Sunday, April 4, 2010


My first attempt at using an airbrush...and my last.

This Jimi Hendrix portrait was actually one of two works I created with my airbrush waaaay back in the early 80's. Back when airbrushed artwork was all the rage on vans, automobiles, and yes, even in illustrations and magazine advertisements. Back then I was very young and very broke, yet I managed to save some money here and there, enough to buy every book I could find about airbrush art, and more importantly, an airbrush.

The art supply store had several to choose from. So many different styles and varieties, it was really hard to decide which one was the best one for me. Fortunately(sarcastic voice), my extremely limited budget made my choices a little simpler. Besides the actual airbrush itself, the most important piece of accompanying equipment was the air compressor. Artists who could afford it would purchase a large compressor that would fill an airtank, and then they could run their airbrush with the tank of compressed air. This was the best option at the time. Well, for starving artists on a tight budget, the cheap alternative was a small, noisy compressor that pulsed like a mechanical heart, pumping air instead of blood. It made an incredibly loud noise  --  "T'pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa..."  -- yeah, just like that.

So I spent all my money on the airbrush, compressor, and of course the special inks, paints, thinners, friskets, etc...
I was so excited to start creating all the fantastic images that were bouncing around in my imagination. That excitement died every time I attempted to use the cheap equipment I apparently had purchased. The most read section of my airbrush books was the trouble-shooting pages. Every time I used the airbrush it would invariably clog, sputter, splatter, and/or spray in unintended ways that ultimately destroyed every artwork I attempted. Airbrushes have several intricate working parts, and it is quite possible I had a faulty one somewhere in mine. Another contributing factor to the problem could have been the compressor itself, depending on which trouble-shooting guide I was reading at the time. Also, depending on the medium used, the ink/colors may have been a factor, even though I took great care to mix or use the thinnest, unclogging-est mixtures I could. Nevertheless, it seemed nothing I had any control over would ever change the end result: clogging and splattering.

After several weeks, I finally packed up my airbrush and supplies and buried them in my closet, never to be used again. It was pretty disheartening, especially after spending what little money I had on it all. If I'd  had the funds, I would have purchased a different airbrush and tried again, so at least I would know if the airbrush itself was faulty. That wasn't to be, instead I just had to let go of my dream of being a great airbrush artist, and utilize the tools that I could still afford.

The only two pieces that were salvageable from this time were a picture I made of a 'light-cycle' from the movie TRON, and this portrait of Hendrix. Let me rephrase that, barely salvageable. As the airbrush began to sputter and splatter, I stopped working, but luckily the image had acheived enough of the effect to be usable...barely.

I would use the portrait many years later for a series of poster images I wanted to do featuring famous dead rock stars. I chose the big three, Morrison, Joplin, and Hendrix. All were to be black and white with a tiny touch of color. Hendrix' signature song was 'Purple Haze', therefore a purple butterfly was used to symbolize his spirit, which continues to live on, in a way. Also, there was something really eerie and powerful about having Hendrix' ghostly white face emerging from a sea of surrounding blackness, though that design was altered in favor of this one. Another high contrast image of Jimi burning his guitar at Monterey was drawn and used as well.


  1. OMG~! Jimmi's face is on the shroud of Turin~!

    Apoco-wurl~ you forgot to mention what us double-dirt-poor airbrush losers used: Markers~! Hooked up to a can of compressed AIR~! The downside was, the money spent on the expensive markers made it so that, yeah, you could afford to airbrush~ but only small-sized and in a limited spectrum of colors~! I will post some stuff soon over @ Hungry Comix so you can LOL~!

  2. I had not heard of that! Sounds better than filling my mouth with ink and spewing it all over the canvas! Hard to socialize with black ink all over your mouth...get a lot of strange looks...

  3. in spite of all your tool troubles it turned out beautiful

  4. If that was an early attempt, then it's a d_mn'd shame that you didn't continue.

    My compressor, tankless, was loud. But it had a built-in pressure control, and by putting a control valve in series with that I got a nice steady flow of air even as the compressor coughed along.

    At some point, I ought to get that stuff out of storage, buy a tank, and get back to painting with it.

  5. Meanwhile…

    Remarkably enough, before 1870, Japanese women used to practice ohaguro, dyeing the teeth black. And from this process came an associated art form — yes, patterned spitting of the dye.

  6. Daniel,

    Ahh, a fellow artiste/airbrusher!
    Yeah, it's kind of funny how things occur that make us decide which path to choose next as we travel the road of life. Had my airbrush adventures been less troublesome, perhaps I would have gone on to better, more airbrushy things! As it was, circumstances dictated to me to follow the other path, the path to starving artist and smug pretentious blathering idiot...

    Dyeing the teeth black, huh? Very interesting! By the way, as a lad I dyed my teeth yellow, until mom told me to go brush 'em...

    You know, I have seen modern art that appears as if somebody spit it out of their mouth, or perhaps some other orifice!