Tuesday, 01 May 2012 19:40

Airbrush Artist Shannon MacDonald Uses PPG Envirobase to Bring Icons to Life

Written by Erica Schroeder
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Airbrush artist Shannon MacDonald, who exhibited her airbrush portrait of John Lennon at the Anest Iwata booth at SEMA 2011, uses PPG’s Envirobase waterborne paint to bring her art alive on just about every surface. Shannon’s art has been featured on guitars, drums, motorcycles, boats, cars, planes, helmets and of course traditional canvas or illustration board.

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“I use PPG’s Envirobase on everything now,” said Shannon, “I love it and it seems to love me.”

Shannon, well known for her life-like portraits of iconic celebrities such as The Beatles, Sylvester Stallone, James Dean, Jackie Kennedy and Elvis Presley—among others, failed art in high school due to differences she had with her art teacher. Instead of pasting macaroni on paper and throwing glitter on it she rebelled and went to the back of the room to study the “Old Masters” (Norman Rockwell, Michelangelo, etc.). Her teacher would insult her and say, “You will never get anywhere drawing those pigs”. Her teacher was referring to Shannon’s drawings and paintings of The Beatles.     After a few years of failing art, Shannon’s already paved road to go onto college with scholarships was derailed. Depressed and aggravated, she gave up art and focused on a “still successful” music career. 15 years later, Shannon was given an airbrush, as a gift. This was the instrument in her life that gave her back her art. Her first airbrushed painting was of John Lennon. She entered the painting in a contest and won first place. Beatles fans saw Shannon’s painting and wanted more.     Her fan base grew rapidly and she began to get invited to Beatles Conventions all over the USA. Owners of The Cavern Club (a Liverpool club made famous by The Beatles) discovered Shannon painting at a Beatles Convention in Connecticut. They took the news back to Liverpool and said of Shannon’s works, “We were Gobsmacked!” Eventually, so was the UK audience. With only a few years of airbrushing under her belt, Shannon was declared “The World’s Greatest Beatles Artist” in 1998 by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Shannon says of the art teacher that failed her, “My art teacher has to eat her words everyday. I will always be the “main course” in her life. As far as my art goes, I owe a lot to the airbrush.”

After using mainly PPG solvent-based paints for years, Shannon began using PPG’s Envirobase about a year ago and has decided to go totally green in her studio.

“I love it now,” said Shannon, although she thought she’d never get the hang of using waterborne paint at first, Shannon is now very comfortable with it. According to Shannon, when she first started using waterborne she noticed a difference right away. The waterborne paint would stay just as she painted it—critical to an artist who paints with such detail. With the solvent, Shannon says, sometimes the fine details would melt and merge a bit as it dried.

“As far as changing from solvent to waterborne, all I had to do was be sold on the product and what it had to offer. I was visiting ‘Ideal Distributors & Auto Paint’ in St. George, Utah to meet with Walter Rapp. While there, I had mentioned wanting to try the new PPG waterborne; PPG’s Envirobase® changed my mind about solvents,” said Shannon, “For me, solvents tend to ‘merge’ with each other in a way that detail is lost, especially when applying top coats. I am in the detail business! I can’t afford to see hours worth of work slowly disappear after topcoating with clearcoats and/or candies. Solvents easily ‘blur’ after top coating. PPG Waterbornes do not.”

Shannon also appreciates that she is breathing in less paint fumes with the waterborne versus solvent.

“If you are a painter that loves that 24 hour a day ‘sucking on helium rush’, you might miss solvent,” said Shannon.

Shannon was also impressed with the cost savings associated with using waterborne and as a custom paint business there wasn’t a lot of cost in changing over from solvent.

“There was no big cost factor in changing over; being involved in the custom paint business is probably less invasive then a full body shop change over. As I move forward I can see the advantage; I am getting more done at a faster pace which makes way for more clientele and I am using less paint. I am saving every day,” said Shannon.

Although waterborne sprayed differently, according to Shannon, the techniques associated with using waterborne were actually quite similar to much of her artistic education.

She also noticed that with solvent, the color that it is in the can is just about the same as it comes out when you spray it; but with waterborne, the color looks a lot different in the can than when it is sprayed. So color matching with the waterborne was a bit of a challenge because you can’t really color match by eye, you’ve got to spray a bit of it to know what color you’re really working with.

“I have probably 50 Anest Iwata guns,” said Shannon, who has been using their spray guns since 1994. She came to be very comfortable with the Anest Iwata guns after relying on the Iwata Custom Micron series when she painted her tribute stamp to Sylvester Stallone in 1996. Shannon’s process also differs from a lot of traditional custom vehicle painters; she doesn’t believe in using templates or taping off sections as she paints—she believes that gives her work too much hard edges.

Shannon says she starts by outlining what she wants to paint with pencil, then she comes in with the spray gun free-hand. She starts out with the light colors, so at first it looks like a sepia-toned painting, then she comes in with an array of translucent color.
Shannon says she prefers to paint the ‘old-school’ way and doesn’t consider herself a graphic artist. Most of Shannon’s work has been labeled ‘hyper-realism.’

Shannon also uses an electric eraser, a drafting tool. A tool she calls her “second favorite”. She has been in the process of working on an air eraser for a few years now. It will come to fruition with the help of Anest Iwata. Her version will be more like a polishing tool like that of a dentist. It will have different variables and several eraser tips of various densities.

“Speaking as the number one Beatles artist in the world, it’s a heavy ride to get to number one—but once you’re there it’s almost more difficult to stay there and fend off all the number twos who want your spot,” said Shannon, “But I’m very lucky to have the spot I do.”

Shannon is currently working on a Beatles tribute piece that represents and celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the last member to join and finalize the famous quartet, Mr. Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr). She will fly to the UK to unveil that piece in Liverpool.
This August, in Salt Lake City, Utah, she will be one of the headlining artists at the event “ASET presents The Ultimate Air Affair”.

She also plans to attend SEMA again this year with ASET (Automotive Spraying Equipment Technologies) and Anest Iwata. Shannon will be displaying and painting live, as well as introducing some new SHANNON PRODUCTS including her air eraser mentioned earlier in this piece.

Shannon is also teaching both custom automotive and illustration worldwide for those looking to start a career in airbrushing or for those who are accomplished looking to take it up a notch. For those interested call Shannon’s studio in New Jersey at 310-739-4930 or ASET at 800-628-5449.

See more of Shannon’s art, as well as her music, at www.theshannongallery.com.

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