The following is intended as a guide for beginners in the airbrush technique. It is about the equipment of the airbrush, the different painting techniques, and how you create your first and future images. The explanations should begin with the introduction of the airbrush technique.
What is Airbrush?
The airbrush is also often referred to as an airbrush and is a small, handy spray gun. More correctly and unambiguously, one should actually say airbrush gun to it. However, the term airbrush clearly shows what it is all about: paint is artistically applied to a medium. Which painting grounds these could be, is described further ahead.
As early as 1870, the airbrush gun was used as a retouching apparatus in the USA. The form of the air gun was then first applied by the physician Allen De Vilbiss to actually create and apply the atomization of medications in the throat.
His son converted it in 1907 to market an atomizer for paints. This is thus the classic use that we are familiar with today and adopted with more incredible popularity for ordinary painting to artistic photorealism.
What makes airbrushing special
Depending on your preference, you can apply colors intensively or discreetly with the airbrush. However, the most significant effect is the spraying of entire color gradients. And you will encounter these everywhere in nature.
This means that you can create photorealistic images with the airbrush, which would require much more effort and skill with the classic brush technique.
Great artists already showed how to do it right in the 80s and 90s. You may know some of them directly or have experienced them unconsciously.
For example, we are talking about Drew Struzan, who created the movie posters of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and many others with the airbrush technique realistically but with an artistic touch.
On the other hand, Dru Blair creates genuinely indistinguishable images from a photograph. Therefore, it is no wonder that he had painted pictures for the US Air Force, Budweiser, or even Star Trek with the airbrush.
Areas of application of the airbrush
Beyond these excursions to the artists mentioned, who mainly painted on pure drawing cardboard or canvas, there are many other painting surfaces.
You can actually choose any conceivable for your airbrush hobby, and there are no limits. So the airbrush technique will be found in model making, fingernails to body painting, furniture, or the classic custom painting.
The latter involves spraying motifs as decoration on the car or motorcycle. Even on helmets, you can immortalize your images if the safety standard of the models allows it.
There are also transitional areas or gray areas that you might want to count as graffiti. But in fact, you can also spray walls, toilets, or even stones. The Spanish artist “Ciruelo” did this, for example, with the motifs of guitarist Steve Vai.
What do I need for the airbrush? (The necessary equipment)
Besides the many small details, there is essential equipment that you could call airbrush kits. This includes the gun, the airbrush compressor, the connecting hose, and the paints. These will be discussed in more detail below.
You can roughly choose between the two models regarding the airbrush gun: Single-Action Airbrush Gun or Double-Action Airbrush Gun. To explain it simply, you can apply progressively more paint with the single-action airbrush gun just by pulling the lever.
A small initial margin grants you that only air comes out.
The Double-Action function differentiates again by pushing down and then pulling back. Only air comes out when you press down, and when you pull back, the paint is added immediately.
Each artist may swear by their own technique and see an advantage in one or the other. But even if you have two types, you can always switch quickly after a short training.
Otherwise, there are differences in that the paint is poured into the top of an internal funnel or into a lateral container. A lateral container has the advantage that you can accommodate more color. Some airbrushers also find it disadvantageous because it could sometimes obstruct the view.
In terms of paints, there are lacquer-based and water-soluble paints. Paint-based colors are more robust and often withstand the weather directly without post-treatment. Water-soluble, on the other hand, are washable.
These quick tips also clarify that you cannot use every color for every area.
However, you can still improve water-soluble paints, for example, by making them more resistant and not washable. The easiest way is to seal them with a special clear varnish.
However, you should choose the right one, particularly on the painting surfaces. Otherwise, there is a risk that the colors will turn yellow over time.
You should also pay attention to the consistency of the colors. Some colors still need to be thinned. However, if you don’t do this, the gun can clog quickly and unpleasantly.
The airbrush compressor is the second heart of the whole equipment. That’s why you should choose the right one that will be usable in the long run.
This includes flexibly setting to at least 1 to 3.5 bar of compressed air. This is the usual range in which you will usually work.
Besides these details, noise development is an essential factor that you should pay attention to. Up to 50 dB, we find the noise to be pleasant. That’s why you should choose a model in this range or even lower.
Airbrush Beginner Kits
However, as an airbrush beginner, you don’t have to buy everything separately, and you don’t have to get the most expensive airbrush right away. Nevertheless, a high-quality set can not hurt but rather be highly beneficial.
Furthermore, guns and some primary colors are included. Also included should be a suitable airbrush hose and, at best, a cleaning fluid. Then the basic airbrush sets are actually already complete.
Depending on the type of art, you should also look at how large the nozzles of the supplied airbrush gun are. Because there are different airbrush sets. The smaller areas or fine lines you need to draw, such as those found on fingernails, smaller model kits, or hair on a portrait, the smaller the nozzle should be.
The most common beginner sets also have a size of 0.2mm and would be the right airbrush gun. It is basically also the airbrush for beginners because you can spray fine lines and already larger areas with it.
Airbrush tutorial for beginners (step-by-step)
The following is now about making your first piece of art. This is also faster than you might fear.
Step 1: Prepare the airbrush gun.
If you have already playfully tried out the airbrush with paint beforehand, you should check whether it is free of paint residue. You can tell by the spray pattern whether the color control knob can be operated easily and without jerking.
If both are not optimal, first try a proper spray with water on a sheet of paper. If this is still not the case, you should spray the gun with airbrush cleaner.
When you have done all this, connect the airbrush gun to the compressor using the hose and place it in an airbrush gun holder, which you should also have.
Step 2: Prepare the painting surface.
Here it depends on which painting surface you are working on. Basically, however, every character must be made free of dust and grease. If it’s just dust, you can easily blow it away with the gun itself.
Then it’s on to the stencils you want to apply in each case. There are different types here. Some are very sturdy plastic and can be placed loosely on the painting surface. You have to hold them with the other hand to not slip due to the airflow.
For example, a Step by Step airbrush stencil with lightning, moon, and stars motif*.
Or there are also the airbrush plastic foils that you stick on the medium. However, they should be suitable for airbrushes and the painting surface so that they do not stick and damage it when you take off.
Alternatively, you can also get perfect architect paper and cut it yourself. It is transparent, and you always have an overview. For fixing, heavy objects are suitable, which you put on the desired painting edges. In this way, you also keep your other hand free.
By the way, the masking mentioned above basically serves to ensure that you can create sharp edges and that no spray mist spreads to the other unwanted areas.
Step 3: Learn the proper airbrush technique
You must see the feel and result of how the gun behaves when you hold it close to the painting surface and further away. This includes moving the slider more or less to create subtle transitions. To put it more vividly, the best way to make the effects below is through each technique:
A. Fine hairs, small cracks, and flashes
You should run the airbrush very close to the painting surface to create thin lines. The color slider should be used only lightly.
B. Shadows on the skin, waves on the water, contours or clouds
To do this, choose a medium distance from the painting ground, which must then vary according to the intensity of the paint application. This means that darker areas of a shadow, for example, need a closer distance. The slider needs to be moved to a medium length.
C. Backgrounds and larger areas
Here the distance to the painting background is very high. This ensures that you create even areas. Move the slider back to the maximum.
Step 4: Airbrush spraying techniques
The basic rule for the spraying technique is that you should not dwell on one point for long. Otherwise, you will end up with blotchy areas that look unnatural. Exceptions are only the targeted use of issues, such as creating lights or a star mist.
Since some colors often mix with each other and do not remain completely “pure,” you should always spray your colors on white paint. This is clearly recommended, for example, if you want to start with the water-soluble airbrush colors on a car hood. Then it should have a white-painted base at this point.
Step 5: Create your first airbrush image
It’s best to start with tiny shapes and motifs. Because you need the feeling for the technique first. Therefore, after a few spraying units, begin with a simple motif.
This would be, for example, a ball or sphere. It can be floating in the air or on the ground. To do this, cut out a stencil with a sharp knife or have a ready-made one at hand.
First, mask the ball on the white background. Then you start with the experience like the sky and the ground. This way, you have the white base color of the painting background.
Finally, switch the stencils to only expose the ball and cover the sky or ground.
Leave one sidelight and spray the shaded side dark depending on the light. It is best to start at a higher distance. Then work your way to the dark shadow by holding the airbrush lower.
Remember to stop or change the spraying direction not on the subject itself but on the masking. This will prevent the aforementioned spotty spots from appearing and help you achieve a realistic effect.
Airbrush tips and tricks
Over time, the images will become more sophisticated, as you certainly want to practice more and become increasingly better. To give you some more ideas for future artwork, here are some more tips as a great guide.
Paint what you see, not what you know
The basic rule for photorealistic art is that you paint what you see. Therefore, copy exactly what you want to copy from a subject or image.
This refers primarily to the colors. You will never see the direct primary colors in nature in their pure form. If you were to paint them that way, the viewer would immediately unpleasantly notice them.
Sand and stars
To spray sand or stars with the small dots quickly and realistically, you should leave the paint as concentrated as possible. In addition, you have to set the pressure of the compressor very low or alternatively bend the hose by hand so that not much-compressed air gets into the gun.
Then keep moving the regulator of the gun very strongly up and down over the painting surface at the respective spot. This causes larger droplets to fly out of the weapon and simulate the sand grains or stars.
Fluffy clouds with kitchen roll
The best way to create fluffy clouds is with inexpensive and straightforward airbrush stencils. Use the paper of the kitchen roll. You should tear it at will and use it as a stencil. The sides create the great fluffy edges of a cloud.
Create tree bark with a leaf
First, paint a wet light brown on the desired area to recreate a tree trunk. While it’s still wet, place a leaf on top of it and pull it off immediately.
This gives you a basic structure that resembles a tree groove. Then spray on the dark shadows to make the tree look realistically round.
Do not paint everything with an airbrush
As you’ve just seen, you don’t have to do all the work with an airbrush. Sometimes a fine brush is enough to paint eyelash hairs much better and easier. Photorealists, in particular, will often use a mixed technique to get the reality and such fine lines down. Then they will also just take the hard pencil to hand.
FAQs about airbrush answered.
How often should I clean the airbrush gun?
When you want to apply new colors to the painting surface, you need to rinse the gun well. For this purpose, water is sufficient at first. You will then see when it just comes out clean. Otherwise, you are recommended to clean the airbrush gun every day in the evening after the airbrush work. Take the special cleaner (Airbrush Cleaner, for example) and spray the gun a few times. It is also advisable to leave this cleaner in the funnel overnight so that all the colors used really dissolve overnight.
A final tip: Never leave the airbrush gun with paint overnight. Otherwise, the color will certainly clog the weapon for subsequent use.
Do I need a protective mask when using the airbrush?
The substances contained in water-soluble paints are usually not harmful. But if you work a lot with additives, thinners, or even lacquer-based paints, you should wear a mask. Then you are immediately recommended the appropriate respiratory protection masks. They may be a little unfamiliar at first, but you will soon get used to them. In addition, think about good ventilation of the workspace and an airbrush exhaust system, which belongs to airbrush and clean air.