Airbrushing, the use of airbrushes, techniques and the sheer wonder of how it all works!
Yes, to some of us it is all a great mystery and once we have mastered the use of our chosen airbrush we think “Hey! It’s so easy!” “Why did I worry so much?”
Well, if you are new to this wonderful hobby and the great mystery is bringing confusion to your life, then this post is dedicated to you!
I’m writing this because just lately I have been asked a lot of questions about airbrushing. Some from friends, some from curious work colleagues who are considering taking up the hobby and one from a reader who is completely new to our hobby and very confused. Trust me, I’ve been there!
I could get all technical and explain the workings of the airbrush but I find that turns most curious folks off and they lose interest. So on this occasion , I will try a different approach and share my own experiences of airbrushing. That’s all my mistakes, my spectacular foul ups and my light bulb “I got it!” moments as well.
I got back into the hobby in the late 90’s after losing my job and needing something for my hands to do. I started modelling on the dining room table and as life went on with a new career I found myself in a new home with a small spare room that became my hobby room. I had started by just building the models from the box and brush painting them as best as I could.
It was around this time that I discovered a small but perfectly formed model shop that was nearby. The owner Phil was already a master modeller in his own right and his works were displayed in collections all over the world. He would always offer advice, encouragement and inspiration to me and he watched me progress slowly through each build. This was at a time when the internet was in its infancy and I did not own a computer. Smart phones had not been invented yet!
Phil watched on as I stumbled through each build and with his guidance I began to learn and master new techniques. As I got to know him better he would show me his own works and I marvelled at just how perfect and realistic his paint finishes were on his models! And course I wanted to learn just how he did it!
So that was when I had my first introduction to the airbrush………
This was a piece of kit that I had never used before and at first glance looked easy to use. What was not explained to me was that with airbrushes you get what you pay for!
I was guided towards a cheaper end of the market budget single action Aztec airbrush which I powered with an air canister. This gave me roughly 30 minutes spraying time if I was lucky. Single action airbrushes are basic in every sense of the word. There is no adjustment to the spray pattern and if you are using a canister air source then there is no control over air pressure either.
I was using enamel paints and thinners in a small room with the window open for ventilation. Not good! I did not know about mixing paints and thinners properly at first and consequently my paint would be too thin and run, causing a streaky effect when the paint had dried on my model. On other occasions the paint would be too think and clog up the nozzle of my airbrush. By the time I had sorted out the correct ratio my air canister would be empty! Aaaahhh!!!!
At the time, all this seemed like hard work and I thought I’d never get near to accomplishing something like all those great paint finishes I saw in magazines. I was downhearted and disappointed.
I was frustrated that I couldn’t do what other modellers were able to do, smooth finishes, freehand camouflage and mottling-It seemed impossible!
I went to my mentor and asked his advice and he told me straight out that I needed a double action airbrush and a compressor to run it. This sort of set up is an expensive enterprise and not to be taken lightly. I first purchased a badger double action airbrush and a small electric compressor. They were OK and did their job, but it took me a while to appreciate that one must keep an airbrush clean and look after it well. I was beginning to learn how to use the double action and starting to get results! I was getting used to the feel of the trigger and controlling both paint and air flow. I felt that I had turned a corner at last!
I used the Badger and electric compressor for about two years, I was improving but I really struggled with fine line work or freehand camo painting. I found this most irksome as I just could not seem to move on or improve.
Also, my set up was beginning to fail more and more often. The rubber seals in my old airbrush were being corroded by the harsh thinner that I was using to clean through all that enamel paint and my old compressor began to pack up halfway through spraying. This was an expensive lesson to learn, firstly I was still using enamels and a harsh thinner. This was degrading the rubber seals in my airbrush and causing leaks and loss of pressure. Secondly, my cheap, noisy compressor did not have an air regulator or a moisture trap. This caused my compressor to stop working completely and as it was a sealed unit I couldn’t repair it myself without damaging it. At least so I thought at the time!
I needed to get some reliable kit and master the use of it. It was about this time that two of my friends began having conversations with me about airbrush setups and paints. By now, the internet was in full swing and modelling web sites were plentiful.
I wanted an airbrush that was reliable and just worked! I did a lot of reading up and found that the choice available can be overwhelming if one is not knowledgeable. I went to a model show where lots of trade stands were present so I could see all of these airbrushes for myself and try them out. I tried several and found one that works for me.
This is really important. Try an airbrush before you buy it! Especially if you are going to shell out a huge wad of your hard earned cash for a high price item!
Each modeller or artist will have a particular preference for a particular airbrush due to how it feels in their hand, it’s weight or it’s ergonomic design. It really is about what feels “right” and how practical the airbrush is to your own needs.
Think about the practical stuff:
Is it easy to clean?
How easy is it to strip down and put back together again?
Are spare parts readily available?
What nozzle size does it come with?
Can I interchange nozzles for different types of work?
Can I go from wide pattern to fine lines with the same nozzle?
It is a recommended or popular brand?
Is it easy to adjust the settings for trigger travel. (It should be!)
Which compressor should I use with it?
Is it easy to use?
Do I enjoy using it?
Speaking of compressors, One thing that I advise is get a compressor with a tank, moisture trap and a regulator. Trust me, it make life a whole lot easier! Yes, it will be more expensive but with this sort of equipment like I said earlier, “You get what you pay for!”
Now with airbrushing its each to his own, I have tried several and I settled on one and have never looked back since.
Twelve years ago I bought an IWATA Eclipse HP-C airbrush and an IWATA smart jet compressor.
This is my airbrush……
I liked my choice of airbrush as it had a quality weighty feel to it. It is easy to strip and clean, I can get from fine line to wide spray pattens with a simple pull or push on the trigger and it is gravity fed. Meaning that the paint flows down from the paint cup mounted on top of the airbrush. Not from the side or underneath as other airbrushes are sometimes designed. I do not like the side mounted design, for me gravity feed works best. Which brings me back again to the importance of what is right for you. Don’t buy an airbrush because someone else raves about it! Try a selection of different brands and designs and see what works for you.
That is the best advice I can give you! Try before you buy and choose the one that feels right in your hand. Then get a decent compressor set up and you are good to go!
Buying an expensive set up will not make you a better modeller overnight you understand, but with practice and a lot of patience you will accomplish things you thought were not possible!
I know I did!
And when I was able to spray fine lines, pre shades on panel lines, add exhaust stains, paint camouflage patterns freehand and even add mottling to my models I knew I had cracked it! Being able to master my airbrush gave me new confidence and new skills for my hobby and brought my work up to the next level. It made me a better modeller!
I said before I would mention my spectacular foul ups and well as my lightbulb moments, not many modellers like to do this but it is my hope that if you learn from my mistakes then you will save yourself time effort and money.
So here goes…………
The grand foul ups I could have avoided:
*I spent money on cheap n’ nasty products. BIG MISTAKE! Buy a good quality recommended airbrush and try it out before you buy it!!!
* I was using a cheap noisy compressor with no regulation or moisture trap. It didn’t last long and it was a waste of money.
* I used enamel paints exclusively for years in the vain belief that I couldn’t get along with acrylics!
This is hogwash! You can put any paint you like through your airbrush as long as you thin it with the correct type of thinner.
The reason why I was having trouble with acrylics is because I used the wrong thinner and the nozzle kept clogging up! What a blasted fool I was!
* I thought that acrylic paints were awful! Now I won’t use anything else!
This leads me onto those lightbulb moments:
* I did my research and bought the “right” airbrush for me with an excellent compressor that came with the accessories I needed. It was expensive, but twelve years later I’m still happily using them and have never looked back. Well worth the investment if you are going to be serious about the hobby.
* I practiced with my airbrush and read books and watched videos on the subject.
One of my best friends gave me a lesson on how to airbrush Luftwaffe mottling and this practical demonstration opened my eyes! Watching his techniques and practicing them helped me finish my first Luftwaffe model! It was all about method, getting in close with a light touch and using correctly thinned paint. It works!
* I changed over to acrylic paints which were easier to use and clean up. They are less toxic than enamels too. But you must always have suitable ventilation and protection when spraying any paint medium! open a window, wear a mask!
My favourite paints these days are Tamiya, Mr.Hobby and Vallejo Acrylics. In my opinion, they are the best paints out there.
The first model I ever used acrylic on was my smoothest paint finish to date and it showed. Having a quality paint raised my game!
* I found a decent airbrush cleaning fluid! Trust me, you will need a good one!
I use Ultimate Airbrush Cleaner.
* Don’t be afraid to ask fellow modellers questions! I am no master modeller-I’m still learning as I go! It is incredible how much we can learn from one another in our hobby so look at other modellers work and ask yourself or them if you can:
“How did you do that?”
My Facebook page displays beautiful works from modellers from all over the world, it is a great source of inspiration for me and others. Go check it out!
Lastly if you are lucky enough like me to have a dedicated hobby space where you have your painting area set up, invest in a spray booth. I am still saving up for mine but I fully intend to buy one as it will allow me to spray safely with out a mask and leaving the studio door wide open on a cold day! Again, an expensive proposition but worth it in the long term if you are a serious hobbyist.
I hope my ramblings have been of help to you! It has been good for me to remember what it was like when I first started out as keen newcomer to the hobby. Whatever airbrush you choose, practice, practice, practice! And you’ll have a lot more fun.