Category Archives: Airbrush Lessons

airbrush-red-rose

Work In Progress: Airbrush Roses

I have been looking for the perfect photo to try out a new technique on … and I think I found it!  What I wanted to do was to try to use the technique that I often use for painting black and white photos and try it on a colored background.  Now, I easily could have used photoshop to “make” a photo like I wanted by swapping out the white of a B&W photo for say, blue, but what I really wanted was a “real” photo that primarily only consisted of two colors… and this is it …
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Isn’t it gorgeous!? I was very excited to have found it.  The way I see it, this photo could be interpreted as a “black and red” photo so MAYBE it can be painted like one.  We’ll see.  Please keep in mind that this is an experiment… it is still not finished and I am not sure what the end result will look like … but I figured I would show what I have done so far.

Preparations Steps

Normally I would trace the outlines of the photo onto a white canvas and slowly begin filling in the darkest areas, but for this painting I knew I would have to take a different approach because each petal was so distinct.  So, instead of tracing the photo onto the canvas, I decided to make a flapper stencil that would help me to define the red areas and the dark areas.  Below are a series of pictures that show the steps tracings and resulting stencils.

airbrush-red-roses First I placed the photo into a clear plastic folder and traced the outlines with a fine tip sharpie marker
airbrush-red-roses That left me with a much more defined image to then trace onto tracing paper.  I did this step because it was very difficult to see the details of the photo through the haze of the tracing paper.
airbrush-red-roses I thin redrew the outlines onto tracing paper and identified the drakest shaded areas by coloring them in.
airbrush-red-roses I then created TWO stencils.  The top one reveals only the very darkest shadows in the center of the flower. The second is a “flapper” stencil that will help me define the petals.

Prepping The Canvas

As usual I am using cold press illustration board for this painting.  The photos below show how I established the red background from my experiment.

airbrush-red-roses First I taped the edges of my illustration board to protect the edges and to frame my finished piece.
airbrush-red-roses Then I began the process of color matching the red.  I sought out the lightest red in the painting.  As you can see, it took me multiple tries to get a color I was happy with.
airbrush-red-roses Every time I made a color, I tested it against the actual photo reference.  The final comparison is shown here and as you can see I am a smidge light.  But that’s OK.
airbrush-red-roses Then I spray the entire surface of the canvas red.  It took lot and lots coats … I sure am glad I mixed I lot paint.

Establishing the Darks

This is the part where I KNOW you guys are all going to panic!  You are going to think “What is she doing?!? That looks horrible!!” and I am totally with you!  This DOES look horrible!  But that’s the thing with art … it always looks terrible when you’re starting out and that is why so many people give up at this stage.  They look at what they produced and groan “I might as well quit now.” – and let me tell you – I thought the exact same thing at this stage – I always do – but you have to push through it.

Trust me.

 

airbrush-red-roses My first stencil is to establish the dark area around the outer edge of the roses.
airbrush-red-roses And this is what it looks like once the area is sprayed with watered down black paint.  I kept it light at first to let the red shine through because I can always darken it up later.
airbrush-red-roses My next stencil was cut into the first (I hid it from you in the photo) and it is to establish the dark areas in the center of the flower.
airbrush-red-roses And, this is what that looks like when it is sprayed in.  To be honest, in retrospect I wish I would have had a lighter touch at this phase, but, c’est la vie!

Defining the Petals

Because this photo is so intricate, I did not want to rely on my memory to know where all the shadows landed to define each petal so I created a “flapper” stencil (I don’t know if that is it’s technical name but that is what I am calling it anyway!).  These types of stencils allow you to peel back areas of the stencil and “dust” paint beneath them to sort of “sketch” in the shadows and define certain edges.

When making flapper stencils be sure that you don’t cut all the way to the next line so that the stencil doesn’t fall apart … you have to leave bridges or else you’ll end up with a pile of paper and not know which bit goes where.

airbrush-red-roses This pictures shows my flapper stencil.  All the lines shown in the photo have been cut with an exacto knife.
airbrush-red-roses This shows how each “flap” can be pulled up to expose an area of the canvas below.  Using the photo as reference, I carefully determined which edge of each flap needed shading and painted it in.
airbrush-red-roses I continued to do this with each flap until I was satisfied with the “sketch” that was left behind.
airbrush-red-roses And here is the result of all the stencilling … pretty ugly right now but it will look better shortly.

Cleaning it up

Now for the hard part.  Working at it until it begins to resemble something more than just some red and black blotches.  For this phase I use really watered down black paint and carefully shade each petal constantly referring to the reference to determine where to start and stop.

I personally find that I tend to build it up in stages … that is, i will go around the whole piece and lightly shade, then take a break, come back and shade some more.  Taking breaks is really important in my process … I usually end up taking a break when I think that the I have either a) ruined it or b) done as much as i could.  Typically, when I come back to it in ten minutes or so I see that it is not nearly as bad as I thought it was, or, that it has a lot more that could be done to it to make it better.

The photos below shows it at the 50% shaded range (i.e. it’s not done) – but I wanted to show you something….

both the photos below are at the EXACT SAME STAGE of painting only one has the tape on, and the other has the tape removed.

What a difference hey?  I wanted to show you this because I know that when you are painting you are almost always thinking about “how bad it looks” and really, once you get it all cleaned up, it is never as bad as you think!

 

I probably have few more hours left on this one before it is ready for detailing which I will show you in the next instalment.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever tried the flapper stencil method?  What did you think of it?  Too tedious? Absolutely awesome?  What about the colored B&W painting?  Do you use this technique?  Do you think it’ll work out in the end?

 

airbrush flames

Airbrush Flames

airbrush flamesLearning to paint airbrush flames can be really frustrating and I think I have nailed down the reason why.  Flames, and shapes within flames are really abstract shapes and to the mind that implies that any combination of abstract shapes jumbled together and painted the right colors should look like real fire – the problem is that this is NOT true!  Yes, all the shapes in flames are abstract, but it takes a keen eye to see how they all fit together and even after you’ve studied flame patterns at length – there is no rhyme or reason to the combination of shapes that results in realistic flames.

In short … flames take practice.  Even though I have watched Mike Lavallee’s Tru Fire DVD and even though I’ve been working on it for months – I still don’t have flames down.  Regardless of that, here is my latest attempt at flames … enjoy.

Step 1

I decided for this set of flames that I wanted to try wrapping the flames around and over some words … so, ingeniously and super creatively I chose the word “Flames”. To do this I made a mask out of frisket film for the letters as shown below.

**A cool tip: Because I am placing the frisket on a black surface with black writing on the film itself it was going to be very difficult to see the lines that I drew in order to cut them out with an exacto knife so I first sprayed a bit of white paint on the frisket before applying it to the surface to help the letters stand out more.

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Step 2

Using card stock and an exacto knife I made some homemade stencils.

airbrush flames

airbrush flames

Step 3

Then I used the homemade stencil and watered down white paint to create a bunch of random “flame shaped” licks and lines.  I am doing my best to make each lick look “hollow” inside to give the illusion of depth of field.

airbrush flames

Step 4

I keep doing adding flames licks in this manner until I have something that looks like this…

airbrush flames

I can tell already that the flame licks are too chunky and fat but … this is a learning thing so I keep on going.

Step 5

Now it’s time to add some color!  Note that my colors are going to seem really subdued for a number of reasons.  a) I am working on a piece of black cardstock and the texture of it will make the work seem “fuzzy”, b) I am using acrylic paints and they always appear to have a “dusty” look to them when used on black.  Once you clear acrylics the colors pop much more vibrant.

In this photo I have added a wash of deep red … almost a rusty color of red … to be the background color of the flames.

airbrush flames

I’ll admit at this point that it looks like HELL (and not in a good way) …

Step 6

Over top of the red, I add more white licks of flame … this time I am trying to keep them a bit tighter and to keep them within the confines of the other licks I have made previously.

airbrush flames

Step 7

Now I wash those flames with a deep orange color going over the red as well to deepen it even further and push it way into the background.

airbrush flames

Step 8

Then I add even more white flames … again, keeping these ones even tighter than the previous ones.

airbrush flames

Step 9

Once I am happy with those I mix up a really bright yellow and wash it over the white.  I also use it to brighten up a few places throughout the painting.

airbrush flames

Step 10

Now the fun part … peeling off the frisket letters to see what it looks like with the pattern.

airbrush flames

Step 11

For fun I decided to see if I could make a few of the licks look like they were intertwined with the letters.  I used the exact same process as I did for building the bigger portion of flames.  Here is how it turned out.

airbrush flames

Hopefully that gives you an idea of how flames are rendered using an airbrush – I know that I personally still have to work on these and work to make my shapes more realistic – but, like they say, practice makes perfect.

:)

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Black and White Airbrush Paintings in 10 Steps

airbrush paintings

The above is one of my airbrush paintings from quite a while ago – long before I started this website – so, I will apologize upfront and let you all know that not every step is shown.

However, I think it still may be helpful to show you how I approach black and white portraits.

(of course, there are a million ways to do this – there are no right or wrong ways – only the way that works for you! Remember this is supposed to be FUN!)

For this project all that was used was:

  • airbrush equipment
  • black TRANSPARENT paint
  • masking tape
  • exacto knife
  • frisket
  • pencil
  • a surface to paint on

The Basic Formula I Use For Black and White Airbrush Paintings

1. Find a great reference photo.

Preferably in Black and White or converted to Black and White

2. Study the photo

Look for the following:

  • Tones (i.e. light grey, medium grey, dark grey, black)
  • Shapes of the tones (i.e. there is a light grey triangle under the chin)
  • Edges (i.e. sharp and soft edges)
  • Transitions (i.e. how one area fades into another)

3. Make A Copy

If possible, make a copy of the black and white photo and mark it all up with the findings of step 2. This becomes sort of a cheat sheet when completing the painting.

4. Transfer the image to the painting surface in pencil.

Don’t just draw the outlines – lightly mark all the areas identified in step 2. I typically use an opaque projector because I can’t draw.

If your wondering why I do it twice (once on the copy of the photo then again on the painting surface) it’s because it is easy to get lost in all the pencil lines on the surface and not be able to figure out why you put them there in the first place.

5. Tape the edges

Framing the painting in white makes a huge difference in how the finished results looks.

6. Paint the eyes to a finished state.

Note that this is the only place that I use frisket when painting a face.

When making airbrush paintings of people (or portraits, to state it a little more classy) I always start with the eyes. It is really just a personal preference – but here is my theory. Eyes, in western culture anyway, are the most recognizable feature on a persons face. If you get them a little off, or if they are slightly cross-eyed or googly eyed, it will really stick out. SO…. I start with those so that if I screw them up I can start over without investing a whole lot of time.

7. Lightly start painting the darkest areas of the reference.

I do this to establish some landing points … I think of it like sketching

8. Build up tones SLOWLY

(it is easy to add color, hard to take it away)

9. WALK AWAY

IMPORTANT STEP – walk away for at least 20 minutes. Come back and adjust

When you right close up to your artwork and intensely working on it, you’ll find that your sense of reality gets messed up (at least I do). Something that looks really dark to you when you are painting it will look way to light 20 minutes later when you look at it with fresh eyes!

10. Erase or scratch away highlights.

Now… of course…. this varies a bit from painting to painting… but overall this is how I approach each one of my black and white airbrush paintings.

An Example

The following are photos show the how the painting at the beginning of the post evolved. Note that most of the photos are steps 7 and 8 where I slowly build up the tones.

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airbrush-hockey-jersey-13

Airbrush Step by Step: Hockey Jersey

airbrush step by step

In this airbrush step by step I’ll go through how I painted the hockey jersey shown above. I get lots of requests for these for baby showers – I guess it is something to make the Daddy’s feel included :)

To paint your own jersey, you’ll need the following:

  • your airbrush equipment
  • TRANSPARENT paints in the colors of your favorite team
  • white OPAQUE paint
  • frisket
  • exacto knife
  • marker
  • a surface to paint on

Scroll down when you are ready to start!

Step 1

To start this airbrush step by step you’ll need to draw out the shape of the jersey on some frisket film. I used a marker and cheated by using an opaque projector to draw this one. I also traced some letters for the name across the back (the last name of the baby… in this case).

Notice that around the perimeter of the jersey I have made little hash marks at various random spots… these will come in handy later

airbrush step by step

Step 2

Next I used an exacto knife to cut out the outer perimeter of the jersey – there is no need to cut the other areas yet… just the outside. Then the frisket surrounding the jersey was removed. Be sure to keep the part removed though… you’ll need it later

airbrush step by step

Step 3

In this step of the airbrush step by step I have started painting the background of the painting. I usually keep them really simple and just use one color – in this case blue. I am going for a starburst effect behind the jersey. I have done it by painting a light mist of the color around the entire jersey and then painting dagger strokes out from the jersey fading them off towards the edges.

airbrush step by step

Step 4

Alright… this is a bit of a tricky part.

Here I have put the frisket I removed earlier back over top of the area painted blue in the last step. This is a little tricky because it is tough to get everything lined up right. Remember all the little marks I made in step 1 – here is where they become useful…

Simply line up all the marks from the jersey to the piece of frisket and … voila … everything is in the right spot!

Also, because the frisket does not cover my entire working surface, I have taped scrap paper over all the remaining exposed areas to protect it from overspray – just in case!

airbrush step by step

Step 5

With everything lined up, I use my exacto knife to cut all the remaining lines on the drawing… then I remove one color section at a time painting in the appropriate color.

Note that a little planning at this stage goes a long way… as all of the little bits you remove will need to be replaced once the color is painted to protect them from the overspray of the next color… so taking the time to make sure you’ll be able to fit the pieces of the puzzle back together again is very useful!

The following is a series of photos showing all the bits removed, painted then replaced…

airbrush step by step
airbrush step by step
airbrush step by step
airbrush step by step
airbrush step by step

Step 6

Once all the little areas are painted, double check to make sure that all your hard work is well covered in frisket. I’m serious…. double check!

When you are done checking, load up your paint with the base color of the jersey (in this case red) and then spray on the color slowly. Be careful while your spraying that all the little frisket bits stay stuck down.

airbrush step by step

Step 7

Remove all the frisket and admire your work so far! If there are a few areas of overspray on the white areas, use an exacto knife to lightly scrape away they paint from the affected area.

airbrush step by step

Step 8

Now..at this point in the airbrush step by step the jersey looks pretty good at this point, but pretty flat. We need to add some dimension…

… using watered down black transparent paint, paint lightly around the perimeter of the jersey to make it look rounded. Also, spray a few fading lines up through the body of the jersey to make some shadows in the folds. Go easy on these – too many looks muddy.

airbrush step by step

Step 9

Last step! Remove all the frisket and admire your work!

airbrush step by step
airbrush-t-shirt-simple-heart-16

Airbrush T Shirt Project: Simple Heart and Lettering

airbrush

For this airbrush t shirt project I will show you how I painted the shirt shown above.

For this project you will need the following:

  • your airbrush equipment
  • a selection of paints
  • a t-shirt
  • thin marker
  • water color pencil
  • opaque projector (or drawing skills)
  • scrap white paper

Scroll down when you are ready to start!

Step 1

Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and draw your design. I am not a drawer so it took me multiple tries to get the lettering right.

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Step 2

Using the thin marker, outline the the image.

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Step 3

Project the image onto the t-shirt stretched over a board. Trace your sketch using a watercolor pencil. The watercolor pencil will wash out later (and will mostly be covered by your art work)

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Step 4

Mix a pink-y color and outline the heart. If your lines are a little wavy – don’t frett…. you can clean them up later.

Also, this is a good time to say: Even though the pro’s work at break-neck speed, you are not required to. Take your time.

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Step 5

Fill in the heart with the pink color – keeping it darker around the edges and lighter in the middle section. Remember the cool thing about airbrush T shirts is the gradients of color.

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Step 6

Now switch to a dark transparent purple. Outline the heart again and shade the inside edges of the heart giving it more volume. Also, spray purple around the outside of the heart to make it POP a little.

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Step 7

OK… lettering. Don’t panic.

When you are first starting lettering can be really intimidating, but this is the way to tackle it.

As thinly as you can, use black paint to spray over the traced letters. Don’t worry about waves – we’ll fix them.

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Step 8

Now repeat….stay as thin as you possible can. Work to even out the lines and waves.

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Step 9

All right. Now let’s fancy them up a bit!

Slowly thicken all the DOWN strokes of your letters. You don’t have to go around the whole letter again, just thicken the downstrokes only.

Take as many passes as necessary to get it looking the way you like.

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Step 10

Now add some white to punch it up!

A little white dot with a fade on each of the letters makes a huge difference. The goal is to make the black lettering look glossy.

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Step 11

This photo shows all the white dots in place. Also add some white highlights to the heart to give it a little gloss too.

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Step 12

And again, here is the finished product. Now all that is left to do is heat-set it!

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body-art-airbrush-tattoo-10

Tribal Tattoo with an Airbrush Tattoo Stencil

airbrush

This airbrush tattoo stencil is really simple to produce. All you need is a design, some time and a little bit of black airbrush body paint.

For this project I will show you how I painted the tattoo shown above.

For this project you will need the following:

  • your airbrush equipment
  • black airbrush body paint
  • a little bit of frisket
  • a model

Scroll down when you are ready to start!

Step 1

First you need to find or draw a design. I am a terrible at drawing – so I “cheat”… I use the photoshop to create designs using free downloadable adobe “brushes”. Try to find a design that will end up being all one piece once it is cut out – it makes it so much simpler.

If you have photoshop, or know someone who does, check out this resource .. brush designs make excellent stencil templates

You will also need some frisket and an exacto knife.

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Step 2

Trace the design on to the piece of frisket.

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Step 3

Using an exacto knife, cut out the shape.

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Step 4

Wrap the frisket around your models arm. There will be some pukering in the frisket – but don’t worry – we can fix that up later.

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Step 5

To make this tattoo just a little bit more interesting, I want to add a gradient to the design… so I have lightly painted the entire exposed surface.

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Step 6

Then I sprayed darker all around the perimeter.

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Step 7

Remove the frisket and look for any “slip-ups” due to the puckered frisket – like the one shown here

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Step 8

Simply use a cotton swab dipped in a little bit of alcohol to clean it off.

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Step 9

And here it is all done….

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airbrush-flag-17

Airbrush Tutorial: Realistic Airbrush Flag

airbrush

For this airbrush tutorial I’ll show you how I painted the flag shown above, which is MUCH cooler than my previous flag! It uses the same technique of layering transparent paints, but, is a little more realistic.

For this project you will need the following:

  • your airbrush equipment
  • red, blue and black TRANSPARENT paints
  • frisket
  • exacto knife
  • pencil
  • black marker
  • scrap paper
  • a surface to paint on

Scroll down when you are ready to start!

Step 1

To start the airbrush tutorial, use the masking tape to make a border around your painting surface – this won’t work without the border. Also, using a pencil, very lightly draw some diagonal lines on your surface to guide where the flags folds are going to go….

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… notice that I left a small area at the bottom right corner to place a little sky … this helps with the realism. In the photo below the sky area is masked off and the pencil lines are erased to near invisible.

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Step 2

Using really heavily reduced black transparent paint (reduced with water) place some soft shadows in the lowest areas of your furled flag. This gives the furls (is furl even a word??!) a rounded effect.

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Step 3

Then, to make the folds more pronounced, fold a piece of paper as shown below and place it along side each of the fold areas. Spray the diluted black paint on to the edge of the paper letting the overspray create the soft edge….

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Step 4

When you remove the paper it should look something like this…

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Step 5

Now what we want to do is deepen the effect with some freehand work…. lightly spray over the fold lines making them gradually darker and darker.

This is the part of the airbrush tutorial where you may make a common airbrush mistake …. it’s called “chickening out” :) …. “chickening out” is when you are so worried about ruining a good thing that you stop short of the goal – this is not the time to be hesitant! Just Go For It! It only looks really dark because you are 10 inches away from it.

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Step 6

Now, place a big piece of frisket over the entire painting surface.

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Step 7

Then break out your black marker and redraw all your lines on the frisket (I like this method because it makes the cutting SO much easier!). At this point double check your design and make sure that you have the right number of stripes in each fold. I actually went through and marked out which ones were red and which were white (with W’s and R’s shown below) just to double check.

(can you tell that I have made that mistake a few time?)

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Step 8

Using an exacto knife cut the frisket along all the black lines. Then remove all the stripes that are going to be red.

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Step 9

Now load up your airbrush with transparent red paint and spray away on the exposed areas. DON’T worry if it looks pink at first … the color will deepen the more you spray.

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Step 10

Once you get all the red placed, remove the frisket covering the blue area of the flag.

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Step 11

Critical Step in the Airbrush Tutorial !!!

BEFORE you start spraying the blue area, take extra special care that EVERYTHING else is protected from overspray! Blue is one of those pigments that just seems to get everywhere!

Here I have used extra frisket to cover the area right next to the blue and then scrap paper to cover the entire rest of the piece…. I even taped down all the exposed edges – just to be safe…

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Step 12

When you are done covering everything, spray blue transparent paint over the area. Layer it on slowly – letting the color deepen as you spray.

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Step 13

Then remove all the frisket and paper to reveal this…

Notice that there is still a little bit of frisket in the bottom right corner – that is where the sky is going to go – which I totally failed to take pictures of! SORRY!

All I did was remove the frisket to expose the white canvas underneath, then I used more frisket to mask off the area and mixed a pale blue sky color and applied.

Again, Sorry I forgot to take photos of that! My bad!

(some airbrush tutorial, eh?)

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Step 14

…. remove all the tape and VOILA …. one completed flag.

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airbrush-horse-10

Airbrush Tutorials: Small, Manageable Bites!

airbrush tutorials

Of all the airbrush tutorials – this is an important one… because rather than being about technique, it’s about confidence!

While the painting above looks really complicated and difficult, it was not terribly difficult to paint… all I had to do was break it down into smaller, more manageable parts…

Part 1

First I came up with a plan … and sketched it all out.

airbrush tutorials

Part 2

The I worked solely on the horses bridle – and I worked on it till I thought it was as perfect as I could get it. Once happy with it, I covered it all up with frisket so that I would not damage any of my hard work with over spray.

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Part 3

Next I worked on the background…again covering it with frisket when I was done.

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Part 4

Next came the boot….

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Here is a close up… just like with the bridle, I worked on the boot till I thought it was the best I could do.

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Part 5

Then I moved onto the pants, sweater and glove – working on them one at a time.

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Part 6

Now it’s time to move on the most complicated part of the painting – the horse. Although he looks completely brown, he was actually several colors – each one was mixed individually and then painted in the right spot.

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Part 7

… And here it is all filled in. Notice how it doesn’t look quite right – nothing a little shading with transparent paints won’t fix!

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Part 8

After lots of careful shading, the horse takes shape – looking more real by the minute… note that this takes patience but is well worth it.

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Part 9

And here it is all done!

I hope showing you that breaking a project down into smaller parts helps with all the other airbrush tutorials and projects you tackle.

airbrush tutorials
airbrush-water-drop-10

How to Airbrush Water Drops

airbrush

Airbrush water drops are very impressive and very simple to paint… just a few simple steps is all it takes..

For this project I will show you how I painted the water drops shown above.

For this project you will need the following:

  • your airbrush equipment
  • a selection of paints
  • a little bit of frisket
  • a surface to paint on

Scroll down when you are ready to start!

Step 1

To start things off you will need to paint your surface some color other than white to make them stand out better. I chose a steely grey (or is it gray… I never know?)

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Step 2

Then apply a piece of frisket on the surface and draw as many water drop type shapes as you like.

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Step 3

Using an exacto knife, cut out the shapes and place them aside – don’t throw them away (or lose them) you’ll need them later.

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Step 4

Using white paint, shade one side of each shape. Notice that I sprayed mostly on the frisket letting the overspray paint the actual highlight. (I cheat whenever possible :)

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Step 5

Now using watered down black transparent paint, add a shadow to the opposite side.

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Step 6

Make sure everything is fully dried, and replace the pieces of frisket (you didn’t lose them, right?). Then remove the larger piece of frisket.

Only the three little pieces of frisket should be left on the surface.

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Step 7

Double then triple check to make sure the pieces of frisket are lined up properly. Once your sure, spray a soft shadow using watered down black transparent paint on the side of that you painted white as shown.

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Step 8

Remove the bits of frisket and marvel at your skill :)

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Step 9

But wait – there is one last step – scratch or spray a little tiny dot on as shown to make your drop look shiny.

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Step 10

And here it is all done! Water drops awaaaaay!

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