I had the dubious pleasure earlier this year of turning 50. My wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and whilst the idea of driving a tank appealed, getting stuck when attempting to climb in the turret didn’t, and so I looked for an alternative.
I bumped into Barwell Bodyworks at a couple of wargames shows last year, and I was aware that they ran workshops to learn how to airbrush – a skill that I’d always thought looked somewhat complex, and perhaps beyond me – but the requirement of finding a birthday present led events into a conjunction, and so it was that I found myself on a somewhat damp Saturday morning arriving at the home of Barwell UK Airbrush Supplies, which had the added bonus of being a mere 25 minutes drive from my home.
There were five of us on the course for the weekend, with people coming from all over the country to attend.
The day started with an introduction to the airbrush, including a chat about the mechanics of how they worked plus the chance to have a look at various different models of airbrush and compressor. Pretty soon it was on to the first lesson, which was simply mastering how to use the four basic techniques:
- Drawing a line
- Drawing a circle
- Evenly covering a surface
- Make a ‘dagger’ (Fading a painting line)
Sounds simple? I soon proved to be not that good at it.
Well, after a couple of hours of doing this, we had lunch, and then came back to our second task. This was to paint a resin tile, which had been specially designed with several different 3D textures. The task was simply to paint the tile in a pleasing way. It was strange, but I found myself much better at this than drawing lines on paper.
I really enjoyed this task, and I think I produced probably my best work of the weekend with this bit:
The vast majority of this was painted using a single colour – simply varying the shading by the number of coats of paint you were applying.
The final task of the day was to paint something nearer the scale of what we were probably on the course to learn how to paint – a 28mm vehicle. The object of this exercise was to learn how to work with masking tape, and get a descent paint finish on a smaller surface.
This wasn’t too bad, though I ran out of time on the task.
So, lots to think about at the end of day one, and I returned home to start writing a wish list of everything I may need to create my own airbrush set-up.
Sunday morning started with another chat about airbrushing techniques, this time concentrating on many of the different types of masking material on the market, as well as taking a brief look at how to use stencils.
Next was a warm up exercise, which was to see how many colours you could get onto a Space Marine Bike in 15 minutes.
It’s amazing how you brain puts boxes around your task. Most of us – myself included – started painting the bike as if it was a gaming miniature, but this was not what we’d been asked to do. The task was how many colours could you paint the bike – it didn’t say that it had to make sense. I did manage to get five colours on the bike, though it was a bit of a mess as I had some problems with my airbrush whilst changing colours – which was obviously part of the reason why we did this in the first place!
The rest of the day was dedicated to working on models that we had brought with us. I decided that I wasn’t going to work on anything for a specific army, but rather practice some techniques. I’d found some 20mm Stug IIIs, so I decided to practice painting some camouflage patterns.
Whilst waiting to use the priming booth, I took the opportunity of stripping down, cleaning a reassembling an airbrush – it’s all well and good watching a video, but there is no substitute for actually doing this yourself, whilst having an expert on hand to help you if you got stuck.
First off, I wanted to paint some tank tracks, but didn’t feel brave enough to try this without using masking – hence the Stug looking something like a parcel!
This worked OK, but I moved on to trying to paint a camouflage pattern freehand, which generally worked well. I felt the effect was spoiled somewhat when I tried to apply a shade, which only resulted in giving the model an oily sheen.
After this, I got to play around with some digital camouflage stencils:
I painted three colour camo, and then decided that I felt brave and painted the tank tracks freehand without a stencil, which went OK – this was something I really would not have considered 24 hours earlier.
Then it was time to peel off all the stencils, which was going so well until a minor disaster struck when one stencil ripped off the basecoat as well (we believe that the paint must not have been quite dry on the area this stencil was applied to)
I then had a play around with some weathering…
Unfortunately at that point, time ran out, and so the weekend came to a close.
I’d always thought of airbrushing as being complicated, and so avoided it. This weekend certainly lifted the mystery on this hobby tool for me.
Steve, who ran the course, was an excellent tutor: patient and always there to give advice.
I found the course to be extremely useful, giving a great insight into not only how powerful the tool can be, but also some of its limitations – at least in the hands of a novice such as myself!
At the end of the weekend, there remains to be answered one simple question: would I buy and use an airbrush?
The answer is a most definite yes! The sheer speed at which you can prime and basecoat models is almost worth the investment on its own – whilst I was playing with the digital camouflage stencil I completely changed the colour of the model with a smooth paint covering in under 2 minutes, something I could not have achieved with a brush with the same level of finish.
It was also great for painting camouflage patterns and gives a finish almost impossible to achieve with a standard brush, though this will take a lot more practice – especially on smaller vehicles. It’s also got some interesting possibilities for weathering, though I’m not ready to give up washing and drybrushing just yet!
I attempted to use panel lining, but failed dismally – this was beyond my current level of skill, but is certainly something I would come back to at a later date once I’ve had a lot more practice!
All-in-all an excellent weekend, which was enhanced by the opportunity to learn with a great set of classmates – thanks to Dan, Rob, Mel and William for being great company for two days.
Thanks again to Steve at Barwell UK Airbrush Supplies for running an excellent course – I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning how to use an airbrush. They run various courses throughout the year, but the next 2-Day course similar to the one I have just attended is November 2017.
However, Barwell UK Airbrush Supplies are also regulars on the UK Wargames Show circuit, and can be found at several shows all over the country.
Following the weekend, the only problem is that I am now left with a rather large shopping list – not unexpected, but I suspect that it will be a couple of months before I have an airbrush set-up of my own ready to go (I must stop spending money on Kickstarters first!)