Airbrushing a Bay – A Beginners Guide to Color
By Kristen Taylor
Bays are the hardest for beginners to paint because they quickly turn muddy or too red, but with the right color recipe anyone can paint beautiful bays. This recipe I created after several years of trying to paint the perfect bays. I finally had the eureka moment two years ago and thought it was high time to share it with the hobby. This tutorial is the written counterpoint to my YouTube video created a few weeks ago.
Below are the color mixtures for each step that you'll need to premix and save in their own bottles for this airbrush tutorial. The percentages are approximate, so feel free to experiment with the mixtures as you become more confident with the process. Also experiment with how many coats you apply to your model, as there are many different shades of bay. Your brand of paint does not matter as much as purchasing the correct starting colors and making sure they work for airbrushes (or that you can make them work). As always, your other crucial tool for this project will be good photo reference of the type of horse you are trying to recreate. Now let’s start gathering your paints.
Step 1: Titan Shimmery Buff
90-95 %Titan Buff
5-10% Light Gold
Step 2: Gold
50% Light Gold
50% Bright Gold
(Strive for a new wedding band look)
Step 3: Caramel
90% Raw Sienna
5% Burnt Sienna
5% or less Burnt Umber Light (Use Sepia of using Golden High Flow)
Step 4: Red
33% Burnt Umber Light (Use Sepia of using Golden High Flow)
33% Raw Umber
33% Burnt Sienna
Step 5: Hersheys Brown
50% Raw Umber
25% Raw Sienna
25% Burnt Sienna
Step 6: Raw Umber
100% Raw Umber
Step 7: Black
50% Mars Black
25% Van Dyke Brown
25% Pearlescent Black (look for one with purple and blue tones)
Applying Your Colors
If you can get all the colors in a paint made specifically for airbrushes, that is best. If not, you can buy airbrush thinning fluids such as Golden’s airbrush medium to help break down and thin a thicker bodied paint. I’ve also had success mixing in airbrush cleaning fluid with the paint to break down the pigment granules. If you choose to use non-airbrush paints, make absolutely sure you are mixing and shaking the bottles thoroughly to break down the thicker paint so you won’t gunk up your airbush. It’s not recommended for beginners or expensive airbrushes, but can suffice when your chosen color is not available in airbrush paint.
Mix each color in the recipe (titan shimmery buff, gold, caramel, etc) into their own bottles, preferably bottles with nib caps so you can pour the color into your airbrush cup or jar. You are now ready to dive into painting a bay! Now grab your airbrush and a prepped and primed horse.
Step 1 Titan Shimmery Buff
Depending on the color of your primer, this first step may take a few passes to get an even coat of the titan shimmery buff mixture (for example, it takes more passes to build a good color on grey or red earth primer). Take your time and build up nice, smooth layers.
Step 2 GoldThis step is where good photo references will start to come into play, as richer blood bays will need more of the gold mixture to create a brighter, more saturated look than a duller, sandy bay. In either case, you’ll apply more gold along the back, neck, shoulders, butt and under the belly than in other areas. Less is usually more, so apply in a light coat and add another pass if needed.
A little secret; the caramel color is usually all you need to create the redness for most bay
horses. It might not seem red, but it’s actually red enough. Apply it to the same areas as you did the gold but also make sure to cover the legs and head. At this point, your horse may start to mimic a palomino, and that means you are on the right track.
Step 4 Red
Here’s the spot that stumps many beginners and swings a horse way too red. As you can see
from the recipe, true red wasn’t even used for this color and even the given recipe goes a long way. One pass is great for most bays, a second or third pass may be needed for redder bays.
Step 5 Hershey’s Chocolate
This yummy color is the second tricky spot for beginners. Applying a darker brown is where
most beginner’s horses turn muddy. Go very lightly with this color and build it up according to your reference. Do, however, be sure to put ample amounts on the legs and other points to
create a good start for your black points. You’ll know you put on enough chocolate color for
most bays when your horse starts to resemble a medium chestnut.
Optional: if you are doing a blood bay or mahogany horse, now is the time to run over them
with another pass of the red color mixture. Your horse will stop looking like medium chestnut after a pass of additional red.
Step 6 Raw Umber
Unlike the other colors, you can probably find this color ready to go. Raw umber is the key to
making your horse look like a bay and not like a chestnut. Be sure to apply more to the legs and other points. A second or third pass of this color is perfect for darker bays.
Step 7 BlackA secret to blacks is to mix a color that isn’t jet black, but rather has rich brown tones and
purples and blues (this is why Mars black, Van Dyke brown and pearlescent black where chosen for the recipe). You can airbrush the legs, points, mane and tail, but for the best detail you will most likely want to finish the mane and tail with hand-painting to get crisp details. As with any color, when you are hand brushing make sure you apply it in thin, light coats and build up the color so you avoid brush strokes.
And there you have it! A basic tutorial on create gorgeous bays. You can find the video on myYouTube account and the color recipes on my website.