How to Airbrush Brick and Stone - Part 2

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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 ca006E find it) or a gessoed surface such as Masonite.


Olympos HP 100B


Iwata Hammerhead


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 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, light fastness 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.)


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.

We laid the foundation in the Previous issue (March-April ’07), now it’s time to finish the job!

STEPS (Continued from Part 1)



Now that I’m satisfied with the general brick colors, it’s time to remove the paper frisket and turn my attention to the mortar. The mortar has a lot of dimension as well, so I am airbrushing some shadows using a warm mixture of transparent smoke, yellow ochre, matte medium, airbrush extender and water. It gives me a transparent glaze with plenty of binder so that it stays put even if I work on top of it with a wet brush. If I were to just add water, and went over it with a wet brush or a sponge, the thin pigment might lift off entirely. To establish the concavity of the mortar joints, I freehand some shadow lines, and begin to establish the form of the mortar. When the mortar was laid in between the bricks, it was forced into the cracks using a special tool called a pointer; it creates a watertight, compressed seal. In the tooling process, some of the mortar is squeezed up into a ridge that forms above and below the valley of mortar. So, I was careful to leave that ridge in the artwork of the mortar by avoiding bringing the shadow all the way up to the edges of the bricks.



In order to keep that ridge of mortar sharp and clear, I tore a piece of acetate to use as a mask, and airbrushed the shadow with a hard, wavy edge to indicate that the mortar had been pushed up by the pointing tool, and was casting a shadow down into the valley of the mortar joint. This amount of detail may seem excessive, but it’s what gives a sense of realism and authenticity to any piece of representational art.



The next step in the mortar process is to bring out the highlights and accentuate the grains of sand in the process. This is done with a very light shade of warm gray and a round sable brush; here I’m using a #4 brush. I’m keeping in mind a single light source for the piece as I paint the highlights; the sun is above and to the left, so the highlights and shadows are painted accordingly.



This detail of the bricks shows the surface of the bricks and the mortar. This part of the piece is nearly done…just a few details remain.



The finishing touches on the bricks are the accentuation of the surface imperfections. All the sponge marks and all the spatters have created an organic arrangement of pits, cracks, nooks and crannies in the surface. If one imagines that those pits and cracks are real, and takes into consideration the position of the light source, it’s merely a matter of adding a lighter shade of the object’s local color along the ridges and protrusions that are facing the light. Also, some richer darks can be added to the inside of those pits and cracks to add to the illusion of depth. When taken together, this logical pattern of lights and darks creates a sense of texture and dimension that is consistent, natural, and convincing. The fine art term for this illusion is chiaroscuro.



This is the brick before highlights were added to accentuate the textures.



This image shows the addition of lighter shades to accentuate the textures. The difference is subtle, but when viewed as a whole, it makes the surface seem richer, more heavily textured, and more natural.




To begin the stone texture, I tape the tracing paper sketch in position over the artwork. This helps me see the edges of the stones and their shadows more clearly. A sheet of .003-mil acetate is taped in position over the sketch, making certain that the acetate is taped to the board, and not the tracing paper—the tracing paper will be removed after the acetate is cut, and the acetate must remain in position over the artwork. I score the acetate with a new X-Acto blade, being careful not to cut through to the illustration surface. Once the shadow shapes are scored on the acetate, the tape at the top, bottom and right side is removed, leaving the acetate hinged to the board along the left edge.

The tracing paper sketch is then removed from beneath the acetate. The acetate is then bent along the score lines, which breaks the scores and allows the cut shadow shape areas to be removed. I dab a little rubber cement to the back of the acetate in strategic places and allow the rubber cement to dry. When I lay the acetate down on the surface of the illustration, the rubber cement dabs will adhere to the board just enough to keep it from lifting too much when I begin airbrushing. I don’t want the acetate to stick too tight, because I want it to flutter a little when I spray so the edges will be soft; edges that are too sharp don’t look natural.



This is the artwork after the shadow shapes have been cut out and the openings have been sprayed with a bluish gray mixture of transparent color (the acetate is still in place at this point). The next step is to begin airbrushing in some of the intermediate shadows between the stones, being careful not to go too dark. I continually lift the acetate to judge the value of the shadows against the lighter shades of the stones.



Once I’m happy with the shadow shapes, I can remove the acetate and begin developing the rich textures of the stones using a combination of airbrush and traditional painting techniques. I bring in some richer reds, blues and purples with a fan brush and watercolor brush in order to add more variety of color.



An acetate hand-held mask with a torn edge is used to help create crisp edges for cracks and changes in planes within the rocks. It’s important to have a variety of tonal transitions within natural forms; some tonal transitions are abrupt and create a hard edge, while others are very soft and undulating as the form moves toward or away from the light. The acetate can be held firmly against the surface to create a hard edge, or it can be lifted slightly to create a softer edge. It’s also important to be aware of the form as it turns away from the light source, and to maintain the reflected light that makes its way into the shadows.



This is the rock at the end of the airbrush stage. The overall value is laid in, and the form of the rock has beenestablished through the modeling of the dark and light. Now the fun begins!



Using #4 and #2 round sable brushes, I begin looking for those marvelous pits and cracks that were created with the sponges and spatters. I mix Liquitex acrylics in Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Dioxazine Purple and Burnt Sienna to get a range of warm, natural colors, and accentuate the edges and planes of the rock that are facing the light source. My brush strokes are short and choppy, almost like stippling, so as to maintain the texture of the stone. In the brightest areas, I use almost pure white, while in other areas amore subtle color is required. With darker colors, and even a touch of black, I paint in the deepest cracks and recesses within the shadows, being careful not to go too dark. Every few minutes, I stand up, step back, and look at the piece from several feet away to get a sense of the overall piece. I work all over the board at once rather than concentrating on one stone at a time in order to avoid overworking one spot and possibly ignoring another. In this detail you can see that the brushwork is fairly impressionistic, but the essence of the stone has been depicted in enough detail to be somewhat convincing. The trick is to be mindful of the lights and shadows, and to keep as much detail in the shadows as possible. It’s also helpful if you maintain a logical mix of warm and cool colors; here, the shadows are on the cool side of the color wheel, while the lighted areas are warmer.



The final image with highlight details added. I hope this has been helpful to you, because it’s been a blast to do. Now fire up your brushes and rock on.

rick lovell

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