A Trip to Belfast to Learn Airbrushing and Custom Painting

I’ve been wanting to learn how to airbrush for a very long time, I seem to remember both at school and art college being told not to try it, I don’t remember the reasons given but my recent experience would suggest that it was too technical to teach in general art lessons.  Now seemed like the ideal time to learn.  I want to introduce automotive manufacturing techniques into my work such as carbon or glass fibre lay up and learning how cars and bikes are custom painted is a logical step for the surface decoration.

I was hunting around for an airbrushing course that was comprehensive and had good teaching facilities, I came across Simon Murray of SM Designs in Ballymena. It looked good, I gave them a call with a few questions and booked on the three day beginners airbrushing and custom painting course at the end of November 2013.

Stone slab airbrsuh texture
Stone slab airbrsuh texture completed on the course

I arrived in Belfast, it was raining (the weather would continue through winds and snow before I left) but the cabbie was chatty and the Broughshane B&B was comfortable, very reasonable and as I would discover in the morning very, very good at the breakfast bit!

Firstly, despite the title of the course I had no idea that airbrushing and custom painting were two separate things.  They are and are and have a very different approach.  During the three days (three very long days, we were there 10am to 8pm one evening!) I had more knowledge stuffed into my head than I have in a very long time.  There was also plenty of hands on practical and technical experience.  Simon has plenty of stories and tips on how to work efficiently, cleverly and with flair.

Simon Murray demos airbrush techniques
Simon Murray demos airbrush techniques

The amount of planning required before you start is an eye opener, as a jewellery designer I’m used to having to plan how a three dimensional object will fit together and it is much the same with the airbrush artist and custom painter.  Like an analogue Photoshop you work in  layers but unlike Photoshop there is no undo or rearranging of those layers if you get it wrong.  There are many different kinds of paint, each of which will demand their rightful place in the order.  Unlike painting with acrylics which are all opaque or watercolours which are all essentially transparent, the airbrush or custom painter is working with both transparent, opaque, semi-opaque or the fun ones exotics (mostly they have sparkly bits in them).

Unlike using a paint brush or pencil, the airbrush paints in three dimensions.  How far the airbrush is from what you are painting is critical to the effect you want, then there is the complication of how much paint you want and what air pressure you need, oh and the consistency of the paint to gain proper atomization, and finally what type of paint.

If you are a jeweller and can remember learning how to silver solder, it is a skill comparable to that. Fiendishly difficult to learn, then natural as anything once you’ve got a bead on it!  From that point of view, I had a brilliant time, learning a new skill has got to be one of the best feelings when you feel yourself begin to “get it”.

Very first attempt at airbrushing
Very first attempt at airbrushing

Then there was the next part – the mini-spray gun an airbrush on steroids, this was the main tool for custom painting and essentially the same as an airbrush but scaled up.  Many of the masking and stencilling and even freehand techniques used in airbrushing are just as applicable to a mini-gun.

The projects we undertook on the course were very satisfying and on coming back and setting up all my brand new kit I was glad to discover I still remembered what I’d been taught.  Although I was really glad I’d taken copious notes and lots of photos.  I’ll post again on this topic when I’ve started painting my new work.  In the meantime here’s some images of what I’ve achieved so far.