How to Airbrush Brick and Stone - Part 1

A PDF of this article is available for download here



SURFACE: Strathmore 240 Heavyweight Illustration board. I love this board for most illustration work. It’s 100% rag, is virtually indestructible, has a great medium tooth that holds paint beautifully and is perfect for colored pencils and any other medium you want to throw at it. However, if you want to work reductively, meaning removing pigment by scraping, erasing or sanding it’s not the best. For that you want a hard surface such as Frisk CS-10 (when you can find it) or a gessoed surface such as Masonite.

AIRBRUSH: Olympos HP 100B

COMPRESSOR: Iwata Hammerhead


FRISKET: Vinyl frisket, Frisk Matte Finish; paper frisket (for working wet with sponges and spattering); Canary tracing paper and rubber cement in a specific, fabulous recipe I learned about at an Airbrush Getaway workshop:(1 part two-coat rubber cement, 2 parts one-coat. rubber cement, 2 parts Bestine thinner). This mixture provides the perfect tack for frisket, and in combination with the Utrecht’s Canary tracing paper, it’s waterproof and will not allow wet media to seep under the cut areas.

PAINT: Medea ComArt Airbrush Pigments, Golden Airbrush Colors and Acrylics, and Airbrush Extender, Liquitex Acrylics, and Matte Medium. (I am not a purest when it comes to paints; any quality brand will do. I use acrylics exclusively because of their permanence, lightfastness and the ease with which I can go from glazing techniques to opaque cover techniques, and from the airbrush to traditional brushes and other tools, such as sponges, toothbrushes and ruling pens.)

MISCELLANEOUS: Sponges’ synthetic sponges (old, beat up ones are best) and elephant ear sea sponges’ toothbrush, 1-inch flat watercolor brush, fan brush, #4 and #2 round sable watercolor brushes, enamel butcher tray, 2-ounce plastic portion cups with lids (for mixing paint), X-Acto knife with #11 blades, and .003-mil acetate for general masking.

Part 1 of 2 by Rick Lovell


First, I shot some reference photos with a digital camera and printed the best stone and brick shots to use as reference. I’ve found that my work is much less convincing if I try to just “make stuff up.” My imagination simply can’t conjure up the variety of form, pattern, shape, color and texture that can be found in nature.



I cut a piece of Strathmore 240 Board to size, leaving 1 1/2-inch borders all around. The board is 15-by 20- inches, and the image is 12- by 17-inches.



On tracing paper, I measured off the brick shapes with a ruler and T-square since they are so geometric. For the stones, I simply drew them freehand on the tracing paper, and roughly indicated the main shadow shapes and some of the more obvious textural elements. I taped off the borders of the board with blue painters tape it’s cheap and works better than traditional masking tape for keeping edges nice and clean.



On a paper plate (for quick and easy cleanup), I mixed Liquitex Titanium White, Yellow Ochre and Neutral Gray. I was aiming for a light khaki color that would serve as the foundation color for the mortar on the brick side and the sandstone rocks on the other side.



Using a 1-inch flat brush, I quickly scumbled in a mottled background making sure it was organic looking with lots of variation in color and value.



To create the look of stone as well as the mortar between the bricks, I us ed a combination of spattering with a toothbrush, airbrush, and a fan brush. I scraped the brushes across the handle of an old paintbrush, being careful not to pull the brushes toward me (which results in a nicely textured face and clothes).

For finer stippling using the airbrush, I turned the pressure down to almost zero on my airbrush regulator and pumped the needle back and forth.



In each of these techniques, I used light colors including white, and dark colors, including black, and many shades and colors in between. Variety is the key here; even mortar has lots of colors and values all mixed in, and a monochrome approach will look flat and lifeless.



Next comes the sponge. Using a variety of colors and matte medium, I begin to create more variation in texture with two different sponges; an elephant ear sea sponge for finer texture, and a synthetic sponge for larger, rougher textures. I use a variety of colors in different strengths and levels of transparency to give the effect of natural surfaces. My colors are going from olives to pinks to purples to rust colors. Again, variety is the key.



Here is the foundation texture for the stone. Lots of color and textural variation for the rocks.



And this is the mortar that will bebetween the bricks. Much more uniform and center toward the edges, and rub it down well with my hands to make good contact. Then, I use a fresh blade in my knife to cut out the bricks freehand; I want some waves and imperfections in the cut lines so they don’t look too perfect. I then remove the frisket that is covering the brick shapes. I won’t need those brick shapes again, so I discard them. This image shows the piece with the frisket in place with the brick shapes removed. I’m now ready to airbrush the bricks.



To transfer my brick and stone drawings, I used Saral transfer paper in blue, which is easy to see on the warm tones of the background, but subtle enough that it will not be obvious in the final painting.



In order to see where I am while transferring the sketch, I use a ballpoint pen. If I used a pencil, it would be nearlyimpossible to see what I had traced over, and what I had not.




Here’s the artwork with the blue line transfer of the drawing. It’s just a map of the edges of the elements; there is no indication of any texture or shading.



Since the next step will involve both airbrushing and working with wet sponges and brushes, I used homemade frisket instead of the manufactured vinyl frisket.

Vinyl is great for strictly airbrushing, but it isn’t sticky enough to prevent washes and wet spatters from wicking under the edges and ruining the work. For wet work like this, I use Canary tracing paper, which is widely available in art supply stores. The adhesive is a concoction of two varieties of rubber cement and Bestine thinner (the recipe is in the Materials section above).

Two coats of the rubber cement recipe are applied to the back side of the Canary tracing paper and allowed to dry. Then, I turn it over, careful not to let the glued surface touch itself (if it does, your done for; it won’t come apart). Once it’s laid in position on the painting, I carefully smooth it out from the center toward the edges, and rub it down well with my hands to make good contact.

Then, I use a fresh blade in my knife to cut out the bricks freehand; I want some waves and imperfections in the cut lines so they don’t look too perfect. I then remove the frisket that is covering the brick shapes. I won’t need those brick shapes again, so I discard them. This image shows the piece with the frisket   in place with the brick shapes removed. I’m now ready to airbrush the bricks.



Using variations of Medea Bright Red, Sienna and Transparent Smoke, I begin spraying in the local colors of the bricks. I can be pretty loose here, as I want to avoid being too smooth or consistent with the colors and values. Bricks may be manmade, but there is huge variation from one brick to the other, and in this case, I am painting old, weathered brick, so the gnarlier (is that a word?), the better. I want the colors to be somewhat transparent so all that texture I laid in before will show through. I am using torn craft paper as a hand-held mask so I can get rough, organic edges to the color and value changes that I’m spraying. As I progressed, I stepped back and noticed that the bricks were too uniformly red, so I added some blues and purples to add some cool tones and some variety in the color palette.



To add even more texture, I picked up the sponge again and dabbed in some darks and lights to replicate all the character of the old brick. I am continually referring to the reference photo to remind myself how varied these colors and textures should be.

rick lovell

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