The colors of David Kimble’s vintage autos glow as if they were cut from precious stones; the texture of the chrome is so realistic that you expect it to reflect the lights in the room where the painting hangs. You can almost smell the upholster leather.
How does Kimble get these textural effects? By carefully balancing the placement of the paint on the proper side of the film positive he paints on and by expert control of his airbrush.
Kimble begins with a line rendering of the subject and has the line art transferred to a film positive. He notes that the choice of the proper film is important. “In doing film positives, only certain types of litho films are suitable. The majority of litho films have a slight tint or color value; for example, they might be slightly green or slightly yellow,” he says. “l’ve found that only the Agfa films- and then only a small family of those– reproduce a relatively clear, neutral piece of film.
“l’ve also found that the best paint to use is gouache, which locks to the microporosity of the film emulsion and produces a bond that i s better than the bond i t produces on board. In fact, it’s much tougher than acrylic or any other type of paint. I’ve tried. You can actually use an eraser on it.”
Kimble uses the gouache straight from the tube, mixed with ordinary tap water. “l’ve found that there are a jot of unnecessary rituals that people go through: filtering paint or mixing in all sorts of bizarre things like glycerin or detergent to break the surface tension. Almost everyone I’ve talked to is firmly convinced that you have to mix all sorts of mysterious additives, and maybe even use a few incantations, to get the paint to stick to the surface.”
Kimble works on both sides of the film positive. He originally applied Pantone for color, using airbrush detailing. “I gradually started airbrushing more and more over the course of the year.” His cutaway of a vintage Indian motorcycle was the first project to be done entirely without the Pantone.
“The Indian is interesting because it is backwards,” Kimble says. While he was working on it he realized that he could get different textural effects by working on both sides of the film. “I realized that when you turned the film over, the colors looked different; they picked up contrast and were more brilliant than on the side on which they were painted. That very quickly led me to realize that painting on both sides could expand the variations and results I got from the paint.
I decided that certain things would go on one side of the film and certain things on the other. But because I had never done it before, I decided wrong.
“I found that it looked better the opposite way, so I finished it backwards. I took all the lettering off so that there was nothing that was a mirror image. When it was finished, we flopped it.” In the original that hangs in Kimble’s studio, the kick starter is shown on the left, definitely backwards from the actual machine.
The completed artwork is photo- graphed for reproduction, a process Kimble has found to be difficult to do with accuracy. Neil Nissing, the photographer who shares his studio space, has, over the years, developed a method of reproducing the artwork using regular studio equipment. The results, Kimble says, “are better than the job done by the biggest color house, using the most expensive processing cameras.”
Nissing supplies a color transparency to the client, either paid directly or as part of Kimble’s package. “These days laser scanning from a transparency produces results much closer to the artwork than camera separation does,” Kimble says.
Kimble points out that the airbrush is a tool and that no technique will offset a lack of skill. “An airbrush is a lot like a simple musical instrument. I think of it as being like a flute, because the effect that you gain with it is a combination of tempo-the way that it is moved over the surface–and the way that you manipulate the trigger, which is like running your fingers over the holes in the flute. It’s the manipulation of the air pressure, the amount of paint, and the timing and tempo.
“You have to remember that the airbrush is just another tool; what it does for you is spray paint. All the rest of it has to come from within the artist.”