Airbrush Tutorial: Call of the Wild

by Bill Silvers


I got the idea to paint idealized poster girls one day while work- Iing alongside an artist who creates stylized renderings of women similar to those done by the late Patrick Nagel. The figures I illustrate have exaggerated pro- portions to enhance their visual impact. Since I have always hated doing the same style over and over, this a great compromise.

I am able to combine many of my favorite styles into this theme by using my design and photorealism talents along the way. To me, it is the perfect combination of all the things that I love to do. Each new illustration is a challenge.

I’m now back in Ohio where I started out, but when I first found work as an illustrator and designer at a small New York City ad agency, I had only a handful of art equipment. I used to sit on a wooden crate at my desk. Over the years, I have developed a great studio. I like things very organized and arm’s reach. I believe in investing in the best art materials: in my studio I have Winsor & Newton’s entire gouache, acrylic, and watercolor airbrush sets and the complete Denvent, Prisma, and Design colored pencil sets. I also have a Minolta 450 Zoom copier and Iwata and Paasche airbrushes I. have the essentials of stereo and television-which help me concen- trate on my work and tune out counter-productive thoughts. I feel that having a studio equipped in this way helps me to avoid the undue stress and confusion associated with a messy and unorganized studio. I always know exactly where to find what I need, thus eliminating time- wasting searches for materials.

The Project

callofthewild1First, after finding good references from magazines and other sources, I do several sketches. After arriving at a final sketch (Figure I), I use a light table to trace the final image very lightly onto Canson airbrush paper using a mechanical pencil with a 6H lead. I use Canson airbrush paper for four main reasons: it has a durable surface, it is heavyweight, it can be directly separated on a scanner, and it is semitransparent on the light table. I then apply matte-finish low- tack frisket film to cover the entire sheet of Canson paper.

In this particular illustration, the idea was to have ripped paper in the background to accent the savage look of the girl. The illustration of the ripped paper required the use of a swivel knife. I simply moved my hand in minute jerking movements to whip the swivel blade in all directions, resulting in a believable jagged look. After the frisket was removed for the color portion of the paper, a second jagged cut was made just outside the first to simulate the white of the paper that occurs when paper is ripped.


Choosing warm colors to emphasize the savage look, I use the Iwata HP-BC airbrush and Winsor & Newton airbrush acrylics. I spray Dioxazine violet, spectrum yellow, Winsor yellow, brilliant orange, and process magenta, carefully gradating the colors from the violet to the yel- low. Because of the fumes from heavy spray, I use a 3M dual-filtered air mask (Figure 2).


Next, I splatter true blue and cheny red Krylon spray paint onto the background (Figure 3). By pressing down on the nozzle of the spray can ever so slightly, it causes a very nice splattering effect. Then, using Utrecht cadmium yellow light acrylic straight from the tube and a 1-inch brush, I whip paint onto the illustration with a swift snap of the wrist (Figure 4).



To create the illusion of depth, I reposition the outside frisket to produce a shadow (Figure 5). By using the frisket this way, I achieve a believable shadow in a short amount of time. I use Winsor & Newton process black and phthalo blue acrylic thinned with five parts of water. After removal of the thin strips of frisket used for the white of the ripped paper, the back- ground is finished (Figure 6).


To do the swimsuit, I cover the illustration with acetate. After cutting a stencil in the acetate approximately one-fourth inch larger than the area of the swimsuit, I lay down low-tack frisket over the acetate. This method protects the background from overspray, but since the frisket sticks to only a small portion of the illustration (the majority is protected by acetate), there is lit- tle danger of lifting the paint from the board. Next, I cut out the swimsuit area from the frisket and spray it with Winsor & Newton process black and ultramarine acrylic (Figure 7 ). The frisket is then removed.

Next, I mask off the skin area using acetate and frisket as before. After cutting the skin areas from the frisket, I airbrush using black thinned with about seven parts water in order to determine the exact placement of shadows and contours of the skin. I tape acetate templates in place to sep- arate different body parts. In this step, it is important to keep the black very light. This is done only to take the place of a more detailed pencil sketch. I have seen too many illustrations ruined by the underlying pencil draw- ings, which are sometimes impossible to cover completely (Figure 8).



Using Badger white and Winsor & Newton yellow and Indian red, I mix up an average light fleshtone. I then cover most of the illustration, spraying darker in the shadow areas. Next, I use bright colors straight from the bottle, including Winsor & Newton marigold, process magenta, Chinese orange, and ochre for overall skin color. I use burnt umber, Dioxazine violet, and a very small touch of process black for the shadow areas (Figure 9).

Most of the colors are airbrushed using the Iwata HP-BC, but I also use the Paasche AB for detailed areas for more precise control. Using Badger white, I tone down some of the colors, spraying ever so lightly and only in areas where needed. This step gives the skin a more opaque look (it would look translucent otherwise). I then repeat small amounts of the bright colors where needed. I do very little mixing of colors while spraying the skin because the final illustration will have more depth and color and will look more realistic if the viewer’s eye does the blending.

Next, I use 11-by-14-inch acetate to cut templates for the eyes and lips. After placing frisket over the acetate, I cut out the eyes and lips. I spray the iris of the eye with Winsor & Newton cerulean blue hue. Next, I hand-paint the pupil using process black. I do details with black and white Dement watercolor pencils. I airbrush the lips next using Winsor & Newton spectrum red, Chinese orange, brilliant orange, and white. Again, details are added with the white and black Dement pencils. I lift off the frisket used for the eyes and lips and start putting finish- ing touches on the rest of the body using Dement pencils. I use Dement pencils because they are not waxy like some other colored pencils, and they are also soft and water-soluble. The airbrushed surface has a rough finish that allows the colored pencil to go down easily. I use the pencils sparingly and only for detailed work. I use the colors copper beech, terra cotta, deep cadmium, and deep vermilion for medium tones; ivory black for the deepest shadows and folds in the skin; and white for small highlights in the skin. For strong highlights I brush in Badger white (Figure 10).


After taking off the frisket used for the skin, I frisket off the hair using the method described earlier. I spray a medium color mixed from Badger white, Winsor & Newton ochre, and Winsor & Newton marigold (Figure 11). Next, I define some of the shapes and shadows by airbrush- ing burnt umber, Indian red, and process black. I then add details with colored pencils: middle chrome, terra cotta, golden brown, burnt umber, ivory black, and Chinese white. Finally, I do all final touch-up with Winsor & Newton #2 and #000 brushes, blending the colored pencil with water and mixing color where needed using Winsor & Newton acrylic (Figure 12).




About the Author

callofthewild-airbrush-bill-silversBill Silvers received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degreefrom Bowling Green State University in Ohio. During his seven years as a professional artist, he has done workfor clients including MacGregor Sporting Goods, Goodyear, and Koh-I-Noor. Silvers, along with two partners, recently opened the Live Wire Studio in Cleveland.





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