Hi there all
So here we are at Part 2 of the Beginners guide to Airbrushing. In this part we will be looking at the basics of just getting a good even layer of paint onto your model. From mixing and thinning the paint to the real trick of airbrushing which is the juggling match of getting the balance right between the viscosity of the paint, the distance the brush is held from the model and the air pressure.
So where shall we start? You have just opened your airbrush kit up and are desperate to get going. First step then is to plug in the compressor and connect the air-line to it. I keep my compressor on the floor underneath the workbench with the airline permanently attached and coiled away. I also use the quick release attachments so that I can switch between brushes quickly.
I generally leave the needle cover off while working so that I can see any paint build up on the tip of the nozzle and clean it off as I go.
The Harder and Steenbeck brushes have a better design of needle cap which makes this easier
I also tend to leave the rear body cover off. Purely personal but means its quicker when changing colour a lot and being able to quickly slip the needle in and out.
Which paints to use
I guess this is very subjective but I use almost exclusively a mix of Vallejo Model Colour and Vallejo Air Colour. Most of the other ranges of paint work well enough but just take care with thinning/
The Air range are being specifically made for airbrushing so are considerably thinner than the Model Colour range. Both come in a huge range of colours. The Model colours are certainly better when using a normal brush but both are equally good through the Airbrush. which brings us to the next stage
All paints must must must be thinned for use through an Airbrush. Yes even the Air Colour range. I have little plastic tubs from a supermarket into which I put a little colour and then sufficient Vallejo airbrush thinner to bring it to the consistency of milk more or less.
For Undercoating I might leave it a touch thicker and up the air pressure a little and use the brush at a slightly further distance from the model. The thinner should be really well mixed with the paint to ensure an even viscosity. At this point connect the airbrush and turn on the compressor. After a few seconds, to build up pressure (PSI), I always give the trigger a little press just to make sure there’s no moisture still in it from the cleaning process.
Getting the PSI right
Before putting any paint into the brush it’s time to get the PSI sorted. I generally work from around 8 to 20. Eight would be for very fine detail work like O.S.L. effects on engines in X-wing or glow from power weapons where really delicate control of the spray is required. Twenty or even 25 I use on larger areas and sometimes even up to 35 when working on large areas on porous material like felt for the space mats. For undercoating or base coating I would suggest setting the PSI to around 12-15. It should be noted that to change the PSI it is necessary to hold the trigger down while adjusting the pressure dial on the compressor. (On most models this is a rotating dial that needs to be lifted to turn.) Once this is done a little of the thinned paint is poured into the reservoir of the brush and you’re ready to go.
Getting some Practice
Before spraying directly onto the model I always have a few test sprays onto a piece of plasticard. Most of the models we are going to paint will be made of Plastic, Metal or Resin so its useless to practice on any other surface like paper or household roll as the density of the surface is completely different. I would recommend finding a piece of Plasticard? an old tank model? Start by trying a few test sprays then. Pressing the Trigger down will release the air. Hold the brush about 3 inches from the card and slowly pull the lever back while moving the airbrush across the surface. At this distance and PSI you should be able to achieve a spray of about half an inch to an inch or so across. It is important to keep the brush moving. If you stop mid flow there will be a build up of paint which will probably cause running. It’s also a good idea to release the pigment before the the arc reaches the model. occasionally little spatters can occur due to paint build up around the nozzle. The speed at which you need to move the brush is one of the skills of airbrushing and really needs to be learned through practice. The variables are;
- Distance from the model
- Viscosity of the paint
- Air pressure
- Speed of pass over the model
I would liken this to the skill of learning the play between clutch and gas when learning to drive. It seems an insurmountable challenge when first facing it but does become second nature after a while. Having, through practice, achieved a constant spray pattern of about half an inch it’s time to move on to the model.
Practise safe spraying
At this point I would like to very quickly talk about gloves and masks. I use hospital surgical gloves when doing undercoating and some base coating where there is the possibility of covering your fingers with spray. I tend to be very bad at using a mask although I have a huge box of surgical masks lurking in the chaos under the painting table. The only time I use the mask is when I’m spraying the mats as I am then spraying for up to an hour almost uninterrupted and there is a build up of gasses which can definitely have an effect on the lungs, For a few seconds of spraying at a time on a small model I generally don’t bother.
Each of these examples was sprayed onto a square area of around 4cm x 4cm
Paint too thick or not mixed perfectly so there is ‘spatter as the thicker bits get caught in the nozzle.
Mixed well enough but still a little thick or the distance from subject is too far. Paint is drying before it reaches the surface.
Keeping the airbrush still while spraying creates a pool of spray
Here the paint is too thin and the brush is probably too close to the surface
This is almost there, just reduce the distance to the surface a little
This is about right
Hopefully now you have enough information to be able to get some practice and get going on undercoating and base-coating.
In the next part I’ll be looking at adding some Highlights and contrasts to models, both by using directional spraying and by applying highlights more directly. And I’ll take a look at some Masking techniques. I’ll also look at some of the techniques for freehand work, and painting scenery.
I hope some of that has been of some help to you. I realize that some of this is difficult to convey in just words and still images. Maybe I should investigate doing a Vlog.
If you have any questions or would like any clarification on any of this please leave a comment or send me a tweet @wrkbnchwarriors
As always feel free to leave any comments or suggestions for further articles in the comments and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible. Don’t forget to check out some of the other wonderful blogs listed in the sidebar and of course some of the weird and wonderful podcasts out there, many of which are also listed in the sidebar.
See you next time and thank you for reading.
I’ll leave you with a few images of things we’ll be covering over the next few posts
Directional and localized highlights
Some directional and localized highlights on Space Marines
Getting base colours onto scenery
OSL highlights and Freehand work
Freehand highlights and patterns
Masking with “spare” bits of net curtain!
freehand work on planet/gas clouds