Spray paint art reminds me so much of hip hop dance, both originated from the streets, invented by people who had no formal training, yet both have the power to touch our souls.
2 weeks ago while traveling in lovely San Francisco, a forgotten dream of painting a galaxy was awakened within me, as I watched street artists painting a bright moon floating above a silhouette of Golden Gate Bridge.
I often painted clouds in art school, and know that it can take days or weeks to give a painting light, air and volume. So you can imagine my excitement when it finally clicked that I can, perhaps, paint a galaxy filled with light, air and volume in 30 minutes!
Not to mention the chance to act like a bad a$$ street artist!
Step 1: Language of Spray Painting
In dance, when you really practice and know the steps, you can forget the steps and become one with the music.
The purpose of this section is to try to clearly define some useful methods and techniques unique to spray painting, which has not been written about widely. Some I learned from watching in the streets and on YouTube, some I figured out and modified through my failed paintings.
The ultimate goal is to forget the techniques and fly with your imagination.
Here's a summary, and each is covered in more detail in the steps they are used.
- Soft Mist :after creating some uneven blobs of paint, I figured this out- it sounds so counter intuitive- instead of pressing the nozzle then start moving the paint can, do the opposite, get the can moving, then press the nozzle! This will create a even and natural looking mist, without a heavy starting point. See Step 3 & 5
- Newspaper :while the paint is wet, use newspaper to lift some of the paints and create a cool texture. Can be used to create planets, mountains, etc. See Step 4
- Covered Stencil : stencil touches the painting, creates defined shapes with sharp edges. See Step 4
- Raised Stencil :stencil is lifted a couple of inches from painting, creates defined shapes with soft edges. See Step 3 & 6
- Bounced Paint :spray not the painting, but a straight or curved surface perpendicular from the painting to create a very soft line. I used it to create the spiral galaxy in an earlier painting -see last 2 images in Step 7- but find method 4 easier and quicker. Still, this method has a lot of potential for sure!
- Star Clusters :spray some paint on a small piece of thick paper and tap with your fingers on the back of the paper to create clusters of stars. See Step 6
- Comet :a quick tap on the bottom of a upside down spray can will create a comet / shooting star. See Step 6
Step 2: Materials and Tools
This painting will take about 30 minutes. If you feel nervous, you can follow along a simple 5-minute painting here which only uses a few of the techniques as a warm-up!
Materials and Tools:
- 3M Mask 5201– this mask is under $20 but works great, I can’t even smell the paint. If you plan to do a lot of spray painting or other types of finishing, it’s very important to use a mask!!
- Spray paints: I used Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch, and Metallic Blue which is widely available. In this painting I used black, white, pink, yellow, metallic blue, lime green and purple. See final step for tips on colors.
- Poster Boards: Target has a great heavy weight kind, 22″x28″ which is used in this painting.
Make sure to use the glossy side for painting! Tape it onto your work surface, here i used a piece of plywood covered with recycle paper.
- plastic pots, cans, lids, of various sizes, anything with a round shape and a raised or hollow side so it does not touch the paint when placed over the painting
- newspaper, and a small piece of thick paper such as magazine cover
- cardboard for stencils
Step 3: Spiral Galaxy
Place an oval stencil (Covered Stencil) in the center of the galaxy, and create a dark background covering half of the painting with soft mist of black and metallic blue.
Make 3 cut-out oval stencils, going from larger to smaller, lift them about 1" to 2" above the surface of the painting (Raised Stencil) and paint the center of galaxy from yellow, to pink, to white.
Cut out a couple of spiral forms in another piece of cardboard, and again use the Raised Stencil method to create several spirals going outward from the center of galaxy, using purple and blue paint.
This method allows us to create more accurate spiral forms with nice soft edges.
Step 4: Planets
Place some of the circular objects where you want the planets to be, gently spray a little black paint to mark them, and remove the covers.
You probably won't see the street artists do this, because they know very well from hundreds of paintings where the planets should be. We do it because it allows us to play around and find a balanced composition before we put all the paints down,
Start with the first planet, use 3-4 colors, and start with either the lightest color, in this case lime green, and quickly go to the next shade – metallic blue, and the darkest – black, overlapping the adjacent colors. Don’t be concerned about staying within the planet makings. You can also go from dark to light colors, which creates a lighter planet.
While the paint is wet, quickly crumble a piece of newspaper, open it, and lay it on top of the painted planet area, very gently run your fingers on top of the paper. This will lift some of the paints and create a cool texture on the planets. Lift the paper and here we have the start of a planet!
The colors for some of the other planets are white-purple-blue-black, pink-green-blue, etc. See final step for more tips on color harmony!
After all the planet areas are painted, we will cover them with those cans and lids, and create the space around them.
Step 5: Void and Aurora
Starting with black, create a dark void between the spiral galaxy and around the floating planets using the Soft Mist method. Then using metallic blue, lime green and purple, softly spray some flowing colored light through the dark space. Keeping the nozzle at least 12" above the paper will create softer transitions.
In this painting I wanted to create a subtle movement of light from the edges toward the center. You can improvise and create any flowing forms you like!
Step 6: Stars and Comets
Now we can lift the covers, and move on to the final and super fun steps: stars! Spray some white paint onto a small piece of thick paper, there should be enough paint yet not too much that it drips. Face the paper down where you would like to have the stars, and tap with your fingers on the back of the paper to create clusters of stars.
The bigger stars are created with the Raised Stencil method - poke a hole in a piece of cardboard, lift it a couple of inches from the paper, and spray with white over the small opening, now you have a shimmering star!
And those comets! They are the easiest – just place the can upside down, face the nozzle toward the direction of the comet, and give a quick tap on the bottom of the can.
Step 7: Tips and Tricks
In the final step I want to share my "failed" painting, and a few resources and painting tips that may be helpful for not just spray painting but painting in general-
- the last 3 images show a painting I made earlier that did not quite match my vision of a galaxy - the colors are a little busy, and there are some heavy paint spots in the spiral galax. The bounced paint method (described in step 1) has a lot of potential though!
- failures are to be embraced and celebrated, because they led me to finda more harmonious color palette, and the raised stencil method, which created the galaxy in a lot less time!
- consider the temperature of colors from warm to cool. warm colors such as red, orange, hot pink creates a more exciting feeling, and cool colors such as blue, green and lavender creates a more peaceful feeling
- another great way to bring more harmony into a painting is to see all the elements not as objects but as movements - the flow of light, the flow of space, the shifting of shapes - let the movements determine where the light shines and where the shadow falls
- clear spray paint can extend your working time! if the paint got dry and you wanted to use the newspaper method, just spray a clear coat and they can be worked on again!
- there are many spray paint artists on YouTube worth checking out.
- I hope water-based spray paint can become a reality soon (maybe it is already?) so there's no more harmful solvents, which means no more masks!
I am really in love with spray paint as an art medium! It offers lots of new creative possibilities, and it's super fun to use. It almost feels like you are not painting with paint, but painting with air!
Whew! Thank you for staying till the end of this long one, and happy painting!
Second Prize in the
Paint It! Sponsored by Olympic Paint