My last post focused on the things that I couldn't live without in the studio. Today I decided to focus on the things that I have learned when using my airbrush and oils. This will be a rather long post, sorry not sorry.
1. Not all oil paints are the same quality, but the cheaper ones can still get the job done. The first several tubes of oils that I bough were on the cheaper side. Not the cheapest things I could get but definitely not top shelf stuff. Over time I have managed to acquire a few of the nicer brands and grow my collection of paint to a healthy selection. 9 times out of 10, I usually end up reaching for the cheaper brand when I use them. I just like the shade of them better most of the time. Each brand will have similar, if not the same, colors of oils. But each brand will be slightly different from each other in shades. My cheap brand has a redder shade of Burnt Sienna than the expensive brand. Just like the expensive brand has a deep black and the cheaper brand has a slightly warm brown tone in the black. I use them both, but in different ways. I use the expensive stuff for legs and mane/tail and I tend to use the slightly brown oils for deepening the color on the body. Both are called Lamp black, but they have very different tones.
2. The first horse I painted with oils was horrible. Seriously, it was really bad. Brush strokes, missed areas and just a general mess. It took that horse around 3 weeks to completely dry. After talking with a few other artists, I learned that the thinner layer you put on the horse, not only the faster it will dry, but the better it will look. I use a small, round brush that has had most of the hairs worn off of. What really helped me was thinking about staining the horse, not painting it. This made a huge difference in how I put the oils on the horse and how they looked. I use small circular motions and move the oils around the horse as much as I can. The tiniest amount of paint will cover the entire horse.
3. You can't rush dry time. Putting more layers on top of a layer that isn't completely dry will just cause your work to pull up and move around. I learned this the hard way. Temperature, humidity and layer thickness will change the time it takes a layer to dry. My studio is in the basement and this time of year it stays pretty cold down there, like in the upper 50s or low 60s with little humidity. This is not good for oils. They store rather well in that environment, but drying them is a whole different story. I tend to bring horses upstairs to dry in the fall and winter, while leaving them downstairs in the spring and summer. I put a thin layer of oils on a micro and left it downstairs to dry. 3 weeks later I finally got smart and moved him upstairs where he dried in about 4 days. My layers usually take about 3-4 days to dry. I usually give them a solid 5 days of dry time before I do anything with them. It takes a loot of patience to leave them sitting for that long, but it is so worth it in the long run.
Airbrush (I'll try to keep it short and sweet)
1. Know how to take apart, clean and put the gun back together. This saves time when cleaning and for fixing issues.
2. Low humidity is the devil of airbrush work. Paint will dry in the well, on the needle and can dry in the air before it hits the horse. Drying retarders can help with this, but can be tricky because they can leave paint tacky and clog up the gun.
3. Practice on paper first. I had about 100 leftover coloring pages from when I hosted riding camp. I used these to practice how to move with the gun, how far back to pull the trigger to get paint, using just air to help things dry and so much more. I got a lot of time working out how to shade using it and how to apply and properly layer colors. It was a very valuable way to spend my time. I still do this when I am trying new colors or prepping for something specific.
4. Premixing colors is a HUGE time saver. When I got my paints, I looked at all of them and pulled out the colors that I knew would get used a lot and made premixed batches that would be able to go straight into the gun after a good shaking. I also mixed colors together to create new colors and shades for specific horse colors. These are some of the colors that I always have premixed: White, black, Yellow Ochre, Mahogany, Hull Redd, Chocolate brown, Flat Earth and more.
4. Odd colors make the best horse shades. I know, that sound crazy, but hear me out. Hull Red looks almost maroon, but when I spray it, there are some lovely purples and browns to it as well. I use it on chestnuts and bays. My chestnuts would never be bright and glowing if I didn't use a lot of Desert Yellow and Flat Earth, both look like various shades of barf in the bottle. The point is, be open to different colors and be willing to try different things with them. I haven't even gotten started on mixing those odd colors to make different shades. But the possibilities are insane!!!!!
5. Take gun cleaning time seriously. Not only will it save you from clogs, paint mishaps and more, but it will help you know when your gun is working properly and when it isn't. I always run plenty of clean water through the gun after each color, then it gets wiped out with a clean paper towel and I move onto the next color. At the end of each session, or it I won't be using it for a little while, I run some clean rubbing alcohol through it. I know that it probably isn't the best thing to use, but it works well and is great at dissolving old paint. With all of the nozzles on, turn the compressor. Place you finger tip over the entire nozzle and press the trigger. This is cause the air/pressure to go up into the paint well instead of out the nozzle. Then pull the trigger back like you were releasing paint while your finger is covering the end. This will force any paint residue and air to mix with the alcohol/cleaner and get rid of it all. I usually pour the liquid out then add clean stuff and run it like normal until it is completely empty. I wipe all paint off the sides and handle (I'm messy) then disconnect the hose. This is important not only for the gun, but for the life of the air hose and the compressor. Holding pressure for long periods of time will cause damage to parts. I coil my hose in a small circle to keep it out of the way and smooth. Kinks in the hose will cause holes which means no pressure, which means no painting.
6. Play around with the distance you spray from. For overall coats I tend to keep the gun a little farther away, like maybe 6-8 inches, but when I am doing shading or details I am much closer to the horse. This helps me put paint where I want it and reduce over spray. But you have to practice using it from different distances and how to pull/release the trigger to get the proper amount of paint. Many times I have accidentally pulled the trigger back too far and ended up with a huge spot of color where I only wanted a tiny amount. The paper is handy for this.
I'm sure there are more things that I'm not thinking of at the moment. I try to write things down when I'm thinking about it, usually when I'm working in the studio. Next time I will be posting the details of the horses I have been working on using oils and airbrush. Be prepared for ugly pics.
Until next time, Happy Practicing!!!