Airbrush tutorial

Airbrush basics: Painting a car's exterior sheet-metal body color.

Airbrush Tutorial - Car

Airbrush Tutorials

Airbrush Painting | Airbrush Equipment

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

Airbrush Basics: Car Sheet-Metal Body Color

Airbrush is a much less forgiving endeavor than digital illustration, and with airbrush there is no command>undo. Mistakes are costly as they usually result in the need to do a separate piece of work as a patch or fix and have a printer strip it into the main image. Reworking an area over and over is not an option as the paint takes on a different (and undesirable) quality if it is built up too thickly. In the airbrush world it was necessary to go through three to four weeks of solid work without a single mistake in order to produce a ghosted cutaway illustration.

In this demonstration you would start with an inked line drawing created on a suitable illustration board. The inking is done over a light pencil drawing using a Koh-I-Noor (or similar) Rapidograph. Technical Note: It is crucial that you do not touch the board's surface with your bare hands as the oil from your fingers will prevent the water-based acrylic paint from adhering correctly, and fingerprints will be visible in large areas containing smooth gradations. Use a paper towel under your hand while inking to prevent any transfer.

Basic Photoshop Painting Tutorial - Inked Line Art

Using Frisket or a similar masking material, you will paint or airbrush one section at a time. The self-adhesive transparent film is applied to the surface of the board and all of the trapped air is smoothed out by stroking the frisket surface from one corner to another with a towel. Unlike our example, you would tape velum or construction paper around the frisket to prevent overspray.

An X-Acto knife is used to cut a windowed area to airbrush through. You need to keep the knife moving all the way along an unbroken line. Stops and starts will leave jagged edges. It is important to change the blade after several strokes. A sharp blade will not indent the illustration board. Note: For more information on line art and perspective drawing techniques, go to the: Lessons and Tutorials section of our "Technical Illustration Students" page.

Painting Tutorial - Cutting the mask

The example below shows the cutout window area to be sprayed (shown in yellow). After you have cut out the window, press down and smooth out the frisket mask with a paper towel. Do not use your fingers or you will leave oil on the board and the water-soluble acrylic will not adhere to those areas that have been touched.

Painting Tutorial - Cutting the mask

Always mask off the entire art-board with velum or other water-resistant material before you do any painting so as to protect the artboard from any over-spray. Cut a window in the velum that is larger than the area to be painted and then apply the frisket on top of the velum. Check for any possible gaps or leaks before painting.

You can control the diameter of the spray area by moving the airbrush closer or further away from the board. Start out a good distance from the board and move in closer for more detail. Start your spray stoke outside of the cutout window and work your way into the cutout window. Sometimes the initial blast of air can produce and unpredictable spurt of paint that will ruin the smooth gradation you are trying to achieve. Stopping and starting your spray strokes within the cutout window can leave undesirable "hot spots".

Painting Tutorial - Painting Begins

Build up your paint density very slowly. I like to dilute the paint so that it is very thin. This accomplishes two things; You wont overdo it in two or three stokes and the airbrush does not clog as fast. If you dilute the paint correctly, you must work slowly as you can easily over-wet the board. This can have disastrous results and potentially ruin your work.

Painting Tutorial - Painting in layers

You can use a ruler, french-curve, or ships-curve as a mask to spray soft highlights, shadows or in this case, a hood "feature" ridge. If you want to harden the edge, place the french-curve on the artboard and spray very close to the edge. The windshield reflection on the upper area of the hood was made with this technique. If you would like to achieve a softer edge, slightly elevate the french curve off the surface of the artboard.

Painting Against French Curve

If you are not sure that you are finished with an area, peel back the film from one corner and leave part of the opposite corner attached. This way, you can observe the final result and if need be, re-apply the mask without any mis-registration. Always peel back the frisket gently so as to not remove any paint.

Lifting Frisket

Remember to ALWAYS mask off the entire art board with velum before you do any painting. This is especially important when you are spraying a large area. Remember, with airbrush there is no going back. Once you have made a mistake like this, the artwork is ruined.

Painting Over-Spray

This is how the finished hood area will look when the frisket is removed. Remember to archive the mask by replacing it on its carrier sheet. If you need to go back later and make adjustments to a specific area, simply re-apply the saved frisket mask to the same area and make your adjustments.

Painting Tutorial - Finished Area

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