Learn the basics of airbrushing scales with masking film, or frisket. This is really a bare bones exercise! You wont find any crazy detail here. Just enough knowledge to hopefully get you going on your own scaled airbrush project! If you are new to airbrushing, no worries. This is a very straight forward and easy to follow project! You will really only need the basics here. An airbrush, paint, some masking, or frisket film and an razor. The idea here is that you want to create a feel, or an effect of overlapping rowed scales.
Because of the nature of this project I am not going to sweat the details. I quickly prepped a small wood panel and taped out my borders. For demos like this I normally use marker type board that I pick up at my local Lowes store. It comes lacquered on one side with white base. Prepping this material is a snap! Cut the board to size, or have Lowes cut it to size for you. Then give it a good scuffing, knocking off all the shine. You can choose to use similar materiel, or not. It is really up to you as to what type of substrate you use for this project.
I chose to use a compass for the outline of my scales. You can do the same, or just freehand something in there. In a production environment I would have used an eraser to take my pencil work down to a barely visible design. But for all intensive purposes I am going to leave my design as visible as possible.
I use several different types of masking film in my shop. One of the most flexible masking films that I use is Oramask 810. It is a transparent grey and extremely low tack. One really nice feature of this product is that it stretches to conform to irregular surfaces. If you don't have access to a product like this you can pick yourself up some transparent Frisket from your local art store, or Hobby Lobby. Keep in mind this is just one way of pulling off a overlapped scaled look.
I apply the masking film with a squeegee. You can also use an old credit card for the same results. Just make sure you remove as many of the air bubbles as possible. Large air pockets can interfere with your project as you progress through it.
Now that you have your masking film applied properly you can begin cutting your design. A sharp Xacto blade is an absolute must here! In fact I recommend only using Xacto Z-series blades. The Z-series blade is much sharper and will last 5 to 10 times longer than a traditional cold rolled steel blade. Another very important point is to let the blade do the cutting. This is important here and in any other projects that you take on. Especially if it's a paid project. You can cause extreme damage to a custom paint job by cutting into the base layer and god forbid if you go down into the primer, or substrate!
Now that the design is cut its time to start thinking about paint. I am using House Of Kolor BC-25 over reduced with RU-311. You can use any paint that you want. The key in this project is not so much the paint you use, but the reduction of the paint your using. I am also using a gravity feed Iwata HP-CS for this project. Again the airbrush you use for this project is really neither here, nor there. Any decent airbrush should do the job.
You can see in the photo above just how over reduced the paint that I am using is. The bottom line is two passes and as you can see it barely registers. This is exactly what I am shooting for here. Building paint layers up slowly is a great habit to get into. It is always easier to add a little more paint than it is to take away. Aside from that airbrushing detailed graphics and textures requires you to build layers of reduced paint to achieve desired effects.
In step one of the airbrushing process I lift the background cut and airbrush the edges of the exposed half circles. I want to point something specific out in this image. Look at the left half of the 2nd radius. See the heavy line? This is what happens when you attempt to build colors to quickly, or it can also be caused by using to much air pressure. When working with reduced paints it is important for you to find balance. What I mean by that is you have several variables at play when you airbrush. The viscosity of the paint, air pressure and paint flow. You need to arrive at a point where all of these variables are working to your advantage and not against you. So after making this mistake I could come to one of the following conclusions. One I could decide to thicken the paint up a little bit, two I could choose to adjust my air pressure, or three I could simply slow down a bit. If slowing down does not remedy the problem it's back to one or two!
To really benefit from this project try to focus on control. You want to duplicate your actions as you work down through this project. As I mentioned before when your airbrushing the masked areas you want the spray to be 50/50. 50% over the masked edge and 50% on the piece. You will also want to keep the nozzle of your airbrush a consistent distance away from your piece while airbrushing. I kept my airbrush roughly 4 or so inches off the surface while spraying. These are two skills that will help build your skill as an airbrush artist.
And finally the last cut outs are removed! I was going to stop right here, but instead I want to demonstrate one more thing. I want you to see the difference between a purely stenciled / masked result and the same result with a little added freehand airbrushing. As you can see from the result above the graphic looks very cookie cutter. It does not look natural at all. That is because there really are no hard lines in nature. So give your paintings a natural look freehand airbrushing is always a must!
As you can see a little freehand airbrushing goes a long way. I literally spent 2 or 3 minuets adding some additional work to this piece. As you can see I created some more natural structure by adding a slight shadowed radius to each scale just off the edge of each. I also went in and added additional shadowing in the deeper areas of the piece. Finally I gave the entire piece a quick light wash.
Hopefully this article has helped you in some way. If you have any comments, or questions use the comment form below. And remember this is just one of many different techniques you can use to create killer scales.