Sunday, April 21, 2013

Finally...the Horse Trailer Mural is FINISHED!!!

A lot of progress was made since the last post...and now the horse trailer mural is finished.  If you don't want to see all the steps, just scroll down to the bottom of this post...but if you want to experience the highs, the lows, the drama, the fall off the ladder, the petty annoyances, the nicked knuckles, the good-bad-ugly, the drippy humidity and the uncooperative weather, keep reading!

These photos, below, show the very rough marker sketches I made for Betty to choose from.

The letters in the sketches -- A, M and C -- stand for the horses names -- Apollo, Mojo, and Cash, the mini -- and I used those because there are really no distinguishing marks on these very crude sketches.  My favorite sketch was the fourth one, but thank goodness Betty chose the third one because it really is the easiest one to execute, even though I proposed a wood grain fence for the horses to be looking over.  I know me...and I would have agonized over those trees and pasture in the fourth design and probably completely overworked them.
This is a page from my sketchbook with directions to myself on how to proceed.
The photo, above, shows my "canvas", primed, with the whole side of the trailer masked off.
Over the Primer/Sealer (see the previous blog post) I used this fine Createx, Inc. product.  I am going to send a fan letter to this company...their paints are wonderful!

The first step in the actual painting of the mural is the border.  I decided Gold with HotRod Sparkle on top would be perfect.  After masking off the area, I fired up the airbrush and got to work.
This is my lovely Iwata HPC-S.  Iwata Airbrushes are the Mercedes of airbrushes.  I used to have the Yugo of airbrushes.  It was from an off-brand and was a complete POS.  You get what you pay for.
Here is my POS compressor, but I shouldn't call it that because it actually finished the job.  It was super-cheap and super-noisy, but it worked.  The blue thing is a craft-caliber heat gun, also a POS, which I replaced with a REAL heat gun.
Back to the compressor for a moment...look closely at the warning on the back in the photo below...

...especially #3, which warns: "do not insert any eyewinker into the compressor."  OK, good to know.  I kept my eyewinkers safely out of harm's way.
I practiced airbrushing the gold onto my finger. I have Shirley Bassey singing in my head again.  "GOLDFINGER, he's the man, the man with the Midas touch...a spider's touch...such a cold finger..."
The gold border is finished.  Next step - the sky...
Cloud morphology is amazingly varied.  I found an image on Google I liked, then I started mixing blues to try to match our actual Florida sky.
None of these are right...
...but THIS ONE is perfect!!!  See how the painted swatch blends right into the real sky?  In case my fellow Floridians would like the recipe, here it is --
30 parts white
4 parts Caribbean Blue
5 parts Cobalt Blue
1 part Red
Yes, RED.  That greys it out a bit so it is not so blue-blue.
Those are not Betty's horses.  The horses shown above are Apollo and Mojo's STUNT DOUBLES.  I needed to get horse shapes there to mask off and I don't have reference photos of the actual horses looking directly at the camera, so I Googled images again, printed them out, taped them together and stuck them there to give me the outer margins. 
I used an actual photo of Cash, the mini, to make a mask of the proper size.  Cash makes great eye contact.
Here is the sky painted in and the horse masks removed.
What a dummy!  I removed the masks before I remembered I had to paint in the clouds...sheesh!  So I remasked and then airbrushed in the clouds.  I was so disgusted with myself I didn't take a photo.
It was so windy that I couldn't work out there for many days.  I was going crazy with the inactivity on this project and one day...I SNAPPED!  I decided that I must construct a spray booth. 

So, all by myself on a very gusty day I grabbed two tarps, each 18x25 feet (every Floridian has tarps in their garage for post-hurricane roof repairs) and a drill motor and various hooks and screws and bungee cords and created what you see in the photo above.  This was the exciting part I alluded to in the intro to this post above. 

At one point I was on the ladder, balanced on that step that says, THIS IS NOT A STEP...when a huge gust of wind picked me up and sent me flying off the ladder.  I held onto the tarp and my brain told me to bend my knees in a springy fashion when I landed a nano-second later.  I landed on my feet (I'm cat-like!) and suddenly understood the appeal of wind-surfing.
The photo above shows the wood-grain fence.  I was feeling pretty smug and self-congratulatory about how cool and wood-like this turned out, when my friend Kathy B., the amazing faux-finish artist, told me that wood-grain is one of the easiest things to paint.  Oh.
Betty's husband, Don, is an amazing guy with lots of skills in building.  I added these painted nails and this hammer mis-hit for his amusement.
Betty asked for this symbol and this Bible reference.  I tried to make it look like it was carved into the fence.
I visited Google again for some images of lizards.  Betty told me there is a green Anole that lives in the barn, so I thought he would look cool on the fence.
I painted his shape in Sealer White...
...then used all these colors to try to bring him to "life" on the fence.
I added a drop shadow with Auto Air Transparent Root Beer, a very versatile color.

Time to paint the horses!  First, I had to mask off the sky and the fence to prevent drips and over-spray from the airbrush. 
I really messed up Apollo's ear position, so I had to sand it down and re-seal the area and repaint the sky and clouds.
In the photo above I had almost finished Apollo's distinctive markings and then roughed-in Cash and Mojo.  Horses all have basically the same features in roughly the same places.  Look at the sketch below to see their interesting nostril shape...reminds me of paisley.
Here I have airbrushed in Cash's mane and his basic face color.  Airbrushed paint is, of course, micro-fine globules of paint, so there is good "tooth" and chalk was perfect for sketching the facial landmarks.
Mojo was especially tough to paint because of his color.  In my reference photos he looked very red, but Betty told me that his non-bleached-by-the-sun-color was different.  I mixed Root Bear, Black, Red and even a bit of Purple to make his coat color.  In the photo above his mane is not yet full enough.  Betty told me that his mane goes all the way to his "withers".  I own four horses, but I had to Google "withers" to see where she meant.  Sheesh. 

 I don't have any photos of Mojo in progress...probably because I was using all my brain-power to try to capture his color.
Here it is...almost finished!  This photo is dark because it was a cloudy day and the trailer in under the pole barn with my homemade spray booth around it casting very blue light.

The next step was many layers -- I lost count -- of clear-coat.  This was the step I was most worried about because automotive clear-coat, as used in custom auto body shops, contains isocyanate, a VERY dangerous chemical.  I do not have a $2000 forced air breathing hood system and full HazMat protective jumpsuit, so I had to find something that would protect the painting but require no more personal protection that a volatile organic compounds (VOC) respirator, which I DO have.

I found U-POL #1, a rattle can clear-coat recommended by Auto Air for protecting their line of paints.  It worked well and I used four full cans.
Almost finished at this point...I signed my name...and pin-striped the outer margin of the border, which I think looks great!

 And here it is!  This is a little darker than it is in person as it is a cloudy day.
Betty and her adorable grand-children, Mason, Maddox and Ella, drove the great distance from her house to my house (all of 1/8th mile) to pick up the trailer.  Don came too, but he is elusive like a snow leopard or something and I wasn't able to capture him photographically.

 I wish I could see the reaction of other drivers when Betty takes this on the highway.  It appears that three giant horses are looking out a window.  I hope this doesn't cause an accident!
 There it goes...
 ...I'm going to miss you, Trailer!
The good news is that I can visit it anytime I want. The best part of this big project is that Betty and I have become good friends.  Her husband, Don, has helped Dan so much with all the wiring on the guesthouse, and because Don is an expert he probably has saved Dan from some nasty shocks.

Thanks for reading about this project.  For some of you it may have ignited a desire to learn airbrushing or automotive finish techniques...if so, contact me and I will share some wonderful resources.  The rest of you are probably thinking I was crazy to take on this project.  I have learned so much and have had a lot of fun, even though there were times -- those windy, humid days -- when I regretted saying YES.  

Knowing all that goes into even the most basic automotive finishes makes me appreciate those guys at the body shops...they really don't get paid enough when they fix dings and dents and repaint your car, good as new.  Next time you have body work done, give the guy a big tip...or at least a hug! 

If you are interested in my NEXT project of this type (are you ready, Russ?!?) send me an email and I will put you on the list.

Ciao for now!



Saturday, March 16, 2013

Preparation! Dangerous chemicals, power tools and lots of tape!


Here's something has puzzled me for a long while...
Why is THIS item so fun to use...

 ...but this item, shaped almost the same, is NOT at all fun?  Any explanations anyone?
I used the Ryobi cordless sander to give the bare aluminum a final smoothing.
 I call this "Still-life With Latex Gloves."  I washed down the sander panel with this:
Please note: "for use by professional, trained personnel, using proper safety equipment."  Haha, that's me!
Remember in fourth grade when the Fire Marshall came to school?  These are the solvent-soaked rags he warned us about.  His words were singing in my memory as I wiped down the aluminum dust with the Grease and Wax remover - "Children remember: STOP, DROP, and ROLL!"  Back then everyone's dad had a bucket in the garage filled with rags like these...just waiting to ignite a conflagration.  I used to fantasize about leading my confused family from the burning wreckage of our once-beautiful home and exhorting them to STOP, DROP, and ROLL...saving them, becoming a local hero, BEING IN THE NEWSPAPER!  That was huge back then, being in the newspaper. Whatever happened to newspapers?
After successfully NOT setting myself afire with the wax and grease remover, I washed the area with pure water.  The hose did not stretch, so I improvised.

Then using giant black plastic drum liners and LOTS of tape, I did this...

I once read that we grow to love things we care for, the things we feed, groom, clean or manage in some way.  This would explain why I have grown to love this trailer in the 5 days it has been here.  I wanted to be certain no overspray or bug poopage would mar its shiny aluminum fenders and running boards or dust its enamel finish or powder its windows or sully its screens.  So I wrapped the bejeepers out of it.
This is the tape I used (Betty bought a whole case!)  It is THE BEST.  See what it says?  "60 Day Clean Removal" and "Low Adhesion".  That means it will come off cleanly and leave no sticky gunk behind that would necessitate a scrubbing with Goo-Gone (another fine product).
The photo looks a little Mondrian-esque.  That is the aluminum panel with its sanded edge nicely feathered, the double edge of tape and the black plastic.  I used 17 garbage bags, but they will all be salvageable at the end of the project because I did not cut them.
The actual PRIMER SPRAYING has begun!  This was the first coat...a "dry coat", which means you NEVER, while spraying, must see the paint in its shiny wet form.  I learned this from my automotive finishing mentors (online).  The patchy look is actually desirable in a first coat.  Trust me.
FUN FACT: the custom auto guys and the rare gal in the biz call auto finishes in aerosol spray cans "rattle cans".  Rattle cans are for poor unfortunates, like me, who don't have spray booths...OR for small, touch-up jobs.  This panel, even though I think it is HUGE, is considered a touch-up sized job.
This is overspray.  But it is dry powder because I stood the proper distance from the surface to be prepped, so by the time the excess drifted to the left (the wind was from the right) it had dried enough to lose any adhesive properties. This white powder would have dusted the whole back of the trailer.  But it didn't.  It was protected thanks to Frog Tape and Hefty Bags.
I forgot to mention that the temperature needed to be 70 degrees for the primer to work properly.  I waited for what seemed like hours. 
I almost started shaking the cans when this (68.3)was the temperature, but I waited.  This is a great little weather station that provides not only temp and humidity but outfit and recreation suggestions, too.  The little weather guy favors basic black, whether he is in his Speedo or his snow suit.                (Yes, that is a tomato.)

More sanding between primer coats.  This is the EXACT grit size recommended.  I'm good that fooling around with maybe a 300 or a 400; if they say 320, I USE 320!
This is a large foam block that follows curves.  The horse trailer panel LOOKS flat.  It is not.
This is the brand of automotive paint I chose after hours and hours of online research.  They have transparents, opaques, florescents, irridescents, and candies in a whole rainbow range of beautiful colors, and all sorts of sealers, binders, and reducers, too.  By the way, a "reducer" thins the paint so it can be used in very fine detail airbrushes.

Sealer White acts as a bridge between the primer and the color layer, where the picture will happen.  I applied this with a very fine foam roller meant for applying lacquer finishes to cabinets and fine furniture.

Here's another fun fact with which to impress your friends - technically speaking, paint doesn't DRY, it "flashes off".  I was confused by this when I started researching automotive finishing.  The writers would say things like,  "Flash for 30 minutes before applying second coat."  Wait...what?!?  "Flash" has so many meanings.  I had to find a For Dummies guide online to figure out what they meant.  But, now YOU know.

So, while waiting for my three coats of Sealer White to properly flash, I needed something to do.  Betty had mentioned that she needed to get the lettering on the right side of the trailer replaced.  UV rays had cooked the vinyl letters and turned the gold to an ugly scaly brown.
I decided I couldn't hurt anything by applying Auto-Air Gold over the gator-like surface.  It worked!  Check this out...and imagine one more coat of gold.
When I get the gold consistently covering the scaly brown I am going to add Hot Rod Sparkle, a translucent finish that sparkles in the sunlight like a million dancing fairies!  Then I will clear-coat it for protection.  If Betty hates it, no problem...she was going to replace these letters anyway.

Now it is Saturday morning...and it is COLD here in Myakka City!  43.5 degrees.  Yuck.  I must wait until it warms up to 70 for the next stage - masking out the fence area and the horse head shapes and  laying in a border and the beautiful blue Florida sky.

Stay tuned...and thanks for watching!