Have you ever had to paint skulls but just couldn’t quite get them to look right? Here’s the solution to this problem: Mike Lavallee Freehand® Airbrush Templates from Artool Products Co., BoneHeadz and HotHeadz—plus a few essential techniques to create awesome skulls!
I’ve seen people use many skull templates before, and for the most part, they’re not used correctly or many airbrushers will not achieve the results they’re after. I’ve even seen where people have just laid the template down and sprayed around them and called their project done…NOT!
I’ll show you in this demo the way I use my new Artool BoneHeadz Airbrush Templates to achieve a realistic pile of human skulls on a motorcycle fender. BTW these same techniques work just as well with the Artool lineup of the Craig Fraser designed Skullmasters. Hey, you can never have enough kewl skulls!
This kustom job I was painting required many skulls painted in a dark gloomy mood—all in greens. They also had to be wrapped in a maze of tree roots and an eerie ‘n smoky haze. My new Artool BoneHeadz Freehand Airbrush Templates were the perfect choice for the anatomically correct look for the skulls I was after. For this part of the bike I’ll be using the “EIGHT 8 DEAD” Artool Template from the BoneHeadz collection. You can either partially separate the skulls or leave them whole depending on how you want to paint them I chose to leave them whole because they fit perfectly on the lower rear part of the pre-scuffed fender. Think of these templates as your layout sketch. I’ve done the work so you can concentrate on doing the fun stuff! Okay, let’s get started.
Photo 1: You can see where I’ve taped a BoneHeadz Template to wrap around the fender.
Photo 2: I then sprayed a light coat of black base coat. I do this so I can see where I’ll need to spray my next color, and, at this point, use it only as a guide.
Photo 3: You can see what it looks like at this point. Note: this is usually where I see people leaving their skull work at when using skull templates. Just wait and see what you really can do with them!
Photo 4: Now the serious fun begins! I’ve taken a mixture of moss green and a touch of white and sprayed the large areas of the skull building up shape and form to the top of the head, jaw bone , cheeks and eyebrows. You can also see where I’ve highlighted some hotspots with a brighter shot of my color. (Don’t worry if you get some color over the black you just painted because we’ll be going back over that later). I also sprayed some of the color mixture on the background around a few of my skulls. You’ll see why in Photo 5.
Photo 5: Here you see I’ve taken the matching skull on my template and laid it back over the original skull I painted with black. I put some black paint back in the brush and reshot over the template as in Photo 2; only this time I went darker over the eye sockets and nasal hole and lightly over the lines that show the teeth and skull details. I also shot some color around some of the perimeter of the skulls. I do this to make the lighter color pop. If you want the skull to look like it’s in a shadow just do the reverse, and paint that area dark and then paint the lighter color on the perimeter.
Photo 6: Here you can see the results! It’s looking pretty good so far, but we’ve got a lot more work to do to bring these dead heads to life!
Photo 7: Now I used some reduced white base coat and started building up more highlights. I used one of my other Artool Templates to do this, the FH 6 Super Shield designed by Andrea Mistretta. I like to play with light and shadows to build shape and form. Always keep in mind your light source; if your light is coming from the upper left (my preferred direction) then your shadows will be on the lower right. Remember to bend your shadows according to the shape that they fall on. This will greatly increase your realism. The same goes for your highlights. One thing I like to do is put some light hot spots on my skulls to make the bone look somewhat polished. Take your time with this highlighting effect. The more time and focus you put into your artwork the more realistic the finished look will be.
Photo 8: Here I’m pointing out some of the results.
Photo 9: Remember those lightly painted black detail areas you painted through the template? Well now is the time to rework those. Go back to your black and freehand the tooth outlines, temple lines, nasal cracks and skull cracks, etc. Then rework the jaw bone where it goes under the skull. I’ve also reworked the shadows with my other Artool Templates. Simply find the right shape and crisp up your shadows.
Photo 10: Here I’m showing you some of that detail I was talking about.
Photo 11: Now I want to build up some of my background around the skulls. So I took my BoneHeadz Skull Template, and laid it back over the skulls and shot some of my moss green ‘n white mixture around some of the areas where I had some dark skulls. Be careful not to shoot through the eye sockets and detail lines, otherwise you’ll have to go back and rework those spots. This step will start to make your skulls pop BIG TIME!
Photo 12: Now that I’ve got that step done, the next thing to do is to highlight the teeth and skull cracks with the same color I have in my airbrush. I just add a drop or two of white to the mixture.
Photo 13: I’m satisfied with the way my skulls are looking so I need to get onto painting the tree roots. I start with black and lay in the roots. I wanted them to look as if they where growing around and through the skulls. At this point the skulls remind me of some macabre potatoes! I then added some shadows to the skulls where the roots went over them. The shadows should bend over the skulls in the same fashion you did before. Also, the shadow will be closer to the root the closer it becomes to the skull and farther away and less crisp the further it gets from the skull. (You know what I mean.) I wanted to give the skulls a little texture so I also shot some shadows on the skulls using Gerald Mendez’s Artool TEXTURE FX Templates. (These are MUST HAVE Artool Templates for any serious airbrush artist!)
Photo 14: The next step is taking the moss green and white color, and give the roots some texture and highlights. Keep in mind that the roots should be shadowed where they go into and under each other, as well as where they go into and out of the skulls. To achieve a detailed spray you’ll notice I’m using my trusty Iwata Micron B Airbrush, which is set up with Iwata’s innovative Pistol-Grip Filter (for moisture control) and their new MAC Valve attachment for pinpoint air flow. Another favourite in my Iwata Airbrush arsenal, which is used routinely in my shop, is the Iwata Kustom HP CS.
Photo 15: I now had to add some atmosphere to the scene, and to do that I used my Artool True Fire 2 Second Degree Burn Templates with my moss green and white mixture. I lay in the smoke, making sure to have it wrap around the skulls and come out from in between each other. One thing I like to do is make the smoke go in an eye socket, and out the nose—or let the smoke come out from in
Photo 16: Things are looking pretty sweet now! The next thing I needed to do was give the whole scene a couple coats of green Kandy. I made my own Kandy color by using HOK Transparent Green with a couple of drops of black to stay in that moss green family. This was mixed with a clear base coat and reduced. (Note: I use House of Kolor paints for all of my work!) Then I shot the mixture over the entire piece until I achieved the color I wanted.
Photo 17: I wanted to brighten up a couple of areas, like the smoke and bone highlights, so I shot more of my reduced white in these areas.
Photo 18: Next I shot a light coat of my green Kandy color over the areas I had just painted with white to make them a brighter green and voila…FINISHED! I’m thoroughly satisfied with the artwork I achieved using my new Artool BoneHeadz Templates.
Seriously, I used to freehand all of my skulls, and that just took forever! Now painting the “dead” is a snap; just lay, spray and start detailing. A special note: to get a mirror image of a skull just flip the template over. That way if you need to create the exact skull on both sides of a project you can do it with ease! So there you have it, “killer skulls” the easy way!
Photo 19: Here’s the finished skulls fender. Everything was laid out and completed using my new Artool BoneHeadz Freehand Templates, Iwata Airbrushes and House of Kolor Paint. And always remember: Burn to the Bone!!!