Air and Steel 1.75″x3″ Wicked Colors on titanium 2011
Over the next few blogs, I hope to answer some of the questions about the tools and materials that have found their way onto my bench as the standard. Hopefully the information from my trial and error will help you shorten your learning curve. This week the focus will be on the heart of the operation, the airbrush.
It was 1988 and I was a sophomore in college learning to be an illustrator. At the time we were surrounded by the incredible commercial art of artist’s like Eddie Young and Michael Cacy and the stunning work of Sorayama. Seeing all of this amazing art and knowing that one of the common threads in all of it was the airbrush sealed my decision to get one of my own.
1988 Iwata HP-SB
My search however, began with absolutely no idea of what I was doing or what I really needed to get started. Fortunately my father knew of someone that worked in his company that did know about airbrushes. I remember telling him that was that I really didn’t care how much it cost, I just wanted the best I could get. Of course I was secretly hoping that his answer wasn’t going to shatter my fragile Ramen Noodle/ Suzy-Q college based budget. The airbrush that he recommended I get was the Iwata HP-SB side feed airbrush. He listened to what I was hoping to get out of the airbrush and he knew that the fine detail, slow feeding SB would do the job. He was right. For the next twelve years that brush served me flawlessly. As fast as I could learn a new technique, that airbrush had the refinement and quality to keep up.
In the early part of the 2000’s some changes in my personal life found me looking for the stability of a full time job. I couldn’t have been luckier to have BearAir right in my back yard. After a long interview (it was more like an airbrush discussion between old friends) I was hired. Suddenly it was like a kid let loose in a candy store. I now had access to every major airbrush brand on the market. If there was a brush to beat my venerable SB, it would be here. Some of the staff recommended the gravity fed HP-C from Iwata but I found the larger .3mm needle and nozzle did not seem to atomize the paint with the same control and refinement that the .2mm SB did.
Richpen 213c Plus
All during this time, there was a brand of airbrush that hung in the background. Richpen. They were a Japanese airbrush and like Olympos, lacked the distribution of some of the other brands so they weren’t as well known in the U.S. One model in particular kept finding its way into my hands. The model was the Phoenix 213c. This .3mm gravity feed seemed to defy the stereotype of the other .3mm gravity feeds. This brush was able to atomize the paint at the same level as my .2mm side feed yet had the faster feed of a gravity feed and the larger paint reservoir. In addition, because it had a .3mm tip, it was able to work with a thicker viscosity paint. It was the best of both worlds. In the beginning I was using it to cover larger areas of my work that needed a controlled application of color. Slowly however, I found myself using the 213c for more and more in my work. I was able to get some staggeringly fine lines out of it even with the thicker acrylic paints I was using.
I did find some discomfort however in the beehive shaped trigger of the airbrush. The original solution was to grind it down however Steve Angers at BearAir found a more comfortable trigger for the brush which thankfully eliminated the extra work of modification. One other very helpful upgrade to the design of the 213 came in the introduction of the cutaway handle. Cleanouts were made much easier now that the needle chuck can be accessed instantly. This new model was designated the Richpen 213c plus and still to this day the only airbrush to unseat my trusty Iwata.
The important thing to take away from all of this is that the airbrush that ultimately ends up in your hand must be an extension of you. It needs to perform the job that you intend it to do with the least amount of compromise. Search out high quality and reassure your goal by knowing that the expense will be worth it.
Next blog, I’ll be looking at the similar evolution of the paint that I have been using. Please post any questions, comments or thoughts, I’d love to hear them! Thanks for checking in!