How to paint a SCUBA tank

Painting a SCUBA Tank or Learning to Give Tanks

January 18, 2017

When Rayanna challenged me to put artwork on a decommissioned SCUBA tank, my artist senses started going into high gear.

“Of course!” I exclaimed. A second later I realized I had no idea how to begin. There are practical people in the world - carpenters, welders, and plumbers who take their craft to high art. I’m the opposite of them. Tossing paint around? That’s easy… this was impossible. But the process would be fun. I’m always up for something different.

Getting Tanked

stripped tankThree days later the SCUBA tank arrived at my doorstep. When the tank was new, it was a joyful lemon sunshine. But time had faded it to a jaundiced bad-egg color. All-in-all it was a rather forgettable old tank. I applied a chemical paint remover. It was fascinating as the chemicals got under the tank and lifted the paint. Veins of air pockets spread under the existing finish that now looked like the arms of an old boxer. With childlike anticipation I pulled the paint off in pieces. That process reminded me of peeling a banana. I thought I’d find a bright silvery tank underneath. What I found was a dull gray turd. “Time to pull out the sandpaper,” I surmised. I started at the point near the top where the curve reaches the long portion of the cylinder. After about a half hour a shiny spot the size of a silver dollar appeared on an otherwise unimpressive work.

Hawaii and the Magic

shiny tankWhy did I want it brilliant before painting? Wouldn’t it be easier to keep it rough and ready for the application of paint? The answer is that, weeks before, I was in Hawaii at an art gallery and saw translucent paint on an aluminum canvas. The directed light shown through the layers of varnish, the color and reflected back with a possessed luminance. I wanted to capture the spirit I saw living on the gallery wall. I calculated it would take me about a month to get the tank to sparkle top to bottom. So what was my answer? Google Trucker's pages. They have the beautiful chrome gas tanks. They knew how to keep them brilliant. Some had links to YouTube videos. I boiled down what they did into a few easy steps.  I own three power tools. One is a drill. So after a quick trip to Home Depot I found a wire brush which would significantly reduce the buffing time. After an afternoon was covered in aluminum dust. The tank was just as I envisioned.

No mistakes in Painting

Any primer would destroy my work, so I started by laying down a transparent layer of acrylic. I laid it on too thick. It was a little uneven. I should have used an airbrush. The result showed the paint lines. I tried to sand them down, but where I sanded, the transparency turned opaque white. Rather than strip it down, I chose to keep it as is and go with the “rough and homemade” look.

Now it was on to the actual painting. I’d sketched a scene that included a landscape both above and below the water.  Had I only done an underwater scene, I’d never be able to experiment with a full spectrum of colors. A colorful sunrise would also provide the background for the “above water” portion. I have a special blue translucent I use in most of my paintings which I wanted to lay down for the “under water” portion. With the first stroke of the under water blue, the cylindrical canvas came to life. Like the aluminum canvases I saw in Hawaii, this blue had a life of its own.


It would be easy to try to create a realistic underwater scene, but that wasn’t what the tank was about. As I applied paint, I realized I needed to keep it playful. So I went to the grocery store for a secret weapon. Much to the raised eyebrows of the clerk, I bought fifteen dollars in glitter nail polish. I wanted the fish to sparkle. 


Final Product

finished tank

Perhaps I rushed it a little. It never had the realistic patina of most of my other work. But it had some of my favorite elements - turtles, palm trees, and rays. As experiments go it was a success. I look forward to the next tank.






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