Sunday, July 21, 2013

After 20 years, I have an airbrush that works

20+ years ago, our high school art teacher invited an airbrush artist to come in and teach the class.  We all got to play with the airbrushes, and I got a kick out of it.  I'd always enjoyed airbrushed art anyway.  Not long afterwards, I bought an airbrush at a pawn shop for forty dollars.  I couldn't for the life of me get it to work.  It would sputter, spit, bubble into the jar, etc.  I took it up to the airbrush artists shop, and she was no help.  Granted, just because she taught for a day didn't mean she wanted kids showing up at her shop asking questions, but it seems to me now that she basically knew how to clean her brushes and such, but may not know the underlying technicalities of why any particular problem happens, or maybe just didn't know anything about airbrushes in general, just her airbrushes specifically.  Regardless, I asked her and various others and got mostly either thin the paint (which I was), I'm missing parts (which I eventually called Thayer and Chandler and found out that either I wasn't, or there weren't any rebuild kits anyway), or that they just didn't know.  I ended up discouraged and the airbrush sat on a shelf.

I picked it up a couple of times over the years.  I bought a tiny air compressor at an auction, thinking maybe my father's big air compressor I tried in high-school was just too big, even turned down, and that didn't work.  I picked up a new compressor and airbrush at an art store several years later and it seemed to work at first, until I took it apart, cleaned it, and put it back together, then it started doing the same kind of thing.  I returned it and the guys at the art supply store couldn't figure out what was wrong with it either, even after they took it apart, cleaned it again, and put it back together.  I did keep the little Paasche air compressor, swearing I'd end up with an airbrush some day.

Eventually, a month or so ago, I decided to check the internet again.  In high school, there was no internet, and I either didn't think to check much later on, or there just wasn't as much information out.  This time, though, I made a concerted effort to determine exactly how the thing was working, and what could cause the symptoms I was seeing.  Spitting and spattering could be related to several things, but mostly thick paint or paint dried on the inside (or on the needle, but that was clean).  So I tore the whole thing apart and traced the entire paint and air channels and cleaned everything, even using an interdental brush to get the tiny openings.  A possible cause for bubbling into the cup was a clogged pathway, but after all of my cleaning, I knew there weren't any clogged passages.  But I also worked out what had to be happening.  One way or another, air was leaking from the air channel to the paint channel, and I new there were only a few places it could occur.  I determined it had to be leaking passed the threads in the tip, and I started looking up sealing it.  I tried teflon tape and it worked to an extent, but was a major pain.  I finally found a guy talking about using bees wax.  I didn't have any, but I had a bar of soap, and I'd used that to lube threads when putting tiny screws in wood before.  Sure enough, that fixed it right up.  I now had a working Thayer and Chandler Model C (as far as I can tell) airbrush.  I got some airbrush paint (because I didn't want to risk my paint quality as an issue again) and started messing around with it.

I'm real bad about dropping stuff like this after a few months, so I really didn't want to put any money into it until I had been practicing a while to figure out whether I was going to be able to do any good or not.  But I was definitely seeing issues with this airbrush.  For one, it has a massive tip for an airbrush.  And as luck would have it, Thayer and Chandler went out of business a few years back, so I can't get any smaller nozzles or needles for it.  It also is not a very fine atomization pattern, but it could be that it is actually meant for still higher pressure than my little air compressor can provide.  But I was puttering along.  Really just the equivalent of doodling, and getting discouraged again.  But my wife decided to buy me an Iwata Eclipse HP-CS for my birthday.  It worked out much better, much finer atomization, and I could tell that eventually I should be able to do detail with it.

It's working out.  I was still getting myself discouraged though.  I couldn't (still probably can't) even write my own name.  Any lettering I tried to do was just junk.  Nothing really was half way decent.  And on top of it, I've apparently forgotten how to even draw, which definitely wasn't helping.  But the real problem was that I didn't have a goal.  Even with the lettering, I had no concept of what I wanted the letter to look like when I was done.  It's just doodling.  So I started a hummingbird, but that was screwed from the get-go.  I was painting it too small, and had some misconceptions on how to actually use an airbrush.  I watched more online videos and decided on a very simple project; painting a ribbon.  I used to always doodle a ribbon that undulated toward and away from the viewer doubling back on itself.  It seems like a perfect project for an airbrush; just one single color, with highlights and shadows in a single direction.  So I cut a stencil for it and went to work.  It sucks, but only because I only cut the outer bounds.  I though I could go back over the small overlap sections with the original color to fix overspray, but that didn't work.  But the sections that weren't covered by anything else did actually look shadowed and highlighted.  It was definitely a start.

And then, finally, my "creative juices" finally started going and I decided on a project.  But I'll talk about that in a later post (mainly because this is extremely long-winded, and no one will really care to read this just to see the project pictures).  Suffice it to say, it's not perfect, but it's MUCH better than I expected, and I learned a lot.

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