5 Newbie Tips for Airbrushing
The majestic airbrush, mythical magic bullet of painting and frightening tool of the painting elite. Or is it? I’m not good with an airbrush but I’m using it and so should you. I was having a conversation with my good friend1 Craig Gallant on his blog when he admitted that he wished he had the courage to airbrush. It seemed odd to me that an accomplished podcaster, writer and gamer would be afraid of airbrushing until I remembered that I suffered from the same fears myself. I bought my first airbrush used many years ago. It wasn’t until last year that I seriously tried to use it only to destroy it immediately. It wasn’t my fault, earwigs had made a home in the compressor and airbrushes aren’t designed to shoot insect parts through their air pathways. I now keep my air output covered to prevent this disgusting and creepy misfortune from reoccurring.
It took me a while to replace it, and then find new connectors to hook my new airbrush to my old compressor but eventually I was ready to shoot paint. I have an amazing Fine Molds 1/72 Millenium Falcon assembled and ready to paint but I was terrified I would ruin the kit. Eventually I decided to bite the bullet and started priming miniatures with my airbrush. From there I moved on to painting Deadzone terrain and now I am airbrushing an Airfix 1/48 Spitfire PR.XIX. I don’t feel I’m ready for my Falcon but at least I am making progress.
Make no mistake: I am making mistakes. I am not using the right tools and I am no expert. I want to make this clear because I want people to realize that they aren’t going to be experts when they start either. To this end I am writing this article: 5 Newbie Tips for Airbrushing. The advice will be flawed, there are much better airbrush tutorials2 out there. I am not going to cover the same things they do. I assume that people have seen these and are still intimidated. Hopefully at the end of this I’ll have convinced you that if I can do it, so can you.
Buy Something that Has to Be Airbrushed
This is the goal, the reward for learning to airbrush. I’ve purchased a number of things that have been waiting years for an airbrush. The most recent was the Falcon and it is my desire to paint it more than anything else that finally got the ball rolling to start airbrushing. Find something that can only be painted with an airbrush, assemble and prep it and let it hang over your head as a combination carrot and stick to get you motivated.
Buy Some Equipment
I am not going to walk you through the ins and outs of the different compressors and airbrushes on the market. Some people swear by double-action, some by single-action, some by starting with a single-action and then upgrading to a double-action later. Adam Savage used a single-action airbrush during his entire tenure at Industrial Light and Magic. This tells me that all the different types of airbrushes will work. It can be a big investment but it shouldn’t be a source of stress. I like my Iwata NEO CN. It’s cheap, it’s double-action and it’s gravity fed. I have more control over the brush but it’s harder to clean. I will say that any airbrush with a local source of parts would be a good choice. Needles and tips are not as fragile as the warnings would have you believe but they can be damaged. Easy access to replacement parts means you can worry less about damaging them.
Prime Some Models
Now that you have your airbrush it’s time to put it to use. Get some Vallejo Surface Primer and use the airbrush to prime some miniatures or terrain. Get stuck in. If you need to start with a test model but the more time you spend airbrushing the better you will get at it.
I’ve sworn off spray paint years ago and have been brush priming and varnishing for years. The solvents in spray cans are unhealthy and the fumes can be dangerous. The cans themselves can be unreliable and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of people ruining paint jobs with a spray varnish gone bad. I’m probably going to continue brush-priming individual models but this is where I started practicing my airbrush.
Paint Some Terrain
So you’ve mastered covering a model with primer without ruining it. Now the fun begins. After priming models I moved on to painting my Deadzone terrain. This allowed me to practice masking and airbrushing final coats of paint. I learnt a lot and painted my terrain much faster than I would have with just a brush. This let me concentrate on adding more details like paint chips. Mistakes will be made but it’s just terrain. Play and experiment.
At this stage you’re airbrushing and don’t need my advice any more. Just keep painting, keep experimenting and making mistakes and learning. After the Deadzone terrain I moved on to a 1/48 scale plastic model of a Spitfire WWII fighter plane. I’ve always wanted to get into plastic model kits, I made and never painted them as a child and I’ve been keeping in practice with Bandai’s amazing Gundam kits which come molded in colour and only require decals and some panel lining to look amazing. They’ve even launched a new Star Wars line of kits which combine Bandai’s incredible engineering with my favorite movie.
I have a good backlog of kits that I want to paint and I’m going to keep painting them until I’m finally ready for the Millenium Falcon.
Did it work? Are you going to try airbrushing? Let me know in the comments below. You can also ask me questions and see my works in progress via Google+ or Twitter. Don’t forget to subscribe, I hope to post my finished Spitfire within the next couple of weeks.
1) I hope I’m not overstepping. If someone responds to your comment on their blog it means you’re BFFs and they’re coming to your birthday party, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how that works.
Here are some tutorials or guides that I’ve found useful.
- Don’s Airbrush Tips
- Paul Budzik’s Airbrushing for Modelers
- Massive Voodoos Real World Airbrush Cleaning