Monday, July 22, 2013

My first airbrush project

I had been thinking for a while that my motorcycle helmet was the perfect thing to practice my airbrushing on.  It's already pretty beat up, and well passed the point where everyone recommends replacing it anyway, so I couldn't really hurt it.  But I hadn't been able to decide on any type of design for it, either.

Well, I finally decided.  I'm going to paint a section broken open showing a section of brain underneath.  I decided to do a proof-of-concept on my computer case (what I've been using as an airbrush test panel).  The results are below, in stages.

It took me 6 hours to get to this stage.  I tried 3 different methods of doing the broken edge.  First, I tried just holding a sheet of paper to mask just the one edge I was painting.  But the overspray into other areas was just too much.  Then I tried free-handing the edge, both with a fuzzy boundary and trying a fine-line detail sharp edge.  Neither of these gave the definition (or illusion of definition) that I wanted.  Finally, I taped over what I had left with painters tape and drew a jagged edge on it and removed the exterior so I could paint it.  Or at least, I was supposed to.  Instead I removed the interior the first time.  That's why there are cut marks in the brain area (look close at the top right).  I had to do it again and the painters tape isn't clear, so I couldn't cut in the same place the second time.  This method was the best, but I ended up with a nasty overspray line at the edge of the tape in the brain, since I only taped off what I had left, not the whole thing.  I didn't even realize there was paint there until I peeled the tape off.  Oh well.  Anyway, I painted the cracked edge, then painted the brain inside with no masking.

I have no idea how long it took me to get to this stage, but all I did was tape the edge.  This is definitely NOT the proper way to tape something off.  I tried using just the straight edges of the tape at first, but that was wasting too much tape.  Then I tried tearing pieces to match the edges as closely as I could, but that was very tedious and error prone.  Finally, I ended up cutting tiny thin little strips of tape and putting them down the border, then went back with thicker bands further out.  It took way, way too long.  And I really should have done it before I painted the brain, and then I would have been able to better fill the smaller cracks and such, and wouldn't have gotten brain overspray on my edges.

This is after I've added the drop shadow.

Here I've added the shadowed edges of the break. The drop shadow really didn't take much at all, but the edges did.  I have a hard time with detail, and so I thinned the paint out and it took a lot of layers to build up to the full black.  Also, it probably shouldn't be black, but instead should be a darker blue so that you can better tell that it is the edge of the crack.  And, I've screwed up my highlights.  I just can't seem to get createx white to spray fine.  Either it's too thick and I can't get it to atomize, or it's too thin (I think) and I can't get it keep from "spidering" when I'm close to the surface for detail.  I also suspect that either I'm not mixing the reducer in properly, or createx isn't compatible with the com-art paints I was using to tint it.  I had a slight problem with "blue shift", but I fixed that by tinting the white to orange with the com-art.  I would get one spot to spray fine, and then it seemed like a drop of water or something (I have a water filter) would spit out.

Here it is with the tape removed.  You can see where the brain oversprayed onto the edge, since I didn't have the edge masked off when I painted them.  And one spot near the top actually pulled the paint up.  I also cut far too deep when I was cutting the tape, but I don't know how to get around that.  This tape appears to be at least 2 layers, so if I don't cut all the way through, it tears.  Regardless, here are things I've learned.

1) I originally thought one of the great things about airbrushing was that you didn't have to mix your paints.  Sure, maybe you mix a base color, but you just shade it to your desired opacity.  Then you just use primary colors layered on top of that to get all of the variations for whatever you need.  For instance, a hummingbird I started on would have been a solid medium green.  Then throw some transparent black in the shadows, some yellow in the highlights, maybe a little blue where his feathers shift color, and you've got it.
That's not the way it works, at least not for me.  You really need to think about your colors.  The airbrush is really just a blending tool.  Sure, you CAN layer colors to get new ones, but you should only really do that at the transitions.  At least at my stage, if I am trying to go from blue on one end, yellow on the other, with green in the middle, I need to mix the blue, and paint one end, then mix the yellow and paint the other end, then mix the green and paint the middle, blending it into the yellow and blue.

2) The above is slightly modified for transparents.  For opaques, it's hard and fast.  The colors really don't change as you layer them very much.  But transparents actually do appear to mix more.  But still, think about it.  If you were mixing the colors in the jar, you mix too many and you still get a muddy brown or something at the end.  And if you ever lighten with white and then blend it into something you darkened with black, it will do the same thing on the paper (or whatever media) that it does in the jar; it will head toward dirty gray.  So it's safer to mix your colors, and then use the airbrush to get smooth transitions.

 3) I haven't actually tried frisket, but I can't see myself being able to cut a piece out, paint the hole, and then put that piece exactly in the same space, especially on something curved like a helmet.  So the way I should have painted this was to paint the entire area blue (possibly laying down white first, depending on what's under it).  Then tape off the entire thing and cut out my interior.  Then fill that with white to keep the blue from shading my brain, then paint the brain, drop shadow, and dark edges.  That would have kept all of the brain overspray off of my blue, it would have made it much easier to fill the tiny areas of the cracks, and it would have been MUCH quicker than all of those tiny little pieces of tape I used.  Now, if I was confident in my frisketing, I would have painted the whole thing white, frisketed it, then cut and removed the outside.  I then would have painted that blue and then put the outside back.  Then I would remove the inside and paint the brain and the drop shadow.  Then I would have put the inside back, but shifted it down and left and painted all of the shadowed edges.  Then, since I can't get a fine line with the white, I would have put it back and then taken the outside piece and just BARELY shifted it up and right.  Then I would have mixed a slightly lighter shade of blue to highlight the broken edges, as if they were just slightly sloped from the breaking.

4) I wasn't really considering light and shadow when I did the wrinkles in the brain.  I didn't really consider it until I was working on the highlights, so the wrinkle shadow is equal on both sides.  I really should have made one side of the wrinkles darker than the other.  The drop shadow should also be larger on one side than the other for the same reason.

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