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Flesh Bone and Metal By Steven Craig


Steven Craig is the owner of SKC Customz in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He has only been airbrushing for eight years. But in that short amount of time, he has achieved the 2003 House of Kolor Prestigious Painter Award, among many others. He is sponsored by Hot Hues of Dupont Industries and teaches airbrushing. His website,, is one of the most frequented custom paint sites. He also runs a web forum for beginning and professional airbrushes.

Metal panels with rivets and rust are far from a new concept in airbrushing. A good trend will cycle back again and again. Here on the West Coast (the trendsetter), rusty panels are coming back in. This easy technique spices up any paint job as a background to complement most graphics and illustrations. For this illustration, I’m going to use a combination of masking techniques combined with freehand work. A good airbrusher should be able to do both freehand and masking as well. Use of masking is a necessity with automotive paints. This is mainly due to the solvents and aggressive overspray. Time is money, so find ways to use everyday items around you to make the job easier and faster.

Step 1:

step 1

To start off, scuff the sign blank with a red Scotch-Brite pad. Mask up the entire sign blank with transfer tape (also called R-Tape or Auto Mask). You can draw your initial sketch directly to the transfer tape or onto the sign blank with either a soft #2 pencil or chalk.

Step 2:

step 2

Using a new razor blade, gently cut the transfer tape to open up the first area to be painted. With the Dupont MasterTint system, I started off by mixing up three shades of gray. The first gray is almost white with just a drop of black added. This will be the base build on.

Step 3:


Create the bone structure and midtones using medium gray.

Step 4:

step 4

Use a darker gray to achieve a deep tonal value. Layer over the medium gray to build shadow areas and gain definition.

Step 5:

step 5

Deepen the shadow areas with black. For the final touches, add white highlights. Add a few cracks to the skull.

Step 6:

step 6

This mask was cut to do several steps without remasking. Save the pieces removed so you can use them again. Besides what you see open here, the eye and teeth are precut. To achieve depth, airbrush the area you see open dark gray first. Then add black. You want to give the illusion that light is projecting into the sockets of the skull.

Step 7:

step 7

Here the teeth, eye, and worms have been added. Apply a new piece of transfer tape over the entire illustration. Open up the flesh areas. Create what is known in the printing industry as a “trap”. Cut inside the area already painted so your mask will overlap by fraction.

Step 8:

step 8

Start by painting the entire area with a fleshtone. Using an Iwata HP-B Hi-Line, begin the layering process with Yellow Oxide, create the texture for the flesh with folds, indents, and ridges. You want the flesh to look as if it’s on top of the skull, not part of it.

Step 9:

step 9

Layer Transparent Red Oxide over the yellow Oxide to create definition. The transparent Red Oxide is barely visible with the first pass. The more you apply, the deeper the tone.

Step 10:

step 10

layer the shadow areas using Transparent Deep Violet over the Transparent Red Oxide. You can gradually build up these areas to a deep color without using a dominating black.

Step 11:

step 11

For the final touches of the flesh, add white highlights.

Step 12:

step 12

Remove the masked areas with a weeding tool (available at most sign shops). Don’t use a razor blade or other sharp object; you might scratch the paint underneath.

Step 13:

step 13

I recommend protecting the artwork before proceeding. Applying a light coat of DuPont’s Hot Hues Intercoat Clear.

Step 14:

step 14

Mask up the artwork to protect it from being affected by any solvents. If any solvents penetrate through your masking, they will reactivate the basecoat and ruin the artwork.

Step 15:

step 15

To give the illusion of the metal reflecting light, add streaks using overreduced mixtures of Weak black, Weak white, and transparent Red oxide.

Step 16:

step 16

I wanted to give the illustration more of a three dimensional look. Here I added a picture frame with 1-inch masking tape. I shot the inside a dark metallic gray and then airbrushed a black border. Keeping my light source in mind, I then added a drop shadow and highlights to the box.

Step 17:

step 17

To create the panels, mask off 1/16 inch vertical and horizontal lines. Airbrush them in with black.

Step 18:

step 18

Go over the panel lines with weak black to create a shadow effect. Keep your light source in mind, and add white highlights to the edge of the panels.

Step 19:

step 19

Using an Iwata HP-B. go back over the lines using Transparent Red Oxide. This will make the panels look as if rust is developing.

Step 20:

step 20

Punch holes in a blank template 1-inch from the edge. Using black for the shadow, apply a crescent shape fading to the center from the bottom up. Repeat the process from the top down with white for the highlight. Make sure that silver remains in the center and that the black and white do not over lap.

Step 21:

step 21

Here is a close-up of the pop rivet. Notice that the metal looks as if it has been punched in by the rivet. To get this effect, create an outer circle with weak black and weak white. Add a center dot to resemble the post of a rivet.

Step 22:

step 22

Create rust build up with Transparent Red oxide. Build up the corners by layering more paint. Transparent Red oxide will eventually go black when enough layers are applied.

Step 23:

step 23

In this photo, I laid out a set of flames with 1/16 inch fine line tape. Once the Hot Hues kandy blue flames are painted, unmask everything And finish off the illustration by adding drop shadows and details like hair coming off the skull.

Step 24:


For the final step, clean off the surface with a wax and grease remover. Go over it lightly with a tack rag, and finish it off with three coats of DuPont Chroma premier Clearcoat.


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