Step by Step, how I painted “Tar of Zandoria”

A lot of people have asked me about my airbrushing technique, so I thought I would take you through one of my illustrations. While this painting is an entire page from a comic, the technique would be the same for a single illustration.

You may wonder why I didn’t do each panel separately and put it together in PhotoShop or Illustrator. It’s because I didn’t own a computer in those days and didn’t know anything about them.


Step 1

This is the pencil layout for the page. It is the full size of the painting, which will only be 10″ x 15″.


Step 2

Using a large sheet of tracing paper, I transfer the drawing to illustration board.

First I trace the drawing. then flip the tracing paper over and go over the lines with soft graphite.

I tape the transfer sheet onto the illustration board, so that it won’t shift.

Re-trace the lines with firm pressure. The drawing will be transferred to the board.

Last, I cover the new drawing with frisket to protect the board. I actually use clear contact paper instead, because frisket doesn’t stay down and costs too much…


Step 3

I work from the background forward, using a sharp X-acto knife to cut around the foreground figures.  I set the removed pieces of contact paper aside to replace later if needed (I lay them on the drawing, in position, so I won’t lose them).


Step 4

I begin the figure by painting the shadows first. These areas will be over-sprayed when I build up the rest of the skin tones.

Notice that I have laid the mask for the background in place to protect it from my work on the foreground.


Step 5

Switching to a lighter color, I’m building up the form on the female figure.

At this point, the airbrush work is free-hand. I will use a hand shield to mask edges as needed.


Step 6

Fine details,such as the eyes, hair, and jewelry are added or enhanced with a sable brush.

Notice the reference photos that are taped next to my painting. It is very helpful to have handy references when painting.


Step 7

Here you can see the finished panel with all of the masking removed. The “mantis warriors” are done the same way: Shadows first, then color, then finishing off with specular highlights. If you think that it isn’t detailed enough–consider that the right-hand panel is only 6-1/2″ inches wide and 4-1/2″ inches tall.


Step 8

Next is the panel where the “fireball” spell is blasting the creatures.

As before, I start with the background. The girl, the exploding bug, and our hero, “Tar”(the hippo gladiator) are all masked with contact paper.

The sky and sea were painted earlier, when I was using those colors in the previous scene. I start the fireball by laying-out the basic explosion in yellow.


Step 9

I switch to orange to further define the fireball. I’m using a photo reference of an oil well fire that I clipped from a magazine.


Step 10

Finishing the explosion with pure black, I complete the rest of my background.


Step 11

Here I’ve finished up the rest of the panel. Same as before, working from the darkest areas (shadows) to the lightest (highlights). Adding detail with a sable brush.

Below are the finished pages, complete with word balloons and sound effects. These were hand lettered on separate pieces of paper and then dry-mounted with rubber cement on top of the illustration.








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