Modeller’s Notebook 5

All Things Airbrush

One of the most common questions I am asked is whether someone should buy an airbrush. I always say yes, but with slight hesitation. This is due to a historical concern born of many frustrating hours and, frankly, disappointing results. I liken it to golf: one day you will be playing like the club pro, while others will feel like you want to retire and take up macramé.  Thankfully, those days are largely behind me.

This is what I have learned:

  1. Like anything else airbrushing requires practice. Hours and hours. Not only that, but every time you have a break from the wonderful throbbing noise of a compressor, you will need to get up to speed again. The good news is that once you reach a level of competence you can at least maintain it over the years. And I am talking competence; no artistic ability here. Those talented people who do the shaded spheres, portraits and the motorcycle flames are in a different world. I am happy to get the colours on in roughly the right areas. In truth, I am simply not good enough to do cars and aircraft, and am quite happy with tanks, railways and weathering.
  2. As with workbenches, ideally you need your airbrush kit set up and ready at all times. The last thing you want is the faff of fitting the hoses, retrieving the compressor and cleaning the brush. Keep the brush scrupulously clean, in a holder on the bench, and have the compressor no more than a power switch away from ready. You want as few obstacles as possible. This means, for me, that you are more likely to load paint and use it rather than thinking that paintbrushes are quicker and ‘good enough’.
  3. You don’t need to get stressed about masking. These days there are so many options – tape, curved tape, post-its, liquid mask, pre-cut stencils and masks, silly putty, blu tac etc – it is actually quite fun to work out the areas and how to cover them. And it is surprising how few subjects need masking.
  4. Make sure you have the right kit. See below!

My Airbrush Journey (or, Mawkish Backstory)

I bought my first airbrush circa 1984. It was a Badger 150 and I think the experiment, and the aerosol can, lasted less than two hours. A few months on, following a Christmas bonus, I treated myself to a braided hose and compressor. I seem to recall it was £150 which was a chunk of money back then, but memory may be failing me. Fortunately everything fitted, which would not be the case further down the line.  I excitedly set everything up and started spraying only to suffer even worse air supply than before. Irregular pulsing, overheating compressor and – joy of joys – water spurting through the brush into my enamels. I was despondent and because I am worthless and weak, I gave up.

Time passes. I was chatting to a modelling friend and he suggested that I visit an art supply shop in Soho, near Liberty. The shop – Cowling & Wilcox – may still be around I think but the airbrush man there was legendary. Seemingly he helped most of the graphic designers in the area and for miles beyond. It was an expensive visit. I left with a water trap, a pressure gauge, a thick pipe, another pipe which remains a mystery to this day, and a baffled look. Several hours, two more visits, two extra joints and some PTFE tape later, I had a working compressor and I have never looked back.

At this point onwards I did some of my best work. I had to stop every half hour because the compressor cut out, when it worked it slowly vibrated itself across the floor, and eventually my walls (and lungs) were turning Panzer Grey.  But you know what I am going to say: airbrushing had ceased to be a Wagnerian opera and had moved into the zen pleasure phase because, simply, nothing does German tank camo and weathering like an airbrush.

The downside was the setup, cleaning and mess. It was a royal pain and extractor fans were not really suited to the wallet or the house. The natural outcome, and what divides me from the true experts out there, was that I let airbrushing become a luxury, or even a chore. I should have used it for undercoating figures, but it always seemed that a paintbrush would be better. I tried to build up batches of tanks ready for “big spray sessions” but these never seemed to happen. It was limited to one off models and the occasional urge to do some fuzzy camouflage. In short, airbrushing became a very, very infrequent choice.

It remained this way until I had the mid-life crisis. Well, the first of a few. In the same way that one wants to change computer systems – PC to Mac, Windows to Linux etc – I got the notion that what I wanted was an Iwata set up. I had been working with Ducati and a couple of conversations with their head designer indicated that my kit was, if not exactly a 1970’s Triumph, certainly akin to an ancient Honda with dodgy brakes. Another friend laughed when I mentioned the Soho shop. So I started checking out the options and made the jump to Iwata. New pipes, new fittings, new compressor and… pretty much the same performance. But at least I could name drop and attract women.

I have blundered along since then, perfectly happy, until I moved house. What went into storage was: three compressors, three Badgers, a barely used Iwata TR1, my workhorse Iwata Neo and all the associated kit. What emerged, due to theft, was one compressor and one ancient Chinese back up airbrush I used for metallics and terrain work. Not a happy bunny. Being broke but mortgage free, I soldiered on.

Eclipsed

And then I was contacted by Airbrushes.com. Would I like to try an Iwata airbrush that suited my applications and skill level as part of a ‘usage’ relaunch – 5 Ways to Spray. Yes please. I was assessed as a likely candidate for an Eclipse CS, popular with modellers and a good general purpose airbrush. It duly arrived and twinned with the SparMax compressor (reviewed earlier) it has transformed my painting approach.  Yes, really.

You want to know why? Of course you do. I would say that in the past I have been obsessed by nozzle size. You want to do all those superfine lines and whatnot, and smaller is better, right? Well, not all the time. The Eclipse has a 0.35mm nozzle which is I think bigger than I have ever used before. Not sure about the Neo, but can’t now check. In short, the Eclipse will spray anything from inks through acrylics to enamels. No spitting, no clogging, just a steady stream of colour. The paint finish is superb, and it still does the narrow lines. Fantastic.

Even better, it is so easy to clean. I recently did a two hour session, changing several colours, without a single blip from brush or compressor. Just blast it with thinner and cleaner, and you are all set for the next project. It makes a huge difference. Add in what is clearly top notch engineering and build quality and I have an airbrush that I feel I can use daily and, importantly, for almost everything I do.

It is an odd thing to say but the whole brush feels… larger than life. The nozzle I have described, but the paintpot seems to be easy to access and clean, and the nozzle protector is the best I have used. It strips down very easily. It sits perfectly in the hand. Can’t fault it. A superb piece of kit. The Eclipse now sits permanently in its holder next to my tool tray. It is as easy, and as likely, to be used as my paintbrushes. I think that is the important change and I look forward to many years of quality finishing.

Mike Siggins

Iwata Eclipse HP-CS review sample kindly provided by Airbrushes.com.

Many thanks LM!

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