Airbrushing Flames #1



-Airbrushing Flames-

Courtesy of Jim’s Custom Rod Shop

First Method – We’ll begin with Jim’s step-by-step procedure for airbrushing flames using the “negative” image from the flame mask. When we lay out a masking material and cut the flame mask out, many of us prefer to use the cut-out portion. But in this scenario Jim uses the “leftover” portion… or the “negative” image. The obvious advantage is in achieving a more realistic fade in the flame tendrils. Let’s take a look:


Okay, here Jim has a ’59 Caddy [previously] painted a beautiful hot pink. The body has been drying for some time and is now ready to have the flames added. Note that the main color of this custom will be the hot pink you see here.


Here is the flame design laid out on masking tape. Selected craft stores throughout the U.S. stock, or can order, thin plastic templates to make this job easier. Check Hobby Lobby, MJ Designs, or Michaels (if you have them). Alternately, of course, you may choose to draw your own flames freehand or perhaps even create your own template from plastic stencil blanks. And if you’re really desperate, maybe you could make Jim an offer in Hot Wheels to supply you with some pre-drawn flame masks! *grin*


After cutting out the mask (using, I assume, an X-Acto knife) Jim has applied the negative image to the top and sides of the Caddy. Now keep in mind that no supplier currently offers negative image flame masks pre-designed for specific castings. This means that a certain amount of imagination and ingenuity will be necessary on the customizer’s part in order to make the mask “fit” the casting as well as Jim has done here.


Here Jim has simply added some extra masking tape to the rear of the Caddy to prevent any over-spray from settling there.


Although we don’t see the actual painting, it is apparent in this photo that Jim has shot the first color of the fade… in this case, bright white. Depending on your personal preferences, you may choose to either let the white dry before adding the next colors, or apply them over the white after only a few minutes. With lacquer it’s never a problem to spray the next color right over the previous one [before it dries thoroughly], simply because lacquer is generally 50% thinner, resulting in a fast drying finish. The House of Kolor lacquers that I myself use will dry to the touch in as little as 5 or 10 minutes! Enamels and water-based acrylics have much slower drying times so it’s important not to end up with too much wet paint on the car at once. Remember, two layers of enamel red may not run. But start adding additional colors before the red dries thoroughly and you again risk getting runs in your finish, or worse yet, bleed through (meaning that the red comes to the surface through the white or yellow that you’re spraying over the top). Our advice is to either use lacquers for multiple color layers, or simply allow 15 minutes flash time between colors when using enamels. And apply carefully in thin coats.


Here Jim has added the second color of the fade… bright yellow. Jim uses automotive-grade paint for the main body color and Testors “flat” colors for the flames (“flat” paint dries quicker than gloss, and looks just as shiny after clear-coating).


Now Jim has added the third (and final) color of the fade… a bright orange. Notice how he has used the orange creatively, fading it lightly (and almost randomly) into the flame tendrils. This is the exact reason some customizers prefer to use the negative image mask. Achieving these results using the positive image is much more of a guesswork proposition.


And finally, Jim unmasks his new creation. All that’s left now is possible detailing and the application of a good, deep clear-coat. The extremely careful use of mineral spirits paint thinner may help to clean up minor “bleeding” that may have occurred, or to smooth out the paint edges sometimes noticeable when the mask is removed. Just remember to work on small areas at a time and clean your paint brush frequently.

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