Addicted to speed.
I admit it, I’m addicted to speed. I’ve become more and more obsessed with speed painting. How fast can I get an army up off the ground from raw metal to painted and STILL have it look good? Fully Painted has had me burning through models faster than ever before. I’ve done 2000 points of models since we kicked off this little campaign. I’ve had good results so far with my Trolls and my Khador. But I want to go FASTER. So how fast can I go? I guess I’m going to find out. And I’m going to “cheat” to do it.
Ace up my sleeve: Airbrush.
Let’s faces some facts here. Warjacks are big. Warbeasts are big. This isn’t news, just the cold hard facts. So if you’ve got a brush in hand, even a large one, it’s a daunting task to try and apply a smooth coat to all that surface area. So why try? Cheat!
Just keep in mind while cheating = speed, speed costs money. There is a saying that goes; “Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.” Well if we want good and fast, cheap is off the list. Airbrushes for miniatures don’t HAVE to be expensive, but the better ones will be. What it comes down to is the more control you want; the more it is going to cost. The first key to control is double action. A single action airbrush is little more than a glorified spray can. You push the button and it spews paint in a single, usually un-adjustable, cone. You can get one for about 12 bucks. They are wasteful, and inaccurate. If you’re painting your jacks red, you better want every last bit of it red (and the wall and the floor…) I can get better success with a can of primer. So if one of you crazy kids decides to go cheap and buy a single action airbrush, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Because this is me, warning you… Clear? Good.
Double your action, double your fun.
Now a double action airbrush is able to control both air and paint at the same time. Push down for air, pull back for paint. DAAB’s are very very analog, and take a while to get used to. With a bit of practice, you can paint only the parts you want with little overspray. That means you could leave parts of the model just primered saving you even more time.
Watch the video: Airbrush Double Action Demo
So more money means more control and more speed, but how much money are we really talking?
Personally I use a Paasche VL Millennium. (I got it at Dixie Art). It’s a good all around brush and has some good upgraded features to it. Most people I know yank off the rear guard for speed. The Millennium is nice in that it has a cut away to clear jams, but I still find it faster to run without the guard.
You could get stripped down Millennium for $42 raw. I suggest the upgrade kit that includes the hosing and some bottles for $59. Ultimately it’s not horrific to get this far. The VL is a good beginner brush because it can take a real beating, and replacement parts are relatively inexpensive.
Now for the hard part; air. You’ve got a tough choice when it comes to propellant. It may even be a more important consideration than what brush you get. Do you go with compressed air in a can? Or do you go with a plug in compressor? I’m a big fan of the compressor for a few reasons. First, it’s an “endless supply”. Buy it once and all you have to do is plug it in. Second, there are no additional fume issues. Compressed air cans still have chemicals in it. Much like those air cans you use for blowing dust out of your computer. Compressors can run about 120 dollars. So now you’re talking about spending 180 dollars just to basecoat an army. That’s not exactly cost efficient. There are however a few tricks though to keep things cheap.
- Ebay. Airbrushing is NOT an easy hobby. A lot of people get into it and over their heads quickly. So they get rid of their gear. You can expect to save 40-50% off retail, but then you might have to repair or replace parts and compressors are heavy so much of your savings will be eaten in shipping costs. It’s a good option, but there are other ones that are just a viable.
- Timing. I’m afraid this next one really only applies to US folks, but it’s a great trick if you can pull it off. Around me, (and most folks I’ve talked to) there is an art supply store called Michael’s, and they usually carry airbrush accessories. I know for certain that twice a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas) they issue 50% off any one item coupons in the local paper. (Sometimes the coupons show up more often). Well guess what? A 120 dollar compressor for 60 bucks is a steal and a half! So now you’re in the game for 120 new instead of 180! Get a friend to buy the airbrush with another coupon and you’re in for 90!
- Share. You’re not going to use an AB for every last detail of mini painting. Usually it’s just one step beyond priming. So go halvsies with a buddy and share custody of the tools to get it done.
- Mix! Combine 2&3 or 1&3 and you’re in for less than a Behemoth. Don’t say uncle Ark’s not looking out for you. You can thank me later.
Random Wisdom Nugget!
I have a theory for why airbrushing is so hard. To date; it is the only art form I’ve worked with where the tool doesn’t touch the subject. No pencil to paper, no hand or tool to clay, no brush to model. In the gap between the end of the airbrush and the subject itself, you lose all sense of feedback, and everything else you’ve ever learned about art goes right out the window.
Ok so with all that out of the way and my nugget of wisdom passed on, let’s say you’ve decided to take the plunge. You’ve bought all the models, all the paint, the airbrush, the compressor, the bottles and the hosing, now what? That’s easy: Learn how to use it. If the very first thing you air brush is a Warjack you’re going to be out for my blood. So hows about you don’t do that. Get a piece of cardboard and prime it. Load up your paint and start playing with it. I’m using Model Air by Vallejo. It is DESIGNED for airbrushes right out of the bottle and it’s MADE for models! How can you lose? You get a manufacturer you can trust with all the mixing/thinning work done for you. Mixing your own paint is another story and requires the purchase of airbrush medium. I don’t suggest mixing out of the gate because you don’t know what the consistencies should be, and how the paints will behave. Even if you only practice with the Model Air paint and never use it on a model, it’s the right place to start to learn how to use the tools. Remove as many variables as you possibly can.
So how do you learn? If your goal is to simply base-coating the whole models the following exercises will help you get there.
The Sweep (Step 1: Basics)
Take a strip of card board about 4-5 inches wide and maybe a foot long. Prime it your standard priming color. I’ll be using white here because it’s easier to see. Start at the top and do your best to fade it from your starting color to your basing color in the middle.
Load up the brush, turn on the air and press the button and slowly pull back. Make even passes much like you would with a spray can at a distance of about 3-5 inches. (For finer detail you can get as close as an inch. Any closer and you risk blow back, a snagged needle or a dented cone.) Try to evenly cover a strip of cardboard with out over loading any area with paint. Drips are your enemy, be patient and slow. Learn how to do it right first, speed comes in time. This is the basics of control. Feel free to move beyond the cardboard to complete the stroke. Once you can get this down, you’re pretty much ready to start doing the same to your figures. This exercise is about hand, air and paint control. When you can get a decent gradient, you can break out the figures. The AB is analog. Don’t jam the trigger down or yank it back. Feather it.
Morse Code: (Step 2: Intermediate)
So you can apply a smooth base coat now. Mission accomplished. Now if you’re planning on doing more than base-coating there are a few things you need to learn, namely the dot and the line. These are the fundamentals of airbrushing. Try to create dots and lines of varying size without smearing them. This will let you hit specific armor plates and even warrior armor if you’re stone cold crazy.
True Art (Step 3: Advanced)
Ask someone else. I’m still an intermediate airbrusher at best.
Troubleshooting: Having problems? Here’s what to look out for.
There are 3 problems that plague the beginner when it comes to airbrushing.
The Pool. You’re applying too much paint in one area. This means you’re staying in one area too long. Don’t stay still; try to keep your brush moving so the paint has time to dry.
The Drip: This is a direct result of pooling. Take some time to let the paint dry. You shouldn’t need more than a minute. If it’s taking longer you’re pooling, and drips will kill your work faster than anything. You can see in the image above it’ll be just a matter of time before that forms into a full drip.
The Star/Spider: This usually means you are too close to the model after pooling or your paint mix is too thin. You get this when the air nails a wet pool of paint, or when you start a new application too close to the model. Move further away from the model, apply less pressure to the trigger, as you’re applying too much paint and air at the same time.
Wow… that was rambly wasn’t it? Time to apply it. In this example I’ll be tinkering with a Wold Warden. I’ll begin with my model primed black. My goal here is only to get the greys done, and in a short period of time. The rest of the model will be painted by hand.
I begin with VA-021 Black Green 4G and spray the whole model. This is a dark grey-green that makes for a good natural tone for rock. (However it’s dark enough that it doesn’t really show up well in the pictures here. Sorry about that). For the most part I try to stay out of the areas that will wind up being brown later. When the first coat dries, I hit it again, but only in the places I think need a bit more highlighting. The process takes almost the same amount of time as it did to write this paragraph. Which considering the number of typos and edits I made adds up to roughly 3-5 minutes.
Once the original base coat dries, I hit it with a quick highlight of VA-052 German Grey 4G. I try to avoid the areas with the bundles of sticks, but some overage is inevitable. Another 3-5 minutes later and I’m practically done with the greys.
To earth up the rocks and not make it feel so static, I wash it with a mix of GAFA Burnt Umber mixed with a touch of Vallejo Smoke.
The final step to finish the rock portion in record time is to do a razor highlight with a much lighter grey. In this case VMC Neutral Grey.
From priming to completing this step was maybe 30-40 minutes. This includes a jaunt upstairs to clean my airbrush, and waiting for my brown wash to dry.
I’m going to gloss over the rest of the Wold Warden’s paint because it’s not relative to airbrushing as a whole, but here’s the completed piece. Start to finish less than 90 minutes. Had I been doing two or three of them at a time, the average time per piece would be even less.
Let me show you one more thing before I leave you to your own devices. There are many ways that you can futher control the airbrush. Blue-tak, plasticard and cardboard all make decent masks on a model. In this example here you can see how I used plasticard to block off the main part of the body from over spray. In the second shoulder I didn’t bother. Can you see the overspray onto the main body?
So here’s the deal. airbrushing isn’t for everyone, but it is another good means to an end. Our goal here at BrushThralls is to give you guys as many tools as possible to attack a problem. The airbrush is just one more.