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Dinosaur Skin By Mark Rehkopf

Dinosaur skin has long been the subject of controversy. While dinosaur bones enable paleonthologists to tell the size and shape of a dinosaur, one can only speculate about a dinosaur’s texture and color. Working on several projects involving dinosaur reconstruction has helped me from, what I feel, is a pretty good idea of their appearance. For this painting I was able to incorporate these depictions while emphasizing each dinosaur’s character and personality. To me, the best fantasy artwork has a solid style and gives the viewer a story to think about.

This How-To may look somewhat daunting, but don’t be intimidated. With patience and determination, you can achieve similar results. I recommend using photos of lizards and birds as a reference since no one has cloned and photographed a real dinosaur yet (as far as I know). I also suggest you avoid copying the styles of other artists. In the end, it’s far more satisfying to develop your own style. It’s time to grab your airbrush and art supplies, kiss your family and friends goodbye, and go chain yourself to your art table. It’s only way to get the job done!

Step 1:


Once I had my sketch established, I drew it out in detail directly onto illustration board (I prefer a smooth finish, double-thick board). I tried to keep the drawing as light as possible so the graphite would not allow through the airbrushed paint.

Step 2:


First, a layer of Frisket was put over the whole piece. The frisket was removed from the background and thick brush strokes of gesso were applied to mimic the look of a stucco wall riddled with a bullet holes.

Step 3:


With the gesso texture, it was time to paint. Acrylic burnt umber was brushed in and quickly wiped off to build darkness and enhance the texture of the wall. Cracks and bullet holes were hand-painted in at this point. When this was dry, I used some light sandpaper to bring up any dark areas.

Step 4:


With the airbrush, I airbrush transparent ochre over all exposed areas of the wall. I started off lightly and built up layers gradually. A mixture of opaque burnt umber and transparent smoke were used to show any shadows the dinosaurs cast against wall.

Step 5:


With the wall finished, I moved to the wooden crates. With a brown pencil crayon, I lightly drew in the wood grain texture and cracks, then airbrushed the crates with transparent ochre and burnt sienna. Highlights were added by hand-painting and scraping the surface with an X-Acto blade.


Step 6:


The dinosaur hinter was hand-painted in, loosely at first, then tightened up with thicker, deeper color. I airbrushed in transparent smoke to create shadow and white for the highlights on his armor and gun.

Step 7:



The first dinosaur was the big T-Rex, Dinosaur enthusiasts argue about the skin color, texture, patterning, and musculature, but I try not to let their arguments overly influence me (unless, of course, they are paying me to do it their way).


My objective was to make the dinosaurs look fairly accurate, quite colorful, and somewhat threatening. I wanted this T-Rex to be an olive green color with some subtle, darker skin patterns on its neck and back. To begin the area and surrounding the T-Rex was masked off. I airbrushed the transparent ochre first, followed by olive green, which was my own combination of burnt umber and various greens. Areas under and around skin folds are darker, while the belly, chest, and throat are fairly light in color.

Step 8:


This is where you learn to hate and curse the ground upon which I stand!


EVERY SINGLE SCALE ON THE DINOSAUR SKIN MUST BE HAD-PAINTED, Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts, fancy gimmicks, or fast tricks that will look right. Each little pill-like bump needs color, shadow, and highlight. Looking at photos of lizards helped me to understand dinosaur skin and color changes that occur in specific areas of the skin.


For example, I prefer the top of the head, along the back, the nose, and the lips (yes, lips!) to be darker in color. The scales in these areas eventually grow lighter in color as you move across the skin. From time to time, I used the airbrush to deepen the colors or to “set back” an area where the hand-painting was too harsh. I also used an airbrush with burnt.



Step 9:


The next dinosaur is a Carnotaurus, which looks quite intimidating in a deep red color. This dinosaur was painted in the same manner as the T-Rex.


Step 10:


The velocriaptor needed a slightly different approach. I drew in all the wrinkles, folds, and skin pattern with brown pencil crayon, then airbrushed over that using burnt orange and burnt umber. Details such as claws, mouth, and eyes are hand-painted in. the word “ammo” in the wooden crates was airbrushed through a small plastic stencil.



Step 11:


The allosaur (blue and yellow) and the Nano-tyrannus (mottled brown) were painted in the same way yet again. The last and smallest, of the dinosaurs was an Eoraptor.

Step 12:


For the final stage, I went over the entire painting, tightening up details, punching up highlights, and deepening colors and shadows where necessary. By this point, I was seeing dinosaur skin in my sleep, so I sprayed an acrylic matte varnish over the piece and called it finished.


One last hint:

if you’re going to paint dinosaur skin the way I’ve described, choose just one dinosaur to start. Painting six of them is just insane! Some one wake me when the next issue comes out.


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