Sunday, December 22, 2013

Superman Paint Master

by Tim Bruckner

This was a pretty straight ahead paint up. I use cel vinyl exclusively for my basic paint work. For those of you who don’t know what cel vinyl is of haven’t triedit, its a water based paint created to be used on animation cels. For those of you who don’t know what animation cels are… 

Long ago, cartoons used to be drawn by hand.  I know! Crazy, right? And those drawings were transferred to clear sheets of acetate called cels.  And cel vinyl was the paint used to color them in.  I get my paint from Cartoon Colours: if you’re inclined to try it, buy them directly from the company.  If you find them in an art store, chances are they’ve been there for awhile and have settled into something like a brick. If you’re familiar with watercolor technique, you’re got a head start. For more information, there’s a dandy chapter on painting statues and the like in Pop Sculpture, Watson/Guptill-Random House. (shameless plug)

Always start with the head first.  It’ll give you a reference point for color, density and saturation for the rest of the piece. I laid in the flesh color for the head and worked on the eyes. Once the face was done, I painted in the hair. Next the yellow, the red and then the blue, in that order. If possible, always paint light to dark being aware of what color has to cover what color.

With the paint work finished on the figure I gave the whole thing several coats of Testors Lusterless Flat. Gloss coated his eyes and lips, semi-gloss varnished his hair and added a mix of semi-gloss and matte for his chest emblem.

I used an airbrush to pre-paint the cape. I’m a mediocre airbrusher at best.  But with a part that big and large sections of smooth contours, it was about the only was to get it done without running the risk of brush-mark build-up. Snuggling the figure into the cape section was tricky. But using a heat gun made the resin soft enough to lift the collar tabs of the cape, insert the figure and then bend the tabs down into position. With the figure and the cape secure, I finished the paint work on the cape and then mounted the completed figure on the base (see Basics of Bases). 

In painting the portrait I use a few techniques consistently. I’ll add a little blush (a touch of vermillion to the flesh color in washes) to his ears, chin, nose, adams apple and very lightly to his cheeks. To play up the graphic element of his lips, I paint the upper lip slightly darker, adding a touch of light brown. To intensify his eyes , I mix a little light brown with the flesh color and paint it above his upper lid and just below his lower lid.

My client, Don Bohm, also wanted a bronzed version. Everybody has their own solution to the problem of creating a bronze look in paint. Usually, I’ll lay in a basic bronze base coat and achieve highlights with dry brushing a lighter, brighter paint over it. This time I tried something different. I base coated the piece in a bright metallic yellow gold spray paint. Then, using Sophisticated Finishes Blacken Bronze, I diluted and strained it and airbrushed on several coats,  varying the degree of opacity in certain places over the entire piece. What this did was give me just enough under luster while creating a standard brown top patina. When an actual bronze is patinaed, the color is applied over sandblasted metal which creates a kind of polished surface. How dense the patina is applied determines how much of that “polished” bronze shows through.  To add a little finish detail, I painted in both S’s on his chest and base with several coats of blackened bronze for accents.


  1. Tim, thank you for all of this information. I still have a lot to learn but am planning to focus on sculpting and doing some character modeling for stop-motion next year. I did find a great alternative for turning Pop Sculpture into more of a textbook. There are wing-back notebooks/binders available that are used for handbell choirs. I took one of my copies of Pop Sculpture (I have two copies) and three-hole punched one copy and inserted the pages. Now, I can prop the book up and turn it page by page without the pages flipping back. The wing-back notebooks are about $6 each.

  2. Thanks for the article! Can I ask what made you decide to paint the statue bronze as opposed to cold cast bronze?

  3. Wow wow wow.

    You sure know how to make an interesting face for a familiar character. Also, I don't know how you arrived at the color scheme for the chest emblem, but it looks sooooo cool. I love this Superman. If I was charged as an artist on a new Superman title, I would use this statue as my design inspiration.