Lion Helmet Airbrush How To

This article will cover rendering a lion on the back of a motorcycle helmet using techniques borrowed from other forms of airbrushing, illustration mostly. It is also a good study on why you should never give up on a design and see it thru to completion. Written by Don Johnson,

The lion is not meant to be fine art by any means its helmet art but many of the techniques used in airbrushing illustration, canvas can be used just the same. Mainly the techniques of using an easer and hobby knife to remove paint from an area to help build highlights  character in your design are barrowed from those airbrushing those surfaces. You accomplish this on a hard surface much the same as you would on illustration board or canvas; you apply your paint in very thin coats and in many layers. Between layers use an easer or hobby knife blade tip to remove some of the color revealing the light back ground color.

Using this technique doesn’t make you less of an artist, doesn’t reflect your lack of skill with an airbrush it’s just another tool you have at your disposal to help you render your art. Some of the best illustrators in the airbrushing field use this same technique, Mark Frederson for one.

One thing I have learned over the year’s custom painting is to see a design thru to the end; there may come a point where you believe all is lost, the design just isn’t working. At times like this don’t throw the towel in see the design thru to the end; more times than not you will be surprised at how well things turn out in the end.

Airbrush Supplies Required:

double action airbrush, House of Kolor paint and clear coats, hobby knife


motorcycle helmet

The helmet the customer sent me was black so in the back where the lion will go I based it white and shot a quick coat of clear over it feathering it out on the rest of the helmet. Very similar to spotting a panel in on a car that’s been damaged in a small area where you just blend the clear in. After allowing the clear to dry, flash over night I scuff the area preparing to add the lion.

For rending the fur I will be using a scraping technique to remove paint so the clear coat over the white is required to hold up to this technique. A simple mid coat or SG100 will not work so I op for two part clear.


lion head stencil

Using Photoshop I resize my reference image to fit the size I need for the helmet. With a hobby knife I cut out the main parts of the lion like the eyes, nose and mouth. The foundation of your painting has to begin with having the correct prospective. The nose, mouth and eyes need to be in the correct position to help make viewers believe it’s a lion. Using this technique insures that at least to start the painting I have a good foundation to work from.


lion head out line

After positioning the reference picture on the helmet I airbrush a little black thru the opening I have cut leaving registration marks on the helmet. Now I know where the eyes should be in relationship to the nose, mouth, ears.


spraying light brown

And now the fun begins as the painting process starts, I begin by using a light brown rendering, airbrushing in the first layer of fur and base color. Keep your reference photo right there so you can refer to it often to ensure you are painting what you see in the photo not what you think you remember seeing.


continuing to paint fur

I tend to jump around a lot while painting working on the fur than the mouth or the nose pulling the entire painting along as one. At this point I sort of question should I continue on here it’s not looking very good, one of those moments I spoke of in the opening of this article. I think you’ll see I made the right choice to see it thru to the end. Even if it had not turned out as I imagined it would it’s all a learning process, experience that you can put to use in the next project.


Layer after layer build your fur up

Here you can see the sides of the snout just above the nose are way to well defined and must be fixed. Layer after layer build your fur up, build your colors in the same manner. Don’t just work on one local area of fur rather move all over the design pulling it together all at once.


shadow areas

In areas that are darker color I spray a very over reduced black into the area and than use my hobby knife to bring the fur back out. With House of Kolor the base black is way to the brown side of black, it’s not a true black. So when House of Kolor base black is over reduced for airbrushing you end up with a dark brown rather than a true black, the same dark brown I’m looking for in parts of this lion. If you airbrush or custom paint long enough you will come to realize there are many, many different blacks just like the other colors.


using hobby knife

Here is the knife pictured and a better view of the paint removal I’ve done with the knife. I have also started to work on the eyes by adding white, and our dark brown (HOK black) around the eyes, nose and lips. Notice I still have not taken care of the snout which looking at it now still drives me crazy.

I’ve also started to clean up around the lion bring that area back to black as the original factory color is.


airbrushing fur

At this point I have at least six layers on the entire design using the same technique of adding color, scraping to being the fur back out. Remember the warm and cool colors I spoke of from past articles? Well here is your chance to put those colors to work, transparent purple and transparent yellow. In areas you want to recede in your painting apply just a touch of transparent purple; just a touch is all it takes. On the snout, nose area use your transparent yellow to bring those areas forward in the painting.


add some yellow in the eyes

Almost there add some yellow in the eyes followed by brown, drop shadow the brow and add a small gleam in the eyes. I’ve found by taking pictures of my work and than viewing them on the computer it helps me see where I need to make changes to the design. In this picture it tells me I still need to work on the snout and blend it in better from the top of the nose to the bottom of the eyes.


before clear coat

These are the last pictures I shot before clear coating the helmet. I learned a lot during this project, having to recall the steps taken to write this article has also helped me recognize what I should have done differently.


helmet finished

I hope you also learned from my going over this project and will post some of your results on the forum.

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