Where Do I Begin?
A Quick Guide to Painting Three-Dimensional Subjects in Layers
We are going to now do some overall “mottling.” This is breaking up the piece and giving it that real flesh look by using a lot of very small blots or noodles of color in layers. When done properly, this is what makes the finished piece appear to have dimension. The mutant baby in the photo example is a very flat resin casting of the sculpture. Its entire “dimension” was added in paint. If you decided not to do a wash technique, then just go right on to this next step after your base coat is dry.
Start by mixing up a very thinned-out warm color, let’s say red for a flesh-looking paint job, and load your airbrush. Put on a good jazz CD or whatever relaxes you. Get in very close and using a very small amount of air pressure, lightly begin to make ribbon-like patterns (like ribbon candy from a top view if that helps) and figure eights in a tight pattern. Cover the entire surface of the piece like this, leaving some spaces almost empty and other spaces riddled with patterns. The color should be a rather weak, watered down version of red. We are not going for stark contrast here. Once in a while, pull back from the piece and make broader patterns too. This may look odd at first, but just stick with it. When you are happy with the amount of red on the piece, flush your airbrush with Naphtha and load your next color.
It is extremely helpful to step back from your work often to get an idea of how everything is reading. You may want to concentrate the patterns in shaded areas, like the temple for instance, and leave more space on areas like the top of the head. Step back and assess the overall look often.
Now repeat this whole procedure with your next color, let’s say a really thinned-out blue. When using a blue on a paint job like this example, I go very light and not nearly as much as the red. Just some spots to cool it down and give it more life-like colors. If it starts to look like an American flag, you are using too much blue and the paint is probably way too concentrated, so thin it down. I always start each new layer on the BACK of the piece to see if the paint is thin enough. It is much easier to hide a bad pattern in the back as a bruise or something if you need to rethink your color.
Over this layer, let’s reload and go in heavier using the same technique but with a red-brown. Then after that go in lightly with a brown. As you add each layer you should see this mottled pattern emerging, providing a sense of depth. Don’t forget to leave some areas with very little paint as well as tiny areas between the mottling. This provides the illusion of another layer on top of a very light color that really pops.
If you get to a point were you are really unhappy and the colors are too muddy, do not push it. This is a very tricky technique to learn and you very well might not nail it the first couple of times. Just base the whole piece out again and start over. It may take a few layers of base coat to clean the slate; that is fine–just don’t be too heavy-handed or you will fill in the details with paint. Start again and concentrate on using thinner paint and much smaller lines. I often use a MICRON for the mottling and noodling. It works great and makes it easier to control those nice small, tight lines.
Now step back and look at the whole piece. Is it too warm or too cool? Did you want it to lean a little more towards a certain overall color? This is where I often mist the whole piece with very thinned color to tie it all together and cool down hot colors or warm up cool colors.
Lastly, I go in with a darker and more concentrated brown and add age spots all over of different shapes and sizes. It is harder than it sounds, and the trick here is to avoid patterns of dots. They have to appear natural and very random. Note: It is a big pain to fix spots that are in the wrong place or too big due to the dark concentrated color, so take your time! You can also add some spots of a lighter color or even add tiny spots of lighter tones to larger, darker spots.
The third variation I promised you is very similar to the techniques described above. The only difference is in the beginning stages. Instead of applying a base coat first, we start with a wash. After it is dry, take a chip brush and, using the dry brushing technique, color the rest of the piece, leaving a nicely contrasted paint scheme. You can then proceed with the mottling process. This alternate step creates a big difference in the look of the finished paint job.
The pictures shown here are of several heads and make-ups that I painted for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” All of the various techniques described here were used to paint these pieces. Add your own variations. I often make my patterns bigger and wider and then go in and just blot the piece with my next color by airbrushing spots of color all over it to break it up and then continue mottling from there. You must also play with colors a lot. I am still constantly finding new tricks of combining colors for new results. Example: Instead of painting an area just black, paint it deep purple first and then add concentrated black mottling to it. From a distance it reads as black, but up close you can see the intricacies of the paint job and the dimension.
Most importantly, remember to have fun! You can always start over. The more you paint, the easier it becomes. Most problems that I see are due to the rushing of a stage of a particular paint job, not stepping away and looking at the overall piece or an airbrush being less than perfectly clean and thus causing splatter and/or uncontrolled pressure variations.
Many thanks to John Vulich, Rich Mayberry, Gary Yee and Brian Blair as well as all of my associates at Optic Nerve Studios – Greg Solomon, Johnny Flanagan, Lancel Reyes, Jeff Deist, Steve Fink, Kari Murillo, John Wheaton, Reyna Rhone, and Almost Human FX – for all of their sage advice. Also, a HUGE thanks to Iwata-Medea, Inc., for their sponsorship. See you next time and good luck!
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Reprinted with permission of ARTtalk.com