Painting Fire

Painting Fire

Painting fire tutorial will walk you thru the airbrush techniques used to create realistic looking fire with a skull within the fire. It helps if you have a good photo reference of fire or flames to work from, study the photo closely and try to paint what you see in the photo. Key to painting fire is to leave lots of negative space and build your fire up slowly with thin layers of color. No one gets this the first time it takes repetition improving with each attempt so don’t get discouraged if your first attempts don’t come out very good.

Painting fire by Mike Ellwood, Twisted Designs air brush studio located in Pasco, WA. 

You can check out more of Mike’s work at


This article was originally published in issue 12 Airbrush Technique Magazine

Airbrush Supplies Used:

PPG DX 330, Mirlon Mieka Scuff Pad,  PPG Black Base, SATA Digital, SATA airbrush, House of Kolor Molly Orange, KK Tangerine,skull stencil,PPG Radiance Candy Dye,BBC 500, Sata Minijet, Candy Yellow, Candy Tangerine



 Painting Fire
scuff the hood

Step #1.
Our canvas for this project is a powder coated aluminum hood. Mike started by wiping it down with PPG DX330, then it was scuffed with grey MIRLON Mirka scuff pad to assure good adhesion. This was followed up by a second application of DX330 and a thorough drying.


 Painting Fire
spraying black

Step #2. 
With the hood sufficiently prepped, Mike applied two coats of PPG DMD1683 Black Base Coat, using a SATA NR2000 DIGITAL2.


 Painting Fire
skull stencil

Step #3. 
After allowing the base coat sufficient time to flash off, Mike sprays some Molly Orange with a SATAgraph 3, lightly dusting the negative portion of the skull and crossbones included in the Quick Shields 2 set from Beyond 6 Productions.


 Painting Fire
fire 4

Step #4.
Next Mike starts by free handing in some loose flame structures. It is important to keep these loose and random at this point to avoid an overly structured design, remember that fire is chaotic. Use good reference photos, i.e.; camp fire, fire place.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing skull

Step #5. 
After free handing in the basic shape of the first layer of fire, Mike started detailing the skull using a combination of free handing and shield work using the positive image of the skull.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire

Step #6.
With the first layer of Molly Orange done, Mike mixed some PPG Radiance Candy Dye into DBC 500 and reduced it with DT870. Using a SATAminijet 4, Mike puts down a good even coat of red candy.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire

Step #7.
Once Mike got a loose basic fire going he came back with a shield to sharpen up some edges. Mike selected one of the medium multiple curve templates out of the Quick Shield 2 set.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 8

Step #8.
After allowing the candy mid coat sufficient time to flash off, Mike returns to building the image with Molly Orange. This was followed by an application of candy tangerine.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 9

Step #9.
After working back and forth with Molly Orange and the candy colors, Mike moved to the next layer. Although the detail looks white, it is actually light yellow. He started to freehand details onto the skull.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire10

Step #10.
Mike started adding another layer of flames using the light yellow using a combination of free hand and shields. Mike grabbed the positive skull and used it to protect the detail while lightening the area.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 11

Step #11.
After Mike was happy with the layer of opaque light yellow, he applied a layer of candy yellow of it.



 Painting Fire
airbrush fire 12

Step #12. 
After allowing the yellow time to flash off, Mike used the candy tangerine to add depth and shadow to the recessed areas of the skull and inner curves of the flames.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 13

Step #13.
This picture shows the completed application of the candy tangerine.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 14

Step #14.
Happy with the overall proportions and depth, Mike used the light yellow to bring out detail and push the design forward. He did this by using negative shield to protect the surrounding area.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 15

Step #15. 
After pulling the details out, Mike gave the entire design a coat of candy yellow to blend the layers together.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 16

Step # 16.
Mike repeats the previous process a couple of times, careful not to overwork the design.


 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 17

Step #17.
Satisfied with the design, Mike used a shield to protect the design while using the original base coat color to erase over spray.



 Painting Fire
airbrushing fire 18

Step #18.
After allowing base coat sufficient time to flash, the panel was tacked and then cleared using PPG3000 sprayed with a SATAjet RP 1.3

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