A very basic guide to airbrushes and some airbrush techniques.
Airbrushes and what they do
I am not going to presume to ramble into techno-wondrous, detailed ‘This is the way it should be done’ style instructions about the ‘dark’ art of airbrushing. There are people out there with infinitely more knowledge and expertise with an airbrush than me who can do that.
Really all this page is about is to explain in very basic terms what an amazing piece of kit an airbrush is, roughly how it works and to show ‘briefly’ what went into the painting of some of the ‘instruments’ and ‘custom pieces’ shown here on this site.
A basic understanding of what an airbrush is, is a good place to start. An airbrush is a means of applying paint to a surface, using a controlled jet of high pressure air to carry the paint in the form of a vapour onto the surface you are painting, as opposed to applying the paint with a brush. The advantages of airbrushes are numerous and largely self explanatory, in that you can apply a very light, fine, smooth layer of paint with no brushstrokes or physical contact with the surface you are painting. This enables easy layering and application of overlaying colours, which can be very difficult if not impossible to achieve with a brush, particularly in certain mediums like watercolour once the surface has dried. Effectively, an airbrush delivers a controlled flow of pressurized air through a very fine nozzle, carrying with it your paint particles to the surface you want to paint.
Two types of Airbrush
There are two main types of airbrush, ‘single stage’ and ‘two stage’ airbrushes. I use ‘two stage’ airbrushes which are the more adaptable and controllable of the two types. Two stage airbrushes allow you full and variable control of ‘both’ the flow of high pressure air through the airbrush and the flow of the paint to the nozzle. Single stage airbrushes only giving control of one or the other, either paint, or air flow. This control of both paint flow and airflow enables the application of the paint in numerous ways via one control lever, situated on top of the airbrush body. In simple terms – by using lots of air flow and a small flow of paint for example, you get a very fine light spray – on the other hand – using lots of paint flow and lesser air flow through the nozzle you will eventually get a spattering effect. The range of possible effects achievable with an airbrush are really only limited by the operators skill and imagination.
To start getting really technical you then start messing about with the air pressure delivered to the airbrush, different nozzle sizes, hard and soft maskings, different types and solutions of paint and their characteristics. All have a bearing on the finished work – but like I said above this is not meant to be a technical page – so I’ll leave the real technical stuff to the experts.
Styles of Airbrushing
Some airbrush artist will argue that there are two distinct styles of airbrushing, those that airbrush ‘Freehand’ and the those that use ‘Masking’. Though most airbrush artists use both to varying degrees as they compliment each other. Masking is used if you want to create a sharp distinct line around a particular part of your picture (like the ‘knotwork’ on the fiddles). Free hand work is generally done on larger areas and gives the soft edged ‘smoking’ effects like the sunburst effect on instruments.
Hard and Soft Masking – Step by Step
The paint used on all the ‘Instruments’ and the ‘Custom’ pages here to date, is two pack cellulose paint. This paint is commonly used in car body spray shops. The main problem with two pack paints, other than the obvious solvent related complications, is that two pack paint – as its name suggests – it’s applied in two parts, paint and then lacquer. The lacquer sealing in the relatively fragile paint surface. This initially caused some problems, as trying to apply adhesive masks over previously applied but un-lacquered paint, often just lifted the underlying paint when the new mask was removed. This meant that for every new masking process over unlacquered paint, the whole surface had to be re-lacquered and rubbed down before the area could be safely remasked. On many of the ‘custom’ and ‘instrument’ pieces shown here where numerous masking stages were used, that meant re-lacquering and rubbing down anything up to nineteen times, before getting to the final finish lacquerings stages.
I have been asked on more than one occasion if any of the images on my work are applied by transfer. The answer is, ‘No, they are not’! All the images, effects and ‘Knotwork’ shown on the ‘Instruments’ and ‘Custom’ pages is hand drawn and then either masked and sprayed, or sprayed freehand.