Custom Airbrushed Mural

Custom Airbrushed Mural

1) We start with 3 sheets of 3/4 in. 4 x 8 plywood. Each sheet gets 2 solid coats of wood primer. Plywood really sucks up the primer so leave plenty of time in between coats. After being primed, the sheets are screwed together with 6 large door hinges, 3 on each seam. This is going to be a carnival fishing game prop that kids are going to cast their fishing line over the top of, to get candy and other prizes.

I mask off a 4 in. border around the outside and roll on a solid blue base using an exterior grade latex paint. After the blue has dried, I use a combination of a 3 in. paint brush and a 4 in. roller to freehand in some sand for the bottom of our fish tank.

2) I back mask the sand from our previous step and I’m going to use a full size automotive paint gun to spray in a darker blue fade going from the bottom of the tank towards the top. This helps add a little depth to our tank because we wouldn’t want people thinking we were shallow. The dark blue I’m using is a urethane base coat which has no trouble sticking to the latex base. However, if you water-reduce a latex paint enough, and make sure you run it through a strainer, you can spray that through an automotive paint gun as well.

3) You can see the darker blue fade here. I also masked off another wavy line through the middle of the sand and then sprayed in a darker brown to give the sand some dimension and make it look like the darker brown part is right up against the glass sides of the fish tank. This is going to be a quick mural, so I’m not spending the time to add a lot of texture or other detail to the sand.

4)  Using the 3/4 in. masking tape, I mask off the corners of the fish tank and paint them the same color darker blue I was using earlier. As you’ll see in the next step, using the dark blue here instead of black or some other color, really helps give us the 3D look we’re after.

5) I’ve painted my 4 in. border around the outside black. This is a perfect contrast to the dark blue. You can see how using black up front really brings the front of the fish tank forward and using the dark blue pushes the back to the back.

I switch to an airbrush with urethane paints and I freehand in some seaweed. I paint the seaweed right up the middle of the 2 seams in an effort to try and hide the seams a bit.

Switching to a white base coat, I freehand in some reflections on the top surface of the water (thank you Craig Fraser) and even throw in some rays of light shooting through.

6) I use a paint bush and small roller with white latex paint, along with some Dr. Seuss reference pics, to add my main fish and requisite treasure chest. In this case, using a paintbrush and a small roller is faster than masking off each individual fish and spraying white base coat.

7) I’m spraying the fish as I would spray them if I were doing them on t-shirts. Using urethane base coat black and my IWATA HP-BCS, I start by outlining all the fish.

8) Then adding the base color and shading from there. Again, this is a quick painting so I’m not doing much detail work.

9) I end up deciding to mask off the treasure chest anyways because it will have more detail than the fish and it will be easier to work with when it’s masked off. Notice that I’ve extended the light rays and added highlights to the fish and treasure chests at the points where the light rays are hitting them. Also, using root beer kandy, I add some more detail to the sandy areas. Switching to cobalt blue kandy, I freehand in small schools of fish swimming every which way in the background. (Thanks Robert)

10) A quick and simple fish tank.  “One fish, two fish, red fish , blue fish”

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Crystal’s Custom Cobalt with Airbrush Flames

1.) Washed, rinsed, dried and ready for action. This project is going to be a little bit unorthodox. It is going to be a classic flame job but instead of wetsanding everything, then painting the flames, then clear coating everything, I’m only going to scuff and clear where the actual flames will be. Doing it this way does have the potential to save a lot of time but it also has the potential to create some other issues, like a pretty thick paint edge.

2.) I start by measuring the hood width wise at the front and back then running a piece of 1/4 in. blue fine line right down the middle of the hood to get my center line. I always work from the center of the hood heading left over and around the fender and into the passenger door. I layout the flames using 1/8 in. blue fine line tape. Sometimes I’ll take a picture of the vehicle first, import it into Corel Draw and layout my flame pattern there, then print it out so I’ve got a good reference to follow as I lay them out in real life.

I pay special attention to make sure that every inch of tape is securely adhesived (It’s a word) to the body of the vehicle because I know I’m going to be scuffing right up against the edge of it. Once I have the flames laid out along the left side, I create a pounce pattern (Outlined here) to transfer the layout to the right side of the vehicle. I mask the positive shape of the top layer of flames and the negative shape of the bottom layer of flames with 16 in. transfer tape.

Remember, nothing has been prepped or sanded yet. I can’t very well wetsand with everything masked off, so I use several pieces or new Scotch Brite (Red. If the car were a darker color, I’d use the grey Scotch Brite) and start scuffing the exposed area of the flames. The most important step here is to make sure I get a good thorough scuff everywhere but especially right up alongside the edges of the tape because that’s the first place that paint/clear would likely lift from. I also use a Tack Rag constantly to wipe away the cleardust as I go.

3. After scuffing, I clean the surface with a wax and grease remover. I’ve decided to spray and then back mask for the pin stripe on these flames. I spray blue right along the edges of the top layer of flames and then purple along the edges of the bottom layer flames. Note: When you know you’re going to be doing a sprayed pinstripe like this, make sure you account for this extra 1/8 of an in. when you first layout your flames. If you don’t, you’ll end up with flames that look a bit too skinny. You can see the difference in the photo below. The grey flames look a little bit skinnier than the white flames do.

I run 1/8 in. blue fine line tape along the edges of both sets of flames to cover up the blue and purple I just sprayed. Then I spray a silver/grey metallic everywhere else. I remove the 1/8 in. blue fine line to reveal the new blue and purple pinstripe. Lastly, I finish with 3 coats of clear.

4.) This is the tricky part. I don’t want the clear to dry fully in place with everything still masked off. I carefully remove all the masking as soon as possible to give the clear coat a better chance to settle and flatten out around the edges. This is another good reason to keep your shop clean, you don’t want to be kicking around dust while you’re unmasking near fresh clear coat.

All in all, doing it this way did save some time/material and it’s nice to have my pinstripe protected under the clear. Not something I’d do on every job but a nice option to consider if you don’t have the tools/space/resources available to re-clear almost the entire car.

5.) I love the dual layer flame look and yes, that is a 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan with a faux painted, carbon fiber, custom made ram air hood you see parked behind the Cobalt. Sid Vicious baby!

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Airbrushed Hood on Custom Firebird


1) Here is our canvas, a 2004 white Pontiac Firebird. The owner has installed vinyl graphics on the hood and sides of the vehicle and is now wanting to replace those vinyl graphics with some airbrushed awesomeness. He’d like a black and white shaded Firebird graphic on the hood that’s closer in style to the original 80’s Firebird graphic but with an updated feel to it. He’d also like to see what his vehicle would look like with some flames on the sides and a rear spoiler. He doesn’t want anything too extreme, just a good solid graphic that’s a step up from what he has now. Well guess what? He’s come to the right place!


2) I snag a quality reference pic of the original 80’s design from Google Images and do a pencil sketch of how I want the main outline/shape of the new graphic to look.  To save time, I draw only the left half of the image, scan it into Corel Draw, duplicate it, mirror it and then merge the duplicate with the original. (You’ll find the Corel Draw tutorial Here) A few thing to keep in mind: First, I already have a good idea of how I’m going to paint this, before I even start drawing. I.e., I know I’m going to mask the hood with transfer tape and use a projector to trace the image on the hood. So I don’t spend time adding a lot of detail to the sketch, all I need is a good dark outline. Second, I’ve added a 1/4 in. outline to the body and wings (not pictured) to give the graphic some depth and punch. If I just left it as plain basic shapes, I’d end up with a plain basic graphic not much more exciting then the original vinyl graphic he already had…and I ain’t goin out like that!


3) Imported a pic of the car into Corel Draw, added some subtle flames and a rear spoiler. (You’ll find the tutorial for this Here) The owner wants the hood graphic to fill the entire hood, doing that with this particular design is going to visually “weigh down” the front of the car and give it an overall unbalanced look, especially with the ram air hood. An ideal design here would be something more complementary to the existing shapes and lines. You can see how the original vinyl design actually “flows” with the shape of the hood a little better. In an effort to counteract the unbalanced effect we’re going to get with our new larger graphic, I’ve faded the flames away from the front of the car. This pulls some of that weight from the hood and shoots it back towards the rear. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

I go over the design and layout with the owner, settle on a price and a time frame, collect the down payment and it’s off to work…


4) The owner has decided to do only the hood at this point. It is removed, washed with soapy water and rinsed. The entire top of the hood is wet sanded with 600 grit sandpaper, being especially careful on the edges and scoops not to sand through the clear coat. To ensure good, lasting paint adhesion, it’s important to take your time here and get a nice even sanding throughout. It’s a little more difficult on a white hood to see the small areas you may have missed. View it from different angles and look for any spots that still have a glossy reflection. Once you’re confident you’ve done a bang up job, wash and rinse everything again and then dry it thoroughly, using an air gun to push water from seams and cracks.

Once it’s completely dry, I cover nearly the entire hood with 15 in. transfer tape.


5) Lights out! I use an Artograph projector to project the design to the hood and then I trace over it with a sharpie marker. You can now see the 1/4 outline on the wings as well. After I’m done tracing, I turn on the lights BEFORE I move the projector to check for any areas I may have missed. If I did miss any areas, lights back off, projector is still lined up, and I trace the missing areas. If I need to make any changes after the trace is complete, I’ll use a different color marker to draw the new lines. This makes it easier to keep track of which lines to cut when the time comes.

Because I’m perfect, I didn’t miss any lines here and I don’t need to make any changes. Let’s cut this thing…


6) I use an Xacto knife with a brand new #11 blade to cut out the design. I use just enough pressure to cut through the transfer tape but not so much pressure that I cut into the clear coat. This will take some practice. Never try to cut out the entire design in one fowl swoop. I start with a small section of the wing, cut that out and then check my work by trying to peel up the tape. The edges of the tape should lift clean and easy, and there should be no score marks underneath in the clear coat. Once I know I’ve got the right pressure, I continue cutting, checking my work every third wing segment or so. Don’t be afraid to use several new blades to cut something out but do be afraid of  dying from boredom while you cut it out.


7)  Done cutting…that Xacto knife can suck it. I remove the inner portions only of the tongue, the body and the wings, mask any exposed areas of the hood and then spray in a light/medium grey base with a touch-up gun. Note: On this project I’ve just thrown away the masking I removed. I don’t plan on using it later and if I do run into a situation where It would have been nice to have it, the shapes and curves on this design are simple enough that I could use a freehand shield instead, if I needed to.


8.) Keeping it quick and conservative, I used a darker grey to add some simple shading to the inside of the wings and body of the bird.


9) Satisfied with the shading, I then remove the masking on the head and the border around the wings and body, to reveal the white beneath. At this point there is still a 1/4 in. border masked around the body of the bird. You can see this better in the finished photo below.

I switch to a lighter shade of grey (lighter then the base coat I initially used) and start to lightly fog it in on the exposed white areas. The only shading I do is a quick fade from the tips of the wings inward.


10) All masking is removed, revealing an audacious new Firebird graphic strutting it’s stuff in full effect! Off to clear coat.

To find out how long this project took, what it cost to do it and how much you should charge for it..Click Here. If you are not a Member, you will need to Register (FREE) in order to view it.

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