Art by Puala  

9 Steps in creating an Airbrush painting

  1. brainstorming
  2. thumbnail sketches
  3. creation of final layout
  4. projecting image onto full size drawing paper
  5. finalizing drawing - working out details
  6. transfer to canvas
  7. background painting and masking out the area with frisket
  8. main subject painting
  9. clear coat

Step 1.  Brainstorming

The painting process is started by gathering as much information as possible about the proposed subject. It is best to obtain pictures of the subject from different angles and in different lighting, as well as doing a little research on the subject.  Seeing the subject  in person is a plus, at which time you can mentally note all the subtle things that photographs don't show you. If you are doing the painting for someone, find out what kind of mood they would like the painting to portray (calmness, excitement, happiness, etc.), and if they have any preferences as the what should be in the painting. (A waterfall, their favorite place, etc.) Gather pictures of potential backgrounds too.

Step 2:  Thumbnail Sketches

From the materials you gathered in step one, think up and sketch out some rough ideas.   I use my computer to compile the images by scanning my favorite reference pictures into a graphic software.   Using the software, I cut out the background from the subject, and layer in several backgrounds and subject angles, viewing one combo at a time.   The best combos I save as a JPEG file and have the client decide which one they like the best.

Step 3:  Creation of the Final Layout Sketch

Once a favorite thumbnail sketch is decided upon, fine-tuning takes place.   Changing the subtle placement or colors of items to bring out the best effect for the painting and your subject.


Step 4:  Getting the image on Paper

Once the best thumbnail sketch is decided upon, I project the printed image onto drawing paper that is close to the actual size that the painting will be rendered in. 


Step 5:  Finalizing the Drawing

Once the layout is projected onto the drawing board, the sketch must be refined.   The more precise and detailed the lines are in the drawing, the better the painting will turn out. I use several drafting tools to obtain smooth arcs, straight lines, ovals, etc., to create the car's diverse body-lines.  My favorite tool is the blue flexible pen guide that allows you to shape it to any curved or straight line. Use a light touch with a #2 pencil as you refine, then use a heavier line for the final lines.  The kneaded eraser is great for erasing lines without smudging or tearing holes in the paper.


Step 6:  Transfer to Canvas

Once the full size drawing is complete, it must be transferred to the canvas or illustration board.  I take my drawing in to a copy shop and have the drawing xeroxed in a blue-print copy machine, expanding the size of the final copy to the canvas size if needed.  Transferring via a xerox copy preserves your original drawing.  Using the xeroxed copy, place a carbon-copy type paper for art transfer  under the xerox (do not use regular carbon copy paper as it is too permanent).  Tape the drawing and copy paper in place and trace over the lines to transfer them onto the board.   Be sure to check the first few lines you trace to make sure you are applying appropriate pressure.

Step 7:  Paint the Background

Once the drawing is transferred to the canvas or board, the next step is to paint the background.  I use lay frisket film down over the whole board.  Using a very sharp exacto blade, I carefully cut exactly along the subject's drawn lines.  A light touch is best; pressing too hard will cut the board, pressing too soft will not cut the frisket enough.  Pull the frisket away from the board on the background areas you want to paint.  Work from farthest back towards the foreground when you paint. Lay out your reference pictures close by so you can refer to them while you paint, to obtain the most accurate rendering of your image. 

Remember when painting with airbrush that the colors are transparent, and layering different colors over each other can give different effects, and become darker the more you layer.  For this reason, do not paint too darkly at first.

A trick to keep the paint from being pulled off by the frisket is to spray Workable Matt Fixative over the painted areas, letting it thoroughly dry before applying the next step of frisket film.

Step 8:  Paint Main Subject

Once the background is painted, the main subject can be painted.  I lay frisket film over the whole board again, this time cutting out the shapes in the subject that I want to work on. (For example, when you paint the black areas in the interior, fenders, tires, etc. you would only cut and remove the frisket from those areas. ) It is better to make all your cuts in the frisket before you start painting, as overspray will be hard to see through to cut your other lines. Cut out only those areas of a certain color you want to spray.  Work dark to light, not letting your dark areas get too dark when first applied, as they will get darker as you spray the lighter areas.  You can reapply the cut frisket shapes and paint other areas, just be really careful to reapply it exactly where the film went or you can end up with white areas.  When you get to a point where it it not possible to reapply the film, remove all the frisket and put another layer on the board, recutting any areas that still need paint.  Remember to use the Workable Matt Fixative between sessions of applying frisket so that it doesn't remove any paint from areas you've already finished. 

As the last step, remove all frisket and freehand airbrush any areas that still need color.  You can use colored pencils or illustrating pens to fill in any tiny areas that the paint is missing, or to do fine detailing.

For frisket film and other art supplies, I recommend, as their prices are very reasonable.

Step 9:  Clear Coat

When your painting is complete and perfect, remember that acrylic airbrush paint is water soluble and must be protected from the elements.  Spray a couple coats protective coat of museum quality protectant on it.  I use Kamar Varnish as it yields good results. 

77vette final image