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We are sad to say that both the authors of the articles on this page have passed away. Jesse Brown left us in June, 2002, and Patricia Whitchurch passed away on September 13, 2002. They are both greatly missed.

Method 1


by Jesse Brown

First, you really don't need porcelain-specific instructions to learn or use an airbrush. The basic techniques are pretty much the same no matter what you do. The problem (with books) is that some really enjoy making a mystery out of the whole thing and allow as to how airbrushing is next to alchemy. Ha! Others take you through convolutions that leave you exasperated and worse.

There are basically two types of airbrushes - single action and double action (designs can vary greatly). The Paasche H-5 is an example of the single action. Badger's model 150 is an example of double action. With either airbrush, I would suggest no less than a medium needle (hole through which the paint flows). In the double action airbrush the trigger pushes down to control the amount of air and pulling back controls the amount of paint that flows through. In the single action airbrush the trigger goes only downward and controls the amount of air. A knurled bolt/screw/thingy on the rear of the airbrush controls the amount of color.  The single action takes some folk everywhere they want to go; the double action is a lot more versatile and worth the little bit of extra time to learn if you ever intend to do really fine work with it. I use both but actually prefer the double action. Others differ.

The air unit is what will create the hardest choice and possibly the most expensive. I think the little cans of propellant are a pain in the gazebo. The absolute quietest is a tank of CO2. With the proper controls and a source of supply this is very portable. The air compressor can be an inexpensive model that makes a lot of noise (and some dance) but does the job. They are not for heavy duty work but few of us do heavy duty stuff anyway. You can even get an adapter to use your spare tire (the one from the car not around your waist).

You do not accomplish much by buying cheap and thinking you'll upgrade when and if you take to it. It hinders your progress. A cheap brush is frustrating and those cans of Propel often do better if put in a can of warm water to keep them from freezing up when used. Go to somebody's house and let them give you a demonstration to determine if you like it and then do your own thing. There probably WILL be air brush folk around. The T-Shirt artist, the automobile art artist, the ceramist artist, any artists can help you learn and every thing is applicable.

You can build you a spray booth out of a cardboard box, metal or wood. Just put a furnace filter in the rear and some kind of fan that sucks air through same. I've often thought that a hood effect over the kiln and table with fan and vented to outside would be a fine thing for artists who paint, spray, fire, etc. Many hobbyists do not wear masks of any sort but it surely would be recommended.

How to paint with the airbrush on porcelain or whatever?
I like an airbrush with a metal cup attached to the side or top. Other folk may different greatly on this. You can mix your powdered paint with glycerin to a rather runny consistency. You can have this in a small container or tile or whatever. You can take a regular water color brush (pointed) and pick up some of your paint mixture and place in the metal cup. It may be too thick for the process. You then dip your brush into clean water container and fill brush with water (you'll get the feel of how much) and then dip brush into the cup on the airbrush that contains the paint. Then you swish it until it is mixed. Continue this until you feel comfortable with consistency (very thin). Then spray away.

Others will tell you to mix a large amount of paint to the right consistency and strain same as you pour from one jar into another. You can do this if you like or if it appeals to your compulsive nature. I do not and in my limited use (and I stress limited) I've not had a problem. If you're concerned about having the absolutely same hue on the piece you're painting then you'd better make a larger quantity, or possibly less and strain and whatever. Most of our work is not that critical. Now, the pain about airbrushing is that you'll spray on about THREE times the amount that is recommended for just brushing. More coats are sometimes necessary. And you can do this one over the other. You'll get the hang of consistency to avoid runs and sputtering. Folk recommend straining the paint to avoid spatters. If that is either an issue or fear of yours then it would be good to strain the paint. I live dangerously perhaps but my teacher said that straining was over-rated and I concur (because you can be lazier). Keep two containers of water handy, even three. Get brush and air brush clean with one container and dip clean water from the second. Using glycerine and then water makes the process water-based and makes it much easier to deal with and to clean, and cleanliness is definitely next to Godliness.

DON'T let paint dry in your airbrush. You can keep running clear water through it until it is clean (after you finish).

Books I own. There are obviously many others.

  1. Mary Gilbertson, TAME THAT AIRBRUSH by Daisy Books (excellent on painting ceramics and thus very applicable to china or porcelain or what have you).
  2. Badger publishes, BOBBY AND CRAFT GUIDE TO AIR BRUSHING (fine book).
  3. October 1989 issue of "The Artist's Magazine"
  4. Paasche published "Twenty Two Airbrush Lessons For Beginners by...."
  5. Fern Cummings wrote "Give'm The Air" for the ceramic hobbyist
  6. Art Carney - different articles in ceramic and IPAT magazines some years back.
  7. Richard M. Goldman & Murray Rubenstein, AIRBRUSHING FOR MODELLERS

Disclaimers: I am a VERY novice porcelain painter. I am NOT an accomplished air-brush user, but I've done some of both and I think the airbrush ought to be used for much more than just borders - though that is a great and smooth use for same. With some resist applied you can add background colors, color washes, borders (as we've mentioned), and even do much of the painting when you become accomplished and get a fine needle.

I end with the advice of Mother Skunk: "Let us spray."

Jesse B. (that's a male Jesse)
Woodbury, New Jersey


Method 2


by Patricia Whitchurch

I do some air brushing to match the tinted rims on old lamps.    I was taught to mix my paint with extra heavy mineral oil to a thick paste, one that reminds you of frosting that is too thick to spread on a cake.   Then for each whole vial of paint, and I usually do just one vial at a time, put it in a 2 oz. jar and fill with rubbing alcohol that is at least 70% isopropyl alcohol and spray away according to manufactures directions to your air brush.   I use the type of air brush that draws paint from a small jar rather than a paint cup.  It saves refilling the cup every little bit.  After you add the alcohol you have to shake it REALLY well for about 5 minutes.  Then you can let it set till you are ready to use it or for a few days. It does evaporate even when capped so don't keep it too long or just add more alcohol.  If it looks real grainy on the inside of the jar (I use clear jars) I do strain it through 2 layers of used panty hose or knee high hose to get rid of the bigger grains. 

I too have both the single and double action kinds.  I like the single action better for doing small jobs because the clean up is quicker.

I use a turn table to rotate the lamp shade and keep my hand steady to get a more even coating. I also use a large cardboard box to spray in  and line it with newspaper that can be easily changed.  I have a bathroom exhaust fan hooked to the side and vented outside to help with the mist from air brushing.  And I do wear a mask. 

The airbrush is also wonderful for evenly applying a good coat of glaze to dolls and figurines.  Just use the glaze right out of the bottle and into the air brush.

Scratches or touches that show cannot be fixed that I know how to do, other than wiping off and starting again.

After spraying, just dip the paint uptake tube in alcohol to clean it and the nib.  Then clean well with dish soap and water and a pipe cleaner up the uptake tube and then air dry well before using again. The alcohol evaporates quicker than the water so you can put more on in one fire. Just remember how it looks going in is how it will look coming out.

Barb Bougher is the one who taught me.   She is from Forth Worth Indiana.   She would probably be a good person to ask if you want more information.  I know she does some (grounding) using several layers and masking off the plate.  You can do multiple layers before firing as long as the under layer is completely dry before air brushing on another layer. This even gives that same mottled overlap effect that many of the old lamps have. 

Hope this is helpful.  I'm by no means an expert but do give it a try.  It sure is quicker than putting on several layers and pouncing them. 

Good luck.

Patricia A. Whitchurch
Victorian Reflections


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