Painting Motorcycle Tribal, Tiger Design

by Ashley Brayson

I picked up my first airbrush in 1998 after a lot of research. Initially I just wanted to paint mirror frames using simple stencil techniques and fades. It wasn’t long before I realised the potential of this tool and I started to read articles in magazines. I learnt about thinning the paint correctly and general airbrush control. It changed everything for me. The hard-edged look was gone and I became more and more proficient.

I really like painting animals so for this design I decided to go with a head-on tiger portrait incorporating tribal design flames. It’s very easy to overdo a tank so the most complex part will be the tiger itself. It’s nice to really go to town on the main subject and leave the rest of the design fairly simple.Materials used: Createx Auto Air, masking tape, small magnets, Iwata HP-C airbrush.

Airbrush Supplies Required:

Createx Auto Air, masking tape, small magnets, Iwata HP-C airbrush.

holding stencils with magnets

Step1: To begin with I painted the whole tank in Auto Air basecoat black. This will be my background colour for the flame design. You can see here I have covered the tank in 2-inch masking tape. To ensure symmetry I have cut out 2 flames from a sheet of paper and positioned them on the tank using magnets.


out lining design

Step2: using a reduced black I lightly spray around the stencils. Repeating this using various other flame stencils I can get the look I’m after knowing that it will be even on both sides of the tank.


remove masking

Step3: With the flame design cut out using a scalpel blade I remove the background tape leaving the tribal flames covered.


tiger stencil

Step4: I have printed a black and white tiger image onto A4 paper and this will serve as my basic stencil to position various areas of the tiger ready for my freehand work. I have cut out the brightest areas of the head as you can see here and again attached it to the surface using my magnets (very useful!)


airbrushed through the stencil

Step5: Here you can see how lightly I have airbrushed through the stencil apertures with my very reduced white. Remember this is purely to give me reference positions for the freehand work to come.


started to stroke in the fur detail

Step6: I have now started to stroke in the fur detail with my airbrush and reduced white. These are simply fine lines to create the illusion of fur.


establish a good background

Step7: All of the areas that that the stencil gave me are detailed with fur. In doing something like this it helps to begin with the lightest areas and establish a good background for the transparent colours to follow later on.


brightest areas established

Step8: With the brightest areas established I have now roughly given some dimension to the muzzle and the rest of the head.


use my stencil again

Step9: At this point I need to know where the black areas are so that I can avoid them when painting the rest of the white fur. To do this I use my stencil again but this time I have cut out the stripes.


areas to avoid

Step10: Here you can see that using a reduced black I can now see the areas to avoid when continuing with my white.



Step11: This is a photo I took showing the contrast between the untouched area on the left and the detailed right side.


white so far

Step12: A close up shot of how it looks with just white so far.


added detail

Step13: Now I have added detail to the black areas with my reduced black. We now have a fairly good tiger just using black and white paint. This is necessary to create good under painting for my colours next. The fur detail will show through the transparent paints. If you used opaque you would end up covering the work you have just done.


Auto Air transparent yellow

Step14: Starting with the lightest colour I use Auto Air transparent yellow. Study your reference picture and try and see all of the different colours involved. Tigers are not just orange. There are yellows, oranges and reds in some areas. Transparent allow you to layer your colours for subtle tones.


transparent orange

Step15: With transparent orange I apply light coats over the fur avoiding the fur areas I want to remain white. There’s a lot of white on a tiger. Losing this would destroy that beautiful contrast. When applying the colours always airbrush in the direction of the fur, don’t just blast the colour on from a distance. You want to create a tight painting and maintain detail.


head is now complete

Step16: The head is now complete apart from whiskers. I have used red to darken some areas and some red violet mixed in for the muzzle. Green was also used for the eyes. Always add white highlights to the eyes when done. Tiny areas of moisture and reflections really bring them to life.


simple fire design

Step17: I decided to go with a simple fire design for the rest of the background so using firstly reduced white I used transparent yellow and then orange to create a simple design that should separate the tribal flames when the tape is removed. At this point I also add a faint drop shadow on the lower edges of the tape before removing it.


airbrush some highlights

Step18: Here I have removed all of the tape. The tribal design looks very flat at this point. So in order to give some dimension I airbrush some highlights to give the impression that they are standing out from the tank surface. Please refer to the finished photograph to see the effect of the highlights.


clear coated
finished tank

The clear coat when applied professionally really does make a big difference. Thanks to Sam of Airbrush Perfections for doing a great job.

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