Thursday, 1 May 2014

Airbrush techniques course

Last weekend I attended an airbrush techniques course run by the guys at SnM Stuff in association with Anarchy Models. I'm not associated with either, but I was part of their Kickstarter campaign for the Anarchy Models HD airbrush stencils project. When the stencils arrived there was a discount voucher for the airbrushing course and since my airbrush skills are entirely self taught I thought I'd invest in a little tutoring.

The course is run in the back of the SnM shop near Farnborough, and was a 2 hour drive for me, but I'm not aware of similar courses elsewhere, so I was happy to spend the time. The instructor, Brian, was the driving force behind the stenscils, and he had a number of test models with him on the day that I'd seen during the kickstarter showing the effects that could be achieved.

The course ran from 10 am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. In the morning we covered a variety of basic airbrush techniques, including accuracy, stroke types, the amount of paint to put down on a model and how to clean the airbrush. The exercises were delivered in a clear and easy to understand way and built up our techniques well, learning how to get the paint where wanted it, how to make sure we were putting the right amount of paint down, effective use of the trigger and so on.

After lunch we started using the stencils and Brian talked us through how to apply the basic stencils, placement for some of the more complex ones and how to use the positive and negative stencils to achieve some really nice effects.

We also got to practice our skills on the test models we had brought along. In my case this was a £1.99 Mig 29 model kit from The Works. I undecorated it in Halfords grey primer (excellent stuff - highly recommended), which I also used as the base colour for the 3-tone cammo pattern I was going to try out. I used one of the mini-hexcam stencils and went for a grey, black and blue colour scheme:

I only painted 1/2 the model as I'd have been there all day trying to add the masks to the whole thing...
The masks give a nice, crisp edge  - the overspray around the wing root and on the panel line mid wing was my attempt to add some shading.
Shading along the fuselage and wing root.
Overall effect is quite spectacular - not what you'd call low observability but certainly would serve to break up the outline!
I was very impressed with the stencils. They adhered well, even along the curves of the wing and tail edges - you can see in the picture above where the pattern flows around the vertical stabiliser to cover both sides. Removing them was slightly arduous, as they are very thin and I ended up with a few surface scratches, but I expect that with practice this will be much easier.

One of the biggest selling points for me, though, was that they are reusable. The tack on the stencils is enough to allow them to be used 3 or 4 times, and there are LOADS of stencils on a sheet, especially the micro ones that I have. I have used the Mask FX stencils from Critical Mass Games before and achieved good results with them, but I think the Anarchy Models stencils are going to be more use to me. The CMG stencils are a waxed paper and much thicker, meaning that they have a tendency to only really adhere to flat surfaces and tear as you are removing them. The extra thickness does mean they are easier to remove, though. There is also a difference is in price - CMG are currently £4.50 for an A6 sheet and Anarchy Models are £8.99 for two A5 sheets, so you are getting more bang for your buck with Anarchy models.

We then went on to practice shading techniques, using the airbrush to add weathering and shading to a base coated model. My Mig wasn't really conducive to this, as the colours were quite dark, it was quite small and you don't tend to get a lot of mud and dust on a fighter jet. Instead I tried out some shading effects on the two Ash Wastes kitbash tanks I'd also brought along (Armourfast Pz III with various bits of sci-fi gubbins added).

Shading along panel lines and in the hollows of the model. Ideally I'd have shaded the turret ring before attaching the turret.
The tank on the right has some individual hexes added to the rear deck where I was practising using one of the negative masks (you use the mask to isolate areas where you WANT the paint to go instead of using the mask to cover up areas and leave an impression of the colour below) 
I only had a blue-black paint in my airbrush at this point, but the tracks and wheels could have benefited from their shading been in a dusty beige or muddy brown. Shading between the wheels gives the impression of shadow.
Some rather heavy handed shading on the front of the rear tank - precise trigger control is very important
Showing the panel line shading on the running boards and engine decks.
We used Vallejo Model Air paints during the day, and I was very impressed by them. Brian also pointed out that the Tamiya paints I usually airbrush with are based on an mixture which includes alcohol. AGG is always complaining that she gets headaches whenever I airbrush, even when I'm using my extractor fan. As Brian pointed out, atomising the Tamiya paint will also atomise the alcohol in the paint and thinners, which isn't great to inhale and is no doubt what is giving AGG her headaches.

To that end I purchased two of the Vallejo Model Air sets, the collection builder and the WW2 Allies paint set. This should give me a nice variety of colours to use instead of the Tamiya. I don't think I'll stop using the Tamiya paints entirely, as I have loads of them and can't afford to just bin them, but I'll certainly use the Vallejo ones more often to give AGG's nose a break.

Overall I had a very enjoyable day and learnt a great deal. I think the techniques I picked up will stand me in good stead, and I am looking forward to using the stencils and shading on some models on the workbench.


Dan said...

Interesting, I bet the hexes were time consuming, how long did the take to apply? they look like they would be quite fiddly, when you take them off, and you want to use them again, what do you do with them? stick them back on the carrier sheet? excellent results though, an army with all the vehicles done like that would be spectacular. Thanks for the review.

GJD said...

It probably took about 15 minutes to lay down each layer of hexes – they come in the groups you see on the model, so I wasn't trying to fit individual hexes together even though there are individual hexes on the sheet. Spraying was another 10 mins, drying time 10-15 mins, so just about 2 hours to do the whole thing.

The carrier sheet has some blank space to put the used ones on, plus they will adhere to the unpicked sections on the carrier sheet too. You can also apply them to any wax paper, so I have some sheets from A4 sticky labels that I can use.


Gunrunner said...

Thanks for this comprehensive review GJD. This is something I'm interested in. i need some better instruction in the use of my airbrush, and like you I have used the CMG stencils, and have recently bought a sheet of Anarchy stencils, but have yet to use them. This is all very helpful!

Dan said...

Thanks for the info

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Nicholas Caldwell said...

Sorry for the necromancy, but this was very helpful to me. I've been trying to use my own airbrush with very poor results. I just got the Vallejo paints -- did you use them straight or use thinner with them? So far I haven't been able to get beyond a few seconds of spraying before I have to disassemble the airbrush and clean it. Which sounds like my paints are too thick, but I have thinned them to the point where I get beading. I'm clearly doing something wrong. :-/

GJD said...

If you use the Vallejo Air paints you should only need a few drops of thinner in the paint cup to prime it and then a couple of drops in with the paint. What sort of air pressure are you using? If it's too high you can dry the paint in the airbrush.