Speak softly and carry a big stick. The smoke and fire step by step

Smoke and Fire How-to


The job came into the studio to custom paint a rifle stock. The theme and colors were left wide open. After doing some rough sketches for ideas, I ended up with smoke and fire. Rather than do the normal realistic flames, I decided to pick something that looked like a huge, explosive fire. For all my art, I am using Createx Wicked Colors, a Richpen 213c airbrush and a Winsor Newton Series 7 watercolor brush Size 0.


I normally post updates of paintings on facebook. As I got things started, there was a request for a step by step on the process so I started taking pictures. What I quickly found was that it was difficult to get decent pictures as I was working. The gun had a silver metallic base and the matte black paint that I was using created a washed out glare on any of the curves. By the end it was clear that a proper How-to needed to come from a flat panel painting.


The panel that this painting was done on is a 3×4.5 inch piece of powder coated aluminum which I masked off the edge just to give the final painting a white border.



Next step is to paint the base color. In this case I am using AutoAir aluminum base fine.



On the rifle, I masked off basically the top half of the gun to minimize overspray then cut out the basic cloud shapes. For the flat panel, I omitted that step and just started blocking in the clouds with a very dark gray made from Detail Black and Detail White. I use the High Performance reducer when airbrushing as well, The ratio completely depends on what is needed. In this case, the cloud color needs to cover the aluminum without any detail so the ratio of paint to reducer is about 2:1.



Next a light yellow is mixed using Detail White and Golden Yellow. Again the color needed to cover so the reduction is 2:1.



It was important to get the overall forms of the clouds locked in early so for that I used a light gray made up of Detail White and Detail Black. Here more control was needed so I increased the ratio of reducer. The mix here is roughly 1:2 paint to reducer.




Same blocking in step was next for the fire. Here the color was a deep orange made from Detail Orange and a little Crimson.



Since the edge of the smoke is on top of the fire, I decided to finish the fire first. Using the same deep orange, I swap the airbrush for a small round watercolor brush. The paintbrush for this is nothing special. The technique here is rough on the brush so I try not to use anything nice. Basically it is just pushing the paint into the areas that will eventually be dark. While I use the same deep orange as before, I use it unreduced. This gives that dry, crumbled feel.



The next step is to blend all that paint brush work. For that I go back to the airbrush and use Detail Orange. The ultimate goal is to create the desired texture. Very often that takes several techniques.



Finally, an over reduced Crimson is used to add the darkest areas. This step is also done with the airbrush.



There are two steps that are used to bring out the hottest spots in the fire. The first step is to paint in the hot spots with the paint brush. This color is a very pale mixture of Detail White and Golden Yellow.



The next step is to push the light yellow back. For this I use a highly reduced Burnt Sienna which has a great yellow cast when pushed.



Now I repeat the same two steps again to create the hottest spots.








Finally the fire needed something to break it up. To do that, light gray is added to the top edge of the billows. This is where the fireball is the coolest. This detail really adds a lot of form to the flames and also breaks things up.



A very light gray is used here on the outer edge to add the highlight. This color is used across the light areas of all the smoke. This color is highly reduced at about 1:10 paint to reducer. This high reduction allows for very fine control and sharp details.



A deep gray is used next to tuck in the darkest areas of the smoke. Again, the reduction here is fairly high to give more control. This image shows half of the gray applied to show the contrast of the colors.




Here is all of the deepest gray in.


The paint brush is used next with a light gray to add the highlighted edge of the smoke billows. For this higher detail work, I switch to the Winsor Newton brush. This brush holds an incredible point. I also use the Regular reducer rather than the High Performance reducer. The Regular reducer keeps the paint flowing better off the traditional paint brush.



The same light gray color is used in the airbrush next to blend the edges of the highlights.



Finally Detail black is used to clean up any mistakes in the clouds. I unmask the edge and paint in the red pinstripe and this panel is now finished!


















Posted in How-to
One comment on “Speak softly and carry a big stick. The smoke and fire step by step
  1. John Davies says:

    Thanks for the step by step. Looks like you can almost see the fire rolling.

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