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, {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowbrow_(art_movement)}:
"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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lowbrow_pop_surrealism_artists

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!