Friday, November 2, 2012


The above link is to my latest painting project, a merman in acrylics on 40" x 30" canvas.

This was supposed to be an abstract drawing for a friend, who wanted a painting for a large open wall. After a few days of thought, an idea for an underwater scene with twirling waves and such, came to me.

But abstract is an untried concept for me, and unfortunately, to subtract something from an idea, it must first be seen. Which meant, once the drawing began for the underwater scene, it quickly progressed to sunken ships, fish and a merman. And once the details were birthed, it seemed wrong to delete or minimize them into abstractness. Sorry, that's just the way my mind works. So a merman was born.

The concept drawing began on two 8.5" x 11" pieces of copy paper taped together. Intrigued, I taped more pieces together to make a 40" x 30" surface upon which to do a study. A sunken ship was added, some fan coral, some fish with which the merman is communicating, some kelp and fan coral.

Never having worked on such a large surface, let alone working on a large surface with acrylics, which dry quickly, was interesting, but really not difficult. The secret is to keep the acrylics wet on the pallet. This is done with a small spray bottle of water. When not in use, the sprayed pallet will keep for 2-3 days, if kept covered. NEVER spray the work surface (the canvas) or everything will lift and run.

The canvas, which was purchased primed, was gessoed and a few coats of background blues were applied, until I was satisfied with the colors. Using white Saral paper, the merman, ship and fish were transfered onto the canvas. The color mixing, stroking and dabbing went on for a few weeks, until I was satisfied that the merman vision in my head sufficiently matched the one now on canvas.

Thanks for viewing and I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions about it, please email me at and check out my web site

Monday, August 13, 2012

Refinished Electric Guitars

Here are the three guitars I refinished for my musician son, Michael, who plays in two local bands. He gave them to me, at my request, for airbrush practice. They still had their former finishes and hardware when he handed them over. (Regretfully, I neglected to take "before" pictures of them.) After some foot-dragging and much research, I finally took the plunge.

The hardware removal was easy. But the removal of the finishes - sanding each body down to the wood, was HARD! And the hardest part to sand down, was the inside curve, top and bottom, of each horn (not sure if that's the right name, but you get the idea). After some swearing, hand cramps and some creative thinking, I discovered a 1"+ wide flap wheel on a drill did the best job of removing the original finishes and the paint. However, please note, that GREAT care must be taken not to gouge, or distort the beveled edge lines (where the sides meet the flat surfaces). For the flat surfaces, I used an orbital sander with 120 and 150 grit paper.

I learned a lot in this guitar experiment. My base coat on both the Purple Haze and Axis guitars, was acrylic white primer, brushed on because it was too thick for my airbrush. Although I did sand between each coat of base white, I found at the end, that each guitar needed more basecoats than I actually gave them. I did notice that around the corners / sides, the basecoat was always thin. More coats would have prevented this. But again, this was a learning experiment, so things were expected to go wrong. The guitar "The Truth" was airbrush basecoated in blue-black auto air paints. It went on well, but very thin. (I have recently obtained a different airbrush for lacquer and basecoat finishes.)

Here are the steps I followed:
1.  Remove hardware and mask off neck (where fretboard attaches) and all routed out areas. Painter's tape is advised; although masking tape works, it leaves a sticky residue if left for more than two weeks.

2.  Sand off all lacquer/acrylic finishes and paint, down to wood. Take care not to distort the edge lines (where the flat surfaces meet the edges) by over-sanding. Use progressively smaller grit sandpaper, as the wood becomes exposed. Use a flap wheel or a large dowel wrapped with appropriate grit sandpaper  in the top & bottom insides of each horn.

3.  Wipe down with damp cloth or tack cloth to remove sanding dust. Inspect for visible gouges; re-sand questionable areas with small grit paper to smooth out gouges or swirl marks. Inspect all edges for consistent line widths with no flat spots.

4.  Make a tracing of each guitar: outside edges and all holes and routed out areas on front, back and sides. Not all models have the same configuration, and design placement around these "holes" is imperative. Label front/back appropriately. I taped computer/copy paper together and outlined each guitar and its "holes."

5.  Using your tracing, plan your painting design. Keep in mind the placement of the pickguard and pick-ups when designing. You don't want to obscure main parts of the design with a pickup "hole." If your client is using a clear pickguard, no problem, but if they desire an opaque pickguard, you might need to paint this with your planned design also, as an unpainted, opaque pickguard will obliterate any design beneath it when it's secured to the guitar.

6.  Once your design is chosen, you will now need to decide on the basecoat color and whether to airbrush or brush it on. Personally, airbrushing the basecoat provides a smoother finish. The type of basecoat, acrylic or enamel, will depend on what types of paints you will be using for the design. Acrylics with acrylics, enamels with enamels. 

7.  Mask off areas, flats and sides, where neck attaches to body and all routed holes. Apply basecoat, in multiple coats, sand off uneven, checked areas and reapply more basecoat. When you are satisfied that the basecoat is even, then it is time to trace your design onto the body. (I airbrushed Createx Auto Air blue/black on the "The Truth is Out There" guitar, and brushed on a white acrylic "kilz" type primer on the other two guitars.)

8.  Using dark graphite paper (Saral) for light basecoats (or light graphite paper for dark basecoats), trace your design onto your guitar body. If you plan to airbrush your design, follow your normal masking and paint layering routine. If you plan to brush paint your design, follow your normal decorative art steps. Sand lightly between layers of multiple coats, to minimize brush stroke marks and high areas where masked off paint colors meet. For all three of these guitars, I used water based acrylic paints in a mix of airbrush and paintbrush techniques.

9.   Once you're satisfied that the graphic rendering meets your vision and expectations, and that the graphic surface is fairly smooth, you are ready for another difficult step:  Clear coat.  

Here are my recommendations for the "rattle can" products which worked best for me. But at the time, I did not have a dedicated HVLP airbrush for clearing anything. (I have since purchased an HVLP airbrush, as yet untried, which I will dedicate to basecoats and clear coats.) Krylon Triple Thick Glaze and DuPont Spray Lacquer. I tested a few products, and these gave the best results. Note: You will need to use a mask, goggles and well ventilated area for spraying. The fumes are nasty and the sticky haze spray will get on everything you don't have covered up.

The surface should be dust free, finger print and oil free. Wipe down with a tack rag, or a lint-free damp cloth. Let air dry for a few minutes. Check for and remove any sticky residue from the tack rag.

To lay down a fairly even clear coat, you will need to suspend the guitar on a swivel (so it can easily rotate), high enough so you can spray the bottom flat edge easily. I put two eye-bolts in the ceiling of my studio and hung coated wire from the eye hooks, onto which I hooked a fishing swivel and modified metal coat hanger. The "rounded" top of the coat hanger hung from the suspended ceiling wire and the bottom of the coat hanger was bent into an "L" and poked into one of the holes at the neck. (Note: make sure this "L" hanger is placed against the inside of the neck, where the fretboard will be attached.)

The "Purple Haze" guitar was cleared with Krylon Triple Thick Glaze. This product is true to its name: triple thick. I did learn, however, that this product needs 24 hours between coats, even though you can touch it after a few hours without leaving finger marks. What I discovered, was that if you don't wait the 24 hours, a new layer of clear will cause tiny bubbles to appear. These tiny bubbles are the gasses escaping from the earlier, uncured clear coat. No amount of sanding will remove them, so its best not to get them in the first place. So keep that in mind, as you will need to plan in the dry time to estimate completion date. The depth and gloss from this product, when done correctly, is AWESOME!

The "Axis" and "The Truth" guitars were cleared with DuPont Spray Lacquer. This product was fairly easy to use, but each coat is thin, unlike the above Krylon product, thus you should plan for a minimum of ten coats with a few hours of drying time (in low humidity) between each coat.

10. Wet Sanding: Each product needs to be lightly wet sanded with 1000 grit between coats. Take care on the edges not to sand through to the primer or through to the body wood. When you have achieved an acceptable depth to the clear coat, where the surface is evenly smooth, but not yet glossy, you are ready to wet sand. 

I used successively, 1000, 1500 and 2000 grit wet sanding paper purchased at an auto body store. I used wet sanding blocks and cylinder, purchased from the same auto body store. The cylinder was for the inside flat areas at the top and bottom horn; I wrapped the wet sanding paper around the cylinder. Do not use a power sander at this point. The technique of wet sanding is to create a thin paste which acts as a mild abrasive; too much paste creates too much abrasion and interferes with your attempts at an even finish. I kept dipping my paper into clean water and lightly hand sanding in orbital motions, feeling the surface for uneven/odd areas with my free hand. After each go, I wiped the guitar down with a damp rag and began again with the next higher grit paper. After the 2000 grit paper, I wiped the guitar down with a damp cloth. The gloss was struggling, appearing in some places but not good in others, so I then used an auto body Finishing Polish (do not use Rubbing Compound - way too abrasive at this point) and brought the gloss up to a fine, eye-blinding shine. It is important to follow the specific manufacturer's directions for the finishing polish. The one I used stated to "not let it dry" on the surface; they weren't kidding. I accidentally let an area dry and had to really put some elbow grease into it to remove the polish!

I am not a pro at this - just learning as I go and thought someone might find this info helpful. I'm sure there are probably easier but more expensive ways to complete this sort of project, but I used what I had access to. 

All in all, the ending results were not too bad, for a first try. Should I ever get another chance at refinishing electric guitar bodies, I will find the knowledge obtained from this experiment very useful.

Thanks for your interest! If you have any questions, email me at  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Contest Entry for Svee Wheeler / Harder & Steenbeck Airbrush 

Above, is the link to the YouTube video I made (my first) to respond to a contest to win an Infinity hi-def airbrush by Harder & Steenbeck. The challenge was put out there by Svee (an airbrush god), to "paint with anything on anything," but it had to be a winter theme. Svee's video was released on November 1 and the contest deadline was November 30; I had 30 days. 

Knowing my Iwata Eclipse was suffering from a bent needle (snagged the tip getting close for detail work), I considered the "paint with anything on anything" as a challenge to see what could be done without an airbrush; thought it would be thinking outside of the box to do other media than airbrush, as most everyone else would be using one. (More about that later.) Besides, no place to purchase Iwata needle locally and no guarantee one ordered online would arrive in time. So something done in a brush media was the ticket. Brain now working......

Winter theme; hmm. What do most people associate with winter? Many think of Christmas, snow and Santa. Svee did say, entrants could paint 'Santa with breasts,' but my visual of that was just gross. Besides, I think the modern, red jolly Santa is just stupid; don't want to waste energy painting stuff I hate.

But I like old time Santas, Father Christmas,  the vintage ones. And they aren't necessarily jolly; not jolly might mean sad. What would make a Santa sad? Children who don't get to celebrate the winter holidays would make Father Christmas sad. Those children would be the ones who passed away from various circumstances. He would mourn for their lives being cut short,mourn for their parents; a heavy sadness. From this train of thought, morbid and depressing, the drawing was born.

I was pleased with the drawing, and pleased with the outcome of the video, which did receive positive feedback and what I consider, a surprising number of views. However, as far as the contest was concerned, I didn't even get honorable mention.

Silly me. Who knew that a contest for an expensive airbrush, sponsored by the airbrush manufacturer and judged by world class airbrush artists, would actually require, in spite of the 'challenge' implied by Svee's video, that the contest entry be done with an airbrush? 

Duh. Seems stupidly obvious now. Oh well, live and learn.

It was a great drawing anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who Else Wants to Airbrush a Denim Jacket?

This altered denim jacket is the first thing I ever airbrushed.

The jacket itself was sort of ratty and a little too small across the chest, but the length was great and the sleeves had cool zippers at the wrists. I decided to alter it to fit, it only needed  2" added on each side. I inserted a piece of denim from wrist to the bottom edge seam. Still looking plain, I changed out the pocket and added wide black lace around it and the wrist cuffs. Still not satisfied, it seemed the back of the jacket begged for some further decoration.

A skull would be just perfect.

I had just taken an airbrush class for t-shirts and decided, what the heck? How bad can it be? If I mess it up, I'll just launder it and the paint will wash out, (the airbrush fabric paints I use require heat setting to cure.)

What better way to learn the airbrush than to just jump in and try! Realistically though, I couldn't even make a dagger stroke or a row of even dots; I had no control over the airbrush. How did I expect to do lettering, or make a decent skull, and a sugar skull with roses, no less?

Hmm. I might have had a slight break with reality here, or at the least, overestimated my abilities. The only way I could do this at all, would be with a stencil, but there are no skulls or sugar skulls as big as I wanted for the jacket. I would need to make my own design and because of all the colors I wanted, I would need to turn it into a multi-part stencil. Never have done that. Haven't a clue.

How big is the paint area?
 First, the size of the area to be painted, had to be measured. A few unsuccessful attempts later, I just taped together sheets of copy paper and took a rubbing of the center seam, both side seams, the shoulder seams and the tail pleat. That way I could decide on the best placement of the design.

Make the design.
 Next, I had to craft the design. I wanted a cool skull, not too evil, with a tattoo look and some sugar skull decorations. So I looked for ideas on sugar skull decorations and some various rose pictures. The internet proved helpful and after adjustments, erasures, trial and error, the final version of the banner and lettering, the crossed brushes and sugar skull with thorny roses was completed. It all fit on an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper but the paint area on the jacket was much larger.

Enlarge the design to fit paint area.
There are a few methods to enlarge drawings:
1.  Grid method: Boring and labor intensive. High probability for error. No. No.
2.  Word Document Stretch: Scan drawing and save into word document; "stretch" across four continuous pages, making four same-size enlargements (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) of entire drawing area, to allow you to tape together to make 1 big drawing. Still labor heavy, but do-able. This is the method I used because I didn't know about the next method.
3.   Office Copy Store Enlargement: Take drawing to your local office copy store and have them enlarge it to the size you need and purchase multiple copies (5-6 is a good estimate of this enlargement, from which you will make your multi-part stencils. The enlargements cost pennies and will save you LOADS of time!

1. Stretch onto shirtboard and pin.
2. Mask off areas where no paint is needed
3. Spray with transparent base and heat set.
The picture, left, shows the jacket pinned to a shirtboard; the top of one arm is masked off with masking tape to prevent overspray on the arms (the other arm was masked later). 

Pinning the jacket to a shirtboard, or any stiff board-like material, helps keep the jacket back straight and unwrinkled as it is painted. This is technique is recommended for any fabric you wish to airbrush.

A layer of Createx Transparent Base has already been airbrushed on the jacket back and heat set. (I lay baking parchment paper on the jacket and used a household iron set on high for about 3 minutes, moving the iron slowly, but constantly.) The purpose of the 'transparent base' is to knock down the nap of the fabric. This technique is recommended for any fabric you wish to airbrush.

Plan Multi-Part Stencils in Layers by Color.
Obviously, the skull needed to be white, but because the jacket was dark denim, all color areas needed a base of opaque white to ensure the trueness of additional colors.

1. White is the first color. The first step was to cut out all areas to be white: skull, banner, flowers. (For all the stencils shown here, I used plain copy paper.) Then the opaque white was airbrushed. It took a few coats, with some dry time between (see paint mfgr directions), to achieve a fairly even white.

Picture at left shows the first stencil, basecoat white already done and other colors in progress. Notice I missed cutting out one rose, in dark blue. I had to spray it white first, before adding color. The banner was done in green with highlights of light green and yellow, shading in black. The crossed brushes were done in yellow brown, shaded in dark brown.

2. Black color was next. I cut out the stencil for the lettering. The font was some old English gothic sort found on my computer. Then, using the skull cutout from the basecoat stencil, I cut away all areas to be black; the lines, eye sockets, nose, teeth accents, etc.

The black lettering and skull accents were airbrushed. I got some black overspray around the top of the banner, my first experience with tip-dry, and had to improvise; cover sprayed, using a blue-black to correct the error. But the whole design then need some background blending to soften the edges of the fix. Remember, I had never airbrushed before; this jacket was just an experiment. As long as it was passable, I moved forward.

3. Yellow was next. I used the stencil piece previously cut for the roses (in the basecoat white phase) and sprayed them in with an opaque yellow. Picture left, shows skull close-up and yellow roses. Around the skull, are the leaves and stems where a single coat of opaque white was added.
The only place where yellow was needed on this whole project, was the roses.
The photo shows the stencil used for the stems and leaves and many of the remaining stencils used for the lines on the roses, the different sugar skull shapes on the face of the skull.

Because I was new to airbrushing and had absolutely NO control over the dual action trigger, I had to cut stencils for everything, even outlines around leaves and flowers. I about drove myself crazy with cutting stencils!

But with subsequent practice in later months, I did improve; not so many stencils are needed now.

4.  Green for the stems and leaves was next.

Between tip-dry, the stencil fluttering and the compressor overheating, I ended up spraying splat on the background. Oh well, I just got the previously mixed black-blue and sprayed around the whole design. It too will need the edges softened.

By this time, I was getting better at making a thin line with the airbrush, but was holding my breath while doing it. I cleaned up the edges around the fl flowers and skull, and added lines around the teeth and veins in the leaves.

5. Outlining black was next. Here the roses, stems and leaves are filled and outlined.

6. The red was next. Here is red shading on the roses, and the hearts.

7.  Yellow was then added to increase highlight contrast on the roses and leaves and added to the sugar skull design and in the eyes.

8.  Purple was added at the skull eyebrows.

9.  Grey shading was added.

10. The final colors on the sugar skull details were added.

This close-up shows the final details. Not perfect, but not too bad either. I was pleased with the outcome.

Heat Set the Final Product
Again, using my household iron, baking parchment paper on the ironing board and on the jacket surface, I heat set the entire back of the jacket with the same heat setting and technique as for the transparent base. I did this whole heat setting process about three times, letting the jacket cool between ironings. (I wanted to make sure the design would stay when laundered, but didn't want to burn the jacket material.)
A closeup of the banner and crossed brushes.
The final product, modeled by yours truly! Not the best airbrushing ever, but my first and the successful results were encouraging!

For more airbrushed clothing see my blog entries:
"Granddaughters' T-Shirts" and "Contest Entry T-Shirt."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Everyone Should Know About Lowbrow Art

What is Lowbrow Art
According to Wikipedia, {}:
"Lowbrow, or lowbrow art [1], describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970's. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground 'comix' world, punk music, hot-rod street culture, and other subcultures. It is also often known my the name 'pop surrealism.' Lowbrow art often has a sense of humor - sometimes the humor is gleeful, sometimes impish, and sometimes it is a sarcastic comment. [2] Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, digital art, and sculpture.

In an article in the February 2006 issue of his magazine, Justapoz [5], Robert Williams took credit for originating the term "lowbrow art." Because no authorized art institution would recognize his type of art [6], "lowbrow" was thus used by Williams to categorize his works, in opposition to "highbrow." He said the name then stuck, even thought he now feels it is inappropriate. Williams refers to the movement as "cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism [7]." Lately, Williams has begun referring to his own work as "Conceptual Realism. [8]"

Call it Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism?
Labels for the anti-academic, sub-culture art movement began with the label "lowbrow," but soon evolved into the following, any of which can easily be its own category or subcategory:
  • Pop Surrealism
  • Contemporary Figurative Art
  • Conceptual Realism
  • Neo-Expressionism
  • Neo-Surrealism
  • Abstract Surrealism
  • Alternative Art
  • Underground (Contemporary) Art
  • Fantasy Art
  • New Brow Art
  • Outsider Art
  • Modern Gothic
  • Kulture Art
  • Rat Fink
  • Whimsy Art
  • Urban Art
  • Street Art
  • Art Deco Revival
  • Steampunk
  • Art Deco Revival
  • Neo-Victorian
Just to name a few! Many artists conSider Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism art to be interchangeable faces of the same movement; others consider them as related, but distinct movements. As the momentum of this movement continues to increase, the dividing lines will also continue to evolve.

The best description of this newest creative movement however, is one that flagrantly flies in the face of traditional art. Participating artists purposefully avoid appealing to mainstream academic art critics. Using various media, their provocative works can depict fantastical imagery, both realistic and impressionistic, spanning a gamut of emotions - comical, shocking, disturbing, mystical, curious, ghoulish, absurd, nightmarish, surreal and personal. The common thread in their distinctive styles and diverse subject matter, seem to be "weird." But, as often is the case, weird can be wonderful.

The results of such alternative art can be seen all around us in "story illustration, comic book art, science fiction, science fantasy, movie poster art, picture production, psychedelic and punk rock art, hot rod and biker art, surfer art, beach bum and skateboard graphics, graffiti art, tattoo art, pinup art, pornography and myriad other commonplace egalitarian art forms. All are simply dismissed and treated with condescension by the formal art authorities." [9]

Clash of Two Worlds: Lowbrow Art vs Fine Art
Academic art circles consider lowbrow a "non-legitimate" art movement. Many Lowbrow artists began their careers in non-traditional art fields; many are self-taught. Unfortunately, this serves to separate them from the world of museum curators and art schools, from whom critical acclaim of their works and skills is essential for artistic credibility. A lack of informed and authoritative writing on the subject has concerned museums and mainstream galleries pertaining to the position of lowbrow art in the fine art world. This concern has caused them to exclude lowbrow artwork from displays and showings. However, this exclusion has not discouraged active collectors, and many artists have developed strong and faithful followings. Some well known lowbrow artists include: Mark Ryden, Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, SHAG (Josh Agle), Niagara (artist), Stacy Lande, Todd Schorr, Camille Rose Carcia, Alex Pardee and Elizabeth McGrath. More lowbrow artists can be found at:

So why should everyone know about lowbrow art? If you're an artist who is having trouble finding your niche, then the subculture of pop surrealism just might be where you belong. If you're a collector looking for something new, then this art movement just might be the place to discover the next Andy Warhol or Salvador Dali. 

Art surrounds us and viewed through the eyes of these amazing artists, the common has become exceptional!