How to Paint a Surfboard Using Molotow Paint Markers
Octopus Surfboard Art
Paint Markers - It's All About That Base
Surfboard art can be created using a variety of media, but paint markers are all the rage - fun and pretty easy to use. There are several brands to choose from, so one thing to be mindful of is its base material. The different bases include: oil-based acrylic, water-based acrylic, alcohol-based acrylic, and acrylic hybrids. Generally speaking, once you decide on the type of base material you want to work with, you should stick with primers, glosses, and spray grounds of the same base.This will reduce the chances of your masterpiece peeling or flaking off.
Molotow One4All is an example of an acrylic hybrid paint. It cleans up with water and you can thin the paint using either water or acetone. For the octopus surfboard art that I recently painted, I simply used Molotow One4All as a water-based acrylic. The markers work well with their Urban Fine Art sprays without worry. The only problem I had was with the Molotow brand spray gloss varnish - more on that later.
Points of Confusion
Many art markers are ink types, not paint, which may not be as durable if you're creating a board to use as a work of art. If you choose to use ink markers, be sure that they use permanent ink, and that you use a UV clear coat to protect your art. If you intend to take your board into the surf, you may also want to look at Posca paint pens, which seems to be the pen of choice for surfers.
Adding to the confusion is that some manufacturers have more than one line of marker, like the good people at Sharpie. The brightly colored Sharpies that you are probably most familiar with is the alcohol-based ink markers that you buy at the office supply store. But Sharpie also makes oil-based acrylic paint markers, and water-based acrylic paint markers.
Why I Chose to Use One4All
Molotow makes a line of paint markers called One4All, an acrylic hybrid that comes in a good variety of colors. This is the brand that I used on the octopus board, and I like it for several reasons:
- Water-based and hybrid acrylics are easy to clean up;
- Molotow paint is very flexible and sticks well to the surface of a surfboard;
- It doesn't smell bad;
- The range of colors is quite good;
- Some of their sprays match the marker colors, useful for grounds;
- The One4All pens are refillable;
- They sell empty pens for your own color mixes;
- The 4mm nib size is just about perfect;
- You can buy the refill paints and mix colors yourself, or apply with a brush;
- The paints are luscious and brush on beautifully.
I haven't used Posca brand markers on a surfboard, but I'm told that they are very durable and even forgiving if you did not prep the board well. I also like Posca's color range and the opacity of their paints, but for the octopus board, the Molotow line had the colors that I wanted, and I was able to use the Molotow Urban Fine Art sprays for filler/primer, background colors and for sealing the board when it was done. I also anticipated using a brush for certain areas, and I already knew that using the refills would allow me to do that.
Molotow One4All Markers
For the board that I painted here, a friend was kind enough to do the prep work for me. He used heat, turpentine and acetone to ready the board for painting.
For detailed information on how to prime a board, check out Fieldey's YouTube video.
How to Prepare Your Surfboard for Painting
Since I live in a surf town, it's pretty easy to find a board repair shop that would be happy to clean and prep a board for painting. It doesn't cost that much, and since they do that kind of work all the time, it's worth the money to get it done right. It also keeps the mess out of the art room or workshop.
However, not everyone lives near a surfboard repair shop, so it's good to know how to do-it-yourself. The basic steps are:
- Remove the wax build-up on the deck (assuming you're painting the deck) using a wax comb, old credit card, spatula, or similar;
- Clean the area to be painted with turpenoid (you can use turpentine, I use turpenoid;)
- Clean the area with acetone.
To effectively remove wax build-up from a board, you will need a heat source - the sun or a hair dryer. If you don't have access to either, you can try pouring very hot water on sections at a time and do the best you can with the wax comb, and then use turpenoids to get the rest. Some people swear by a gadget called the Pickle Wax Remover. It's a green fabric thing stuffed with a powder that removes wax. It seems to work no matter what the temperature of the board.
Once your board is clean, you might want to sand it a little with 300-600 grit sandpaper. Wipe everything off with a tack cloth and then tape off the fins and leash cup, and anything else you don't want to get painted. You may also want to cover the stringer, if you want it to show after the board is done. For the octopus board, I taped off the fins and leash cup only.
Pickle Surfboard Wax Remover
Priming the Board
If your board is exceptionally stained, you'll want to prime the surface. I stuck with the Molotow line and used their Urban Fine Art filler/primer. Because the board that I used was so badly stained, I almost used Krylon primer - the kind that is exceptionally good at killing stains - but I am particularly enamored of the Molotow Urban Fine Art filler/primer. Once it is down and after it is sanded, it feels fantastic, like smooth gesso with just a hint of tooth to take the paint. I trusted that it would be enough to cover the stains.
Two cans of primer later, about 5 light coats, the stains were still coming through. Sigh.
At this point, I had to make a decision. Either cover everything with Krylon primer, or expect the base paint to cover the stains. I did a test coat of base paint - Molotow Urban Fine Art Shock Blue Middle, on the underside of the board as a test. Fortunately, a single coat of the base paint completely hid the stains, nothing came through, and all was right with the world.
So now that I was satisfied that the stains could be covered, I was ready to do the base paint on the top of the board, my working surface, and get started. But first, I had to work on my design.
Color Pencil Sketch
How to Design Surfboard Art
Coming up with surface art for a surfboard is surprisingly challenging. If the board will hang on a wall, you have to think about how it will be viewed. Will it be high up, near the ceiling? At eye-level? Will it hang horizontally or vertically? Will it be in the shadows or in a brightly lit room? If the board will be functional and go in the water, what message do you want to convey? What's the personality of the surfer? Will the art be on the deck of the board or the underside?
Decide first what side of the board you want the artwork to go on. Then figure out whether a horizontal or vertical orientation will work best for your purpose.
Bright, bold colors are usually your best best, though don't be afraid to use some black to provide interest and contrast.
Then, once you have major decisions made, measure your board from nose to tail lengthwise, and then rail-to-rail in width at several places. Use these measurements to create a template surfboard. You can design the art on paper or on the computer, whichever is easiest for you, but I like to use paper.
For the octopus board, I started with a pencil sketch on grid paper, as close to scale as possible, using the template I made from my measurements. I roughed out ideas until they looked decent, and then I created a color mock-up using color pencils.
The color pencil sketch did a couple of things: it helped me to choose colors that would look good together, and it really gave life to the design.
After I was satisfied with the color sketch, I created a larger, to-scale working drawing. This helped me make decisions about paint colors as well as composition, shadows and highlights, and how I could use the surfboard to my advantage. For the octopus, keeping volume in the arms was a real challenge. I did not want all of the arms to look flat in appearance. I wanted a sense of movement and for the arms to look round, as if they could reach out of the board. I used the rails and wrapped a couple of the arms around them a bit, to help with the ideas of movement and volume. At the top of the board, one arm reaches up and over the rail, disappears for a bit, then comes back into view, making it appear as though the octopus is reaching out.
Transfer Design to Board
Transferring Design to Surfboard
I made light chalk marks at the edges of the board, like a grid, noting the center lines and quarter lines. I did the same on my working drawing. This helped keep me on track as I drew the octopus design onto the board itself. I used blue chalk to draw on the board, because blue is a visible color and because the background color was blue, so the chalk would not be visible. You can also brush the chalk away very easily.
Painting the Ground Colors
Molotow Paints: A LIttle Goes a Long Way
When deciding how much paint to buy, it helps to know that a little goes a long way. I used the following on a 5'7" board:
- 1 - 30ml refill Traffic Red
- 1 - 30ml refill White
- 2 - 30ml refill Shock Blue Middle
- 1 - Traffic Red paint pen, 4mm tip
- 1 - Grass Green paint pen, 4mm tip
- 1 - Mr Green paint pen 4mm tip
- 1 - Shock Blue Middle paint pen 4mm tip
- 1 - True Blue paint pen 4mm tip
- 1 - White paint pen 4mm tip
- 1 - Black paint pen 4mm tip
- 1 can Shock Blue Middle spray
- 2 cans Filler/Primer spray
- 2 cans UV Varnish Gloss spray
Painting With Molotow Paints
With the design successfully drawn onto the board, it was time to paint. I did the background first, using the Molotow refill paint and a regular 1" synthetic paintbrush. My preference is a flat soft brush that does not hold too much paint, but your mileage may vary. The Shock Blue Medium color (refill One4All, not the canned spray) was a bit on the thin side, so it took multiple coats of paint before it looked even and not too "textured."
For the body of the octopus, I used Traffic Red, a lovely bright shade of red that offered great coverage. I used a slightly larger brush, 1.5", square and soft, to do the head of the octopus to minimize that "textured" look. I would later find that the Molotow Gloss spray would change the red color slightly and make every brush stroke show, so my beautiful octopus would undergo some changes. For the arms of the octopus, I used the paint pens instead of brushing on the color.
For the underside of the arms, the suction cups, I used Grass Green with some Mr. Green shadows and White highlights. The green worked really well with the red and blue. For the most part, I used the paint pens to do the arms.
It took about a week to get all the ground painted. I preferred using the brush as opposed to the markers, but I have to admit that there was something hypnotic about coloring in an octopus using paint markers.
Completed Octopus Surfboard
Line Art, Shadows and Highlights, Touch-Ups
Once the ground was completed, I painted in shadows and highlights and did the line art. This went fast. For the shadows on the red arms, I mixed some of the Traffic Red paint with a little black and thinned it just a bit with water. With a small .5" brush, I painted the undersides of the arms to create shadows. To make the highlights, I used a flat brush and a little bit of white paint. I used my 2" hake brush, nearly dry, to paint the large white highlight on the top of the octopus' head.
I did line art using Mr. Green for the suction cups and then outlined them in black. After everything was dry, I outlined the entire octopus with black paint pen. Everything looked great.
Spraying with Varnish Gloss
Sealing the Board aka The Heartache Begins
After all the line art was completed, I gave the board 48 hours to dry and then set about sealing it using Molotow UV Varnish Gloss. This was the first time I'd used the varnish gloss; normally I'd prefer to use a brush-on gloss, but I'd heard good things about this spray, so I thought I'd give it a try. I did three light coats of gloss giving each coat about 5 minutes between for drying.
Then catastrophe struck.
I watched the paint craze before my eyes. It was horrific. Mostly on the forward arm and head of the octopus, but also in small spots here and there within the center of the board. I have no idea why the paint crazed. Molotow products, to my knowledge, should all work nicely together. It could be the surfboard itself, but I really have no idea why it happened, or why it happened in select spots and not at all on the top or tail of the board.
The other minor catastrophe that happened was that as the gloss dried, every brush stroke and every pen stroke within the green and red paints showed. My nice pretty smooth octopus was now pretty mottled looking.
I gave the gloss a day to dry, and then touched up the paint as best I could, knowing that the strokes would show and not blend in perfectly. After 24 hours, I sprayed gloss again.
This time, I decided to sand lightly between coats using 1400 grit sandpaper. I wiped the dust with a tack cloth.
Right after the first coat, a bird flew by and pooped on the board. I wiped it up but since the gloss wasn't dry, it took off a spot of my nice blue background. Why are there birds.
I did two more coats (6 coats total) and the crazing began again. My artwork also looked streaky. I decided to stop while I was still ahead.
Posca Paint Set
People ask me what I think of Molotow paint markers and if I would recommend them. In spite of my disastrous experience with their varnish gloss, I'd whole-heartedly recommend using the One4All paint markers and their refill paints. It's nice to have the option to use a brush and the paints are a dream to work with. They contain so much pigment and the colors are clear and true. They mix effortlessly and predictably and thin out nicely with just a bit of water.
Then there is their UV Varnish Gloss, which I would not recommend unless you like seeing your artwork craze up before your eyes. It seemed to change the red color as well, and the overall result was that it made my artwork blotchy, though it is not noticeable from a distance. I've been researching Montana brand gloss, which is water-based and brushes on. I'm not sure if it would smear the paint while being brushed on, but I may give it a try sometime on a different board and see what happens.
Overall, painting a surfboard with Molotow paints and paint pens was a fun experience and I recommend giving it a try. It's like coloring on a giant coloring page. Just beware of varnish gloss spray. And birds.