Ten years ago, a talented fish taxidermist from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania burst upon the competition scene winning top awards at virtually every contest he entered. Frank Kotula made a name for himself with his extraordinary lifelike paint jobs, in which he was among the first fish artists to think outside the box and use multiple media, such as women’s makeup, to achieve his stunning results.
Frank won the 2003 National Champion Cold Water Fish title with the brown trout pictured at right. In the years that followed, Frank went on to achieve many more of the highest honors among fish taxidermists with a variety of different species, both skin mounts and reproductions, but the skin-mounted brown trout has always been his go-to specimen for reaching the highest awards in the industry. In 2007, he won the North American Champion title with a brown trout, and just this past May in 2013, he achieved the pinnacle of success by winning a World Champion title with another brown trout! Winning this trifecta of awards with the same species is an achievement that only a handful of artists have ever completed.
Back in 2003, we asked Frank if he would share the finishing techniques he used to win the 2003 National Champion title with his brown trout. We originally published Frank’s paint schedule in 2003’s “North American Taxidermy News”, where it was only seen briefly by subscribers. The publication is now out of print, so I am happy to offer Frank’s original article again to a new digital audience.
Brown Trout Paint Schedule by Frank Kotula
using Polytranspar™ Airbrush Paints
This paint schedule was developed using the Polytranspar™ airbrush paint system by Frank Kotula of Pennsylvania. Using these techniques, Frank was awarded the National Champion title for Cold Water Fish at the 2003 National Taxidermists Association Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Frank’s paint schedule was divided into three sections; painting the lower fins, painting the body, and painting the head. Here are his step-by-step instructions.
Painting the Lower Fins
Step 1. Superhide White (FP or WA10) — Paint all fins with White, excluding the caudal (tail). After the paint dries, wipe the fins with lacquer thinner. Now check the fins and perform any repair work as needed. Repeat this step after repairs.
Step 2. Bass Belly White (FP or WA15) — These steps are for painting the pelvics, pectorals, and anal fin. Spray the fin rays lightly. You want a cloudy color (not a heavy white) on the fin rays.
Step 3. Cadmium Yellow (FP or WA140) — Thin this color down with 240 gloss and spray in a blotchy pattern over the pelvics, pectorals, and anal fin. Check your references to see how this color appears on these fins.
Step 4. Medium Bass Green (FP or WA61) — Lightly spray over the yellow applied in Step 3. Most of the green is concentrated between the rays.
Step 5. Transpar Orange (FP or WA380) — Orange is misted over the yellow from step 3.
Step 6. Intense Red (FP or WA280) — Very lightly mist the transparent red over the yellow from step 3. These three layered colors will produce a nice buttery yellow on the fins.
Step 7. Musky Green (FP or WA201) — Spray this color at an extreme angle to highlight the fin rays.
Step 8. Bass Belly White (FP or WA15) — Spray a light coat on the front of the fins. Most spawning browns exhibit this look, but check your references first to see if your fish shows this characteristic.
Step 9. Mango Pink Eye Shimmer — This is a powder used in women’s eye makeup. Highlight the fins for the final step.
This concludes painting the lower fins. The dorsal and caudal fins are done a bit differently and will be explained later.
Painting the Body
Step 1. Gold Wax — Use wax or your preferred method to tip the individual scales on the top and sides of the fish. I like to do the scale tipping first so I can see the scales as I apply color.
Step 2. Musky Green (FP or WA201) is mixed with Superhide White (FP or WA10) to make a light opaque green. Spray the top third of the fish to provide a nice base coat to work with. This will also blend in the epoxied areas.
Step 3. Assorted Metallics — Using gold, brass and yellow, I like to make a blotchy look only on the fleshy part of the head.
Step 4. Superhide White (FP or WA10) — Lightly spray the belly going up slightly into the first spot pattern. Only fog the skin to help blend in the color. Never make it all white, it just needs to be a cloudy color.
Step 5. Superhide White (FP or WA10) mixed with Silver (FP or WA110) or Satin White Pearl (FP or WA401) mixed with Silver Pearl (FP or WA402) — Use this white-pearl mixture to spray the halos for the spot pattern. Follow the existing pattern on the skin or use your references. This is only a base for the spot pattern, as we will go back later and do more work on them. Also add a few halos on the top of the fish, but go lightly here.
Step 6. Satin White Pearl (FP or WA401) — Spray the belly of the fish to just below the lateral line.
Step 7. Silver Pearl (FP or WA402) — Spray on the sides of the fish lightly. You just want to see these pearls. Do not apply a heavy coat.
Step 8. Cadmium Yellow (FP or WA140) — Thin this color down again with 240 gloss. I never just spray the color like they say in the books. I look at the fish and make the outline of the yellow around the halos, applying the paint so that it doesn’t look like it is uniformly painted. It takes practice to learn how to go around the spots without spraying over them. I keep my brush close to the fish and use an air pressure of 33 psi. Also, using the yellow, I make lightly colored spots throughout the top of the head. You will see this a lot in live fish reference. I don’t do all the spots with this yellow; you can also mix some white with the yellow to make some of the spots with random colors for a more lifelike effect.
Step 9. Transpar Orange (FP or WA380) — I follow the areas from step 8 with thinned-down orange, again applying the paint in a blotchy pattern. Use reference to see how the colors flow into one another on a trout. The color is heavier in some areas and not in others. I use the distance from the airbrush to the fish to vary the intensity. When working around the spots, I work close to the fish, and as I approach the belly I pull the airbrush away to work the color in.
Step 10. Transpar Brown (FP or WA340) — This color is applied over the yellow and orange from the previous two steps. If you are not careful, this color will change the yellow-orange drastically, so be careful to go lightly for a natural appearance. When using the thinned-down brown, I work close to the fish and outline the transition between the yellow and the silvery sides. This step will really make the silver and halos stand out on your fish.
Step 11. Sienna (FP or WA200), Mars Red (FP or WA162), and Black Umber (FP or WA29) — Now I begin to paint the spots on the fish. The spots on brown trout are different from fish to fish, so it is hard to say the exact colors you will need for your specimen. The basic colors I use are either Mars Red or Sienna, followed by Black Umber. On this fish I painted the spots with Sienna and added Mars Red over some of the spots. Then all the spots were followed with Black Umber. This was done on all of the spots on the body including the top of the head.
Step 12. The work on the tail (caudal fin) and dorsal fin is now done. The tail and dorsal are painted almost the same as the other fins, but using your reference becomes a lot more important. Paint the fin rays with Bass Belly White (FP or WA15), and then go over it with Cadmium Yellow (FP or WA140) and some Transpar Orange (FP or WA380). Apply these colors lightly with the blotchy technique described earlier. If your fins have spots, paint them in now. I used Sienna (FP or WA200) first, followed by Mars Red (FP or WA162) on the spots. Use reference to determine what your fins need.
Step 13. Light Bass Green (FP or WA60) is now applied to the fish. I paint around the entire spot pattern on the head and body. This provides a halo look around the spot pattern.
Step 14. Musky Green (FP or WA201) is painted in a blotchy effect around the spot pattern. This deepens the green color in some areas to give more life to the fish.
Step 15. Light Gold Shiva (ART274) – Shiva Paintstik colors are applied to the sides of the fish to highlight the yellows. After this, I use a combination of powders and pearls to tip the fish scales.
Painting the Head
Step 1. Silver Pearl (FP or WA402) — I usually take some silver pigment on a paintbrush and make the jagged edge look that most cold water fish exhibit. After that is done I use the airbrush to make some silver pearl halos on the opercles.
Step 2. Sienna (FP or WA200) — Take your sienna or other browns and make the spots inside of the silver pearl. Follow this with Black Umber (FP or WA29).
Step 3. The eye area is detailed with a combination of metallics, pearls and powders, along with the rest of the sides of the fish. Use reference to see what you need to achieve the look you want.
Step 4. Transpar Brown (FP or WA340) — This color is applied lightly over the fish, in between the spot pattern to make it stand out more.
Step 5. Touch up any areas that need it and finish off the fish with gloss.