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Bullet to the Head: Another Airbrush Skull SBS

Discussion in 'Step by Step' started by wickedartstudio, Dec 7, 2017.


  1. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I figured it was time for me to contribute a little more to the forum and threw this SBS together from the recent PP. I have to say; this was far more work and time consuming than I initially thought it would be. I have a new respect and appreciation for all who put these step by steps together in the interest of helping others!

    I’ll warn you in advance; this might get a little long and I can't seem to figure out how to do a step by step with only one post. Although the finished product was only 5” X 7”, I used multiple layers and the process still took about three hours to complete from start to finish.

    The substrate was Strathmore 500 Series Bristol with a twist. My forte has always been working in the custom automotive arena on rigid, super smooth surfaces. About ten years ago I started transitioning to “fine art” on canvas and other substrates and found I still prefer to work on a super smooth, easily workable, non-absorbent surface. This presented a problem because there wasn’t much available. I can smooth and prep a canvas to suit my taste, but it’s a lot of extra time and work. I’ve tried synthetic paper too. It has pros and cons, but the cons outweigh the pros to suit my needs at this point.

    So, I decided to try combining two different worlds for this project by spraying a 2K clear on the Strathmore 500 Series Bristol. Initially, I was concerned the Bristol would absorb too much and curl up. To my surprise it held up very well. I scuffed the surface with a gray Scotch Brite pad to smooth any imperfections and provide a good mechanical tooth for paint adhesion prior to laying down any color.

    I chose to paint a skull for this project because it’s ingrained in kustom kulture. Here is the reference I used in the event anyone else would like to try this. Note, I wasn’t striving for photorealism, just a detailed cool looking skull! I changed the contrast, lighting and other details to suit my style.

    Reference.jpg
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  2. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    For the sake of time and simplicity, I resized the reference to fit 5” X 7” in Photoshop and printed one copy to use as a stencil. If you don’t have Photoshop there are numerous free software options (Windows Paint for example) that will allow you to do the same. I won’t go into great detail in regards to cutting a paper stencil. It’s been covered numerous times before and there’s a great tutorial video on the subject at coastairbrushtv.com by Cory St. Clair.

    This was a monotone black and white painting. The background was completely blacked out. For that reason, I punched three holes close to the outer edge of the stencil and used a piece of drafting tape to hold the stencil in place through those holes. This allowed me to paint the entire perimeter without having to remove tape around the edges to fill any gaps.

    SBS 1.jpg
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  3. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    The purpose of the paper stencil is just to give some basic guidelines. It will flutter and lift due to air from the brush. I use my free hand to keep edges down and under spray at a minimum, but any under spray has little consequence at this stage.

    The only color used throughout this tutorial is Createx Illustration Black reduced about sixty or seventy percent with High Performance Reducer. I use the same reduction and Iwata CM-C for this entire painting.

    SBS 2.jpg
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  4. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    Content with the coverage, the stencil can be removed. I was confident I was finished with the stencil at this point and knowing I would complete the project freehand it was discarded. Having said that, it’s good practice to keep stencils and/or cut away portions from a mask or frisket until you complete the project, especially if you plan to use them to clean up edges later. In the past I have thrown away portions of a mask that I wound up needing again. It would’ve saved me a lot of time and aggravation had I kept them to begin with rather than having to cut another.

    SBS 3.jpg
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  5. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    Notice the only fully saturated areas at this point are the background and the bullet hole. The nose and eye sockets will be very dark in the end, but I want to retain a three dimensional aspect. You can also see I don’t cut a lot of detail into a paper stencil. I prefer a very basic roadmap to get me started. Feel free to add or subtract details from the stencil as you see fit. Find what works for you and your style.

    SBS 4.jpg
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  6. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I add a very light wash to the entire skull in order to begin working in some texture.

    SBS 5.jpg
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  7. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I build the first layer of texture with an artist faux sponge and a paper towel. Both are saturated with Windex glass cleaner. The texture is created by dabbing and/or twisting the tool on the surface. Don’t expect paint to be removed and texture to appear the first few times you dab the substrate. The first few times will wet the surface with Windex which will soften the paint. Once the paint has been compromised it will begin to move and lift. In the end, very little of this initial layer will be visible; however, it’s an important first step in my book.

    Notice I smeared the crack on the forehead and the area surrounding the bullet hole while creating this layer of texture. Due to the 2K clear coat I applied in the beginning, these mistakes are easily wiped away with the paper towel and a little glass cleaner. Mistakes are also easily removed with an eraser.

    SBS 6.jpg
  8. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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  9. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I use the airbrush to clean up the paint removed within the bullet hole and reestablish the upper crack. A Helix electric eraser with an aggressive tip was used to further clean up those areas. I add some shading and begin rendering the broken edge of the bullet hole, as well as suggesting the crack on the back side of the wound with the airbrush. I also begin adding another layer of texture by spraying random blotches of pigment on the top right portion of the skull.

    SBS 8.jpg
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  10. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I continue adding another light layer of texture by randomly applying paint to the skull with the airbrush. I reestablish where the crack on the left side ends and add stipple to the entire skull.

    To add stipple I use a variation of Dru Blair’s “Skeet” technique. Note this only works with a braided air hose. You will likely ruin a hard plastic hose if you attempt this.

    Basically, I kink the hose with my free hand which stops air flow to the brush. I then open and close the air hose rapidly with my fingers, allowing momentary air flow while simultaneously working the trigger on the brush back and forth. This yields a stipple effect that is a little more random and doesn’t completely cover the piece with stipple compared to the old Popsicle stick or clothespin technique. If none of that makes sense, watch the video I’ll post at the end of the tutorial. Hopefully, watching me do it will clear up my lousy explanation. I would advise you practice on something other than your project to get a feel for the technique first. A little goes a long way here! Don’t get too carried away.

    SBS 9.jpg
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  11. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I continue adding a light layer of texture. To speed up the process I incorporate a texture stencil I received as a bonus when I ordered Dru Blair’s classroom in a box eye kit. The Gerald Mendez Artool Texture FX templates also work great for this.

    When using these stencils for this purpose it’s very important to keep your paint light. I don’t want hard edges of the stencil on the skull. To prevent that, I elevate the stencil slightly from the surface and keep it moving while spraying lightly through it to further diminish the effect. Again, you can see this in the video I’ll post at the end of the tutorial. Gerald Mendez also has a video available for purchase at coastairbrushtv.com. In that video he shares his techniques for using his stencils. He does some amazing work with them!

    SBS 10.jpg
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  12. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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  13. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I continue building some form and detail on both sides of the skull with the airbrush. I also begin to define and darken the eye sockets. Small details are added with various erasers and the airbrush.

    The lower half of the eye socket on the right was sprayed a little too dark in the beginning. I used a pencil type eraser to remove some of the paint and lighten that area prior to working it further.

    I also started adding texture and small details to the bridge of the nose and brow area with more of the same random blotchy airbrush strokes. I create this texture simply by shaking the brush up and down and side to side while painting.

    SBS 12.jpg
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  14. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    Minor highlights were erased into each side of the nose socket and subsequently pushed back when darkening the socket with the airbrush. The eye socket on the left was also pushed back with a light application of pigment before adding form, minor detail and texture around the area using the same process detailed above.

    I was far looser with paint application on the lower portion of the skull. Focusing more on form rather than texture, I wanted the lower portion to be darker in nature and knew I would primarily use erasers to build texture there.

    SBS 13.jpg
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  15. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    After completing the foundation, the entire skull gets a very light wash of pigment. This pushes all of the values back before I begin adding more texture and highlights with erasers.

    SBS 14.jpg
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  16. Mr.Micron

    Mr.Micron Royal pain in the air hose Admin

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    Awesome SBS and while I have a sponge like that I have yet to think to use it. Now this makes me want to use it.
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  17. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    I use a variety of erasers. The Helix electric eraser is my favorite and gets used the most, but I also use an old typewriter style handheld eraser frequently. These normally have two sides, one for ink (aggressive) and one for pencil (soft). Unfortunately, they’re getting harder to find nowadays. You can get refills for the Helix in either aggressive (gray) or soft (white) as well. I use both. I also use two pencil style erasers, one is aggressive and the other is softer. Each eraser yields a different result which gives more variety in your work. For instance, the Helix is great at erasing fine line detail and the typewriter eraser is great at removing broader areas of paint. Again, you can see how I use each in the video at the end of the tutorial.

    While bringing out highlights and creating more texture with the erasers, I’m still trying to keep the strokes random. I also don’t necessarily want to completely erase all of the work I’ve done underneath when creating more texture. I want each layer to be visible through the other for the most part with the exception of the super bright highlights. Using a lighter touch removes less paint.

    At the brow line I erase dots into the skull with the Helix by repeatedly touching the surface briefly before lifting the tool again.

    Some of these strokes may look random because they aren’t necessarily in the reference. As I said before, I wasn’t after photorealism with this project. I interjected some of my own style into the piece. You have artistic license as the artist. Don’t be afraid to change something.

    SBS 15.jpg
  18. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    Returning with the airbrush, I’ll push back some of the erased areas and darken shadowed areas while adding even more texture. I accomplish this with random freehand stokes and with the Dru Blair texture stencil. I also reestablish the cracks from the bullet hole and add some other fine details at this stage.

    SBS 16.jpg
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  19. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    After darkening areas up and pushing back some of the previously erased areas with the airbrush, I returned for another round of erasing.

    At this point the upper portion of the skull is nearing completion. I concentrate more on bringing out the highlights with the various erasers rather than adding texture. I still create additional texture during the process in areas where I thought it needed more, but the main goal was bringing the highlights forward.

    If you have any errors around the cracks, the eraser is great at cleaning those up too.

    I also use an Exacto knife with a #11 blade to scratch in some of the very fine highlights on the bridge of the nose.

    SBS 17.jpg
  20. wickedartstudio

    wickedartstudio Needle-chuck Ninja

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    Returning with the airbrush, I build detail on the bridge of the nose and around the eye sockets while working my way down the lower half of the skull. The visible areas in the nose and eye sockets were also pushed back during this stage.

    Again, the lower half of the skull was painted much looser. I added some texture with the airbrush, but nothing close to what was done on the top. I wanted the lower half darker and more subdued.

    SBS 18.jpg
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