Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Airbrushing: Starting to Get the Hang of It

It's been nearly a month since my last Airbrushing post and I finally broke out the airbrush again. Right now I think my biggest obstacle to getting more comfortable with airbrushing is just a reluctance to use it. As with any new process, the steps required go pretty slowly the first few times until it becomes routine. The time consuming prospect of working on just the basics always gave me the excuse of "I don't have time" when I considered doing some airbrush work.

Honestly, what helped me get over the hump was watching videos on some of the basics over and over until I felt a little more comfortable. In particular, I liked the series of quick tip videos from Les at Once I had the motivation, it was time to actually try my hand.

I started by using more or less Les's Airbrush thinner from the first video, which is mostly Matte medium with some water and flow aid (which is what I had used solo before, to less than stellar results). Since I'm slowly dipping further into airbrushing, I haven't yet bought any premixed airbrush paints and I also didn't have a lot of empty bottles to have plenty of mixed paint, so I would be doing my mixing in the cup.

And then a couple drops of thinner.
Add a couple brush loads of paint from the pot

I've seen and been told time and time again that the consistency you should be aiming for is that of 2% milk. Honestly, that doesn't mean much to me - I've never dabbled milk around in a paint cup or palette. In the end, it was a lot of trial and error. I found that, in general with my brushes, I was using about 3 drops of thinner to 2 brushes of paint. Really, the way I could tell best was simply to mix it up and if it looked about right in the cup, shoot a few sprays onto my glove. If it came out in spurts it was too thick and needed more thinner. 

A good indication of too-thick paint, at least with my airbrush, is if little to none is coming out with the trigger fully pulled, and then getting a burst when releasing the trigger. On the other hand, if it made star patterns, it was too thin. 

Something to keep in mind is that, for me, it took sometimes as much as a minute of continuous flow for a change to show up. That is, if I mixed a new paint color into the cup, say for a lighter shade, the new shade wouldn't start coming through immediately. This will also be true of adjusting your paint to thinner ratios on the fly. I think some of my problems early on in my day long session were from overcompensating one way and then the other and not waiting for the added mixtures to flow through. 

Despite the value in the experience of mixing in the cup, for major colors at least, I believe I will eventually use the Plastic Dropping Bottles I recently bought to create a premix and store that for ease of use. 

As for changing paints, I may have gone a little overboard for each paint change, but I'd rather clean it more than enough than not enough. As a result, by the end of the day, I'd gotten pretty efficient at cleaning out the brush completely. 

My first step for cleaning was to spray Windex into the cup and mix with a brush, and then pour into a waste cup. I would do this a few times, depending on how much paint had been left and wiping the cup down with a paper towel. Then I would fill the cup again with Windex and spray it all out into a cleaning station. If you don't have one, it's a must (this one isn't a perfect fit for the pistol-style airbrush I have, but it works just fine):

At this point, I would often remove the cup and the needle, wipe the needle carefully on a paper towel dampened with cleaner, and use Q-tips to clean up where visible paint remained. I would also sometimes flush the paint cup over my disposal cup with windex and/or water. I would reattach everything and flush water, sometimes with a little cleaner through the system the same way as with the Windex. Essentially I would repeat this process until the cleaner/water sprayed out clear. I believe for just paint changes without down-time, you're fine with just doing the two flushing processes until you get clear flow.

Once I started to get the hang of mixtures and how the paint came out, I was able to do some things I was very happy with. To start, as I posted on Sunday evening, I managed to paint my Mycetic Spore very quickly. As I mentioned in my post about it, I used another trick from Les's videos and used Silly Putty to mask off parts of the model while I sprayed the carapace. 

I also used the airbrush to add more red to the wings, tail, and nose of my DakkaJet. Since I wasn't going for all panels painted the same color, this required a little touch-up by hand. 

Once the base coat was done, it was on to something I'd been looking forward to: special effects. I wanted to add some weathering/exhaust staining to the jet since it looked far too clean for an Ork vehicle. While I'd been looking forward to it, I was definitely hesitant about blasting black all over the paint job I'd been working so hard on. Fortunately, the airbrush allows for slow, careful addition of paint, and thin layers are not wholly opaque. I barely pulled the trigger to the point of engaging paint and carefully swept the brush back and forth over the areas I wanted to darken, spending a little longer on the parts closer to the actual exhaust pipes, allowing it to fade further away. 

Once I got that done, I was very happy with the results there, but then the wings looked conspicuously clean.  Starting with the gun barrels and eject ports, I applied the same method. This wasn't enough for me, and I went ahead and started making some streaks from the front of the wing toward the back, paying particular attention to the leading edges and corners.

The final result was something I was very happy with, and it was really the airbrush that I think sold it.

While I think the DakkaJet and the Mycetic Spores were successes, I will admit the day did not start that way. I started by trying to paint some Eldar Warp Spiders and create an Object Source Lighting effect with a purplish light, inspired by a description of actual Warp Spiders in Gav Thorpe's Path of the Seer. The whole attempt was an absolute failure, from priming all the way through my third paint color. I may share the full  gruesome details when I redo them, but I think the lesson to take away is that it gets better with practice and persistence. Ok, here's one picture as I left them:

There was definitely part of me that wanted to quit for the day when looking at these purple, tie-died Warp Spiders, before I'd even accomplished anything. However, I'm very glad I didn't. I messed up on the Warp Spiders through a combination of inexperience and general poor application of painting theories, but by sticking with it, rather than leaving the painting table with a bad taste for airbrushing, I stuck with it and had two accomplishments I am quite proud of.

To end on a more positive note, while gathering some final pictures for this post, namely the thick/thin paint examples, I felt it a waste to break out the airbrush and not paint anything. So, digging through some grey assembled models, I picked a Tau Crisis suit.

The above picture is after three coats, the first of which was pretty bad since I'd been intentionally messing up my consistencies. The main color I wanted coming out was Caledor Sky, with the highlight of Lothern Blue. I was a little heavy handed with the highlights, and I'm also not sure the color contrast is high enough to show through really well. That said, this base coat took me about 15 minutes, including trying to fix my intentional mistakes with consistency. Doing a whole squad of three, and being more careful about the highlights and keeping contrast in the layers might have added 5-10 minutes tops on the base-coating time.

As I close this post on Airbrushing, I'd love to hear from you what questions or concerns you have about getting into airbrushing? What would you like to see addressed in a future airbrushing post? Or, if you are miles ahead of me, what am I screwing up or misrepresenting?

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