Warren Houston goes “native” with an airbrush.

The feedback has been amazing. The most common comment is “it looks real; like you are actually in the bush !!!” Most importantly, the client is over the moon!

This article is yet another example of the unique advantages that an artist can offer the community – that computer based digital printing cannot.

There is something that you can’t quite put your finger on with hand painted murals (that digital prints never seem to capture). The colours are vibrant and intense. The sense of depth is greater when hand painted. The murals seem to fit the space of the walls perfectly when painted. More about this idea later.

The mural dimensions were 7 metres wide and 3 metres high. This meant quite a bit of working up and down ladders. I mostly worked on a mobile scaffold.

With digital printing, the layout is rarely ever designed to properly fit the space. But for a mural artist, its just part of the process and happens automatically. Its one of the many reasons why hand painted murals look so much better.

Warren Houston is one of the best known airbrush artists in New Zealand. He is one of the few in the country airbrushing full time. He is highly respected and is known for being able to turn his creative skills to any design concept on any surface.

I put the shape of the large tree in the middle to create the scale. Because I wasn’t projecting a pre-prepared design – I needed something to give me a sense of proportion.

With this mural project, Warren writes;
I was asked by a local business owner, whom I had worked with previously, to paint a mural in the foyer of his newly acquired business. After some discussion we decided to go with a NZ bush scene. This tied it in with the business of producing NZ native wood souvenirs.

The mural was based on elements that were in three photos I had taken from the internet. I simply put things in place as I saw fit. There was no projecting or grids, nothing . . . just observation and lots of visual scaling!

Then I painted the right hand bush track to give me a scale of depth. Then worked from the background forward.

For those of you that are not Airbrush Venturi students, it will be hard to accept that you can learn a system of rendering that works equally well for realist airbrush, or stylised brush painting like this. I cannot speak highly enough of the Venturi System.

I had a lot of fun with the doorway. When you walk up to the door, now that it is finished, you get the sense that you are about to walk down a dark winding path through moss covered tree roots.

The door is split in half (a Dutch Door). There is a buzzer system. The staff open the top half and can talk to people without the public having access to the work room. With the top half of the door open, this photo looks like something out of Doctor Who.
The majority of the mural was painted using various size paint brushes, with the airbrush mostly used for highlights, misty effects and transparent shadows.

As you can see from the photos, I worked from the background and layered forward. Sky first, distant landscape and tree shapes. You can see this in the left side of the photo above.

I used PPG house paint. The issue for airbrushing is that house paints are only milled to about 30-50 microns, whereas airbrush paints are milled to 0.5 micron. So I had to use the 0.75mm nozzles on the Venturi airbrush (custom made for Airbrush Supply Network).

This cropped photo shows the “anamorphic” effect that I was after. It looks like one long flat wall. But the mural crosses two walls.

The idea was to create an “anamorphic mural”. This is the name for a mural that appears to look flat, across several angular surfaces. In the photo above, the mural looks like it is on one long flat wall.

To achieve this, there must be a “viewing point.” In this case it is the entrance point of the foyer. In the photo below you see the same photo (as above) but with the two walls clearly visible.

This photo shows the mural almost complete. Although I painted the main tree truck in at the start, I then left it unfinished until almost the very end, when I had completed everything around it.

To reinforce the anamorphic effect, I bent the black tree on the left, away from the main wall on the right, and that leads the eye away “into” the left wall. The path winding away, with the sun shining through the trees . . . all add to the effect.

The misty distance in the photo below, worked very well. It took about 5 layers to build the distant perspective here. The airbrush works perfectly when it comes to creating the effect of the blurred misty trees. Even in this photo, the anamorphic illusion is still effective.

If I had to give this mural a name it would be “The pathway to tranquility”. I spent a lot of time getting the light coming through the trees correct.

In all the 21 square metres took about 40 hours to paint. I think this is very commercially competitive with any digital print.

I really enjoyed painting this. This was my first anamorphic mural. I found it really satisfying “making it up” as I went along.

(Note to Airbrush Venturi students . . . the use of visual scaling is absolutely imperative! I constantly use visual scaling to ensure the accuracy of the depth and scale of every feature.)

The feedback from the client has been amazing. They have numerous people only coming in to see the mural, because they have somehow heard about it. Although it is meant to be a wholesaling business, the mural has attracted a major retail customer market. The mural actually “sells” their products.

Thank you Warren for letting us write about this amazing artwork.

If you would like to see more of Warren Houston’s artworks click HERE to go to his website. Or go to his Instagram link HERE.

Written by Tony Vowles