA Models and consists of 7 pieces. With a basic knowledge of kit assembly, this Pulse Rifle can be altered to include a working pump slide for the grenade launcher. Of course by that I mean the pump will move, but it won't actually chamber one of the little grenades that comes with the kit. Next time I build one of these, I'll use the better Pulse. Anyway, back to the project.

The rifle was pretty simple. The metal portions were first based in silver (just like the armor) and then coated in black. Finally, a dry brushing of Model Master Gunmetal was applied. Next, the metal was scarred using my X-acto knife where the metal would normally rub, such as the pump slide and the bolt. The shroud was painted in Freak Flex Rotten Tooth Tan. The pistol grip was painted with Model Master Leather. A wash was made using flat black and dark brown to a muddy looking shade and applied. Once this was dry, Testors Dullcoat was applied to seal the weapon.

The flame unit was a bit more complicated. The flame unit comes in four pieces (the fuel bottle, the flame nozzle the adjuster knob on the rear of the weapon and the basic flame unit itself). The bottle was attached using an included metal pin. The flame unit went together well. With EVA's casting process, you can spend more time painting and having fun with a project than getting it ready to paint, which we all know is a drag.

Following the pics from EVA's website, I painted the flame unit with a coat of silver and then a light tan. After a wash of mud like that used on the Pulse Rifle, I used black pastels to add a sooty look to the business end of the flame unit. After all, we're talking about a weapon that was used in a last stand, so you can imagine it's pretty dirty at this point. A coat of Testors Dullcoat finished the work.

The face hugger was a really fun portion of this project. The kit comes with extra legs (in case you break some) and is fully posable. The tail is cast straight, but once the tail is assembled & heated, it can be curled around for a more menacing pose.

The legs of the hugger are cast to be a separate piece at each joint, so that the legs can be posed however you wish. A piece of copper wire is included, so this can be accomplished. Using a pin vise, I drilled a small hole into each end of the leg joints and inserted a small piece of the wire. Once the wire was glued in place, the legs could be bent any way I chose. I bent each leg into a different pose and tried to make it appear as if it were creeping along, getting ready to jump down onto Spat. Magic sculpt was used to blend the leg joints and to cover up the wire. The face hugger was painted a dark flesh tone and then dry brushed with a lighter shade of flesh. Next, light brown pastels were used to add shadows to the hugger. Finally, several coats of a gloss sealer were added to the piece to give it a wet slimy sheen. I drilled a small hole on the bottom of the hugger and inserted a piece of styrene rod. A corresponding hole was drilled into the door and the rod inserted and glued into place.

But wait! We're STILL not done. We need a messy scene here, so once the Flame Unit and Pulse Rifle were added to the base, I used Tamiya Clear Red to add a few spatters of blood to the scene. I used an old paintbrush dipped into the clear red; then using a snapping motion with my wrist; the paint was splattered across the area. Another way of doing the splatters is to hold the brush in one hand, use the other hand to pull back on the brush and then release. Be careful, though. I've broken a whole LOT of brushes like that! Another word of caution: Make sure you make your splatters OUTSIDE. The drops are really tiny and you can miss them pretty easily if they miss your project. Several months after using this technique, I'm still in trouble with the wife for getting paint on our new TV screen. Somehow it ended up on our glass kitchen table too, and it was across the room. For making fresh blood, I've not found ANYTHING that beats Tamiya Clear red.

Now with the addition of our completed Spat figure, this project is finished! (Game over, man!!) I really enjoyed doing this piece. Thanks for reading and if you should have any questions, feel free to visit the Start Over/W.A.D. Productions website & e-mail me.

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...the link between you, the visual artist, and the manufacturer of art materials.
ARTtalk is a monthly eight-page newsletter available FREE-OF-CHARGE from Participating Art Material Retailers in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. Each month you'll find informative articles that deal with a variety of subjects such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, arts and crafts, and more. These explain various techniques--how to work and paint with watercolor, oils, or acrylics; use pastels or pen and ink, airbrush, and more. You'll find information on art history, current events and art world news, as well as an occasional "Kids' Korner." Subjects vary and change each month.

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Look for your next issue of AirbrushTalk in November 2003!