Friday, October 31, 2008

Airbrush issues

Like a lot of artists, I have a love-hate relationship with my airbrush. I always thought that using one was like having to rely on a brilliant, but decidedly temperamental, co-worker.

Things did get better, though, when I switched over to ceramics. Unlike acrylic paint ceramic underglaze remains water soluble forever, you don't have to worry about dried paint clogging the inner workings of the airbrush. The downside is that underglazes are really abrasive, so over time you are effectively sandblasting the inner workings of the brush.

That means I got through piles and piles of these little needle cones. With each use the opening of the cone widens a little more, until the cone no longer holds the needle back enough to control the pigment. When I am painting consistently, I got through about a cone a month. After almost two years, the inside of the airbrush is toast and I have to replace the whole thing.

But the other problem I have had since switching to ceramics has been a sticky trigger mechanism. Since it is nearly impossible to salvage earthenware after it gets unexpectedly splattered, this has been a particularly distressing problem. The first time it happened and cleaning the brush did not help, I tried replacing the trigger. That didn't help so I just replaced the brush. I wasn't sure how the underglazes could be causing the trigger to malfunction, but the brush was near it's end anyway.

This time, however, my brush was only a few months old and I just wasn't keen to go buy another $85 piece of equipment without at least trying to find out why I was having this problem.

It turns out that the underglazes weren't the culprit after all. This was - the small container of clear water that I use to clean the airbrush. I started doing this when I switched to ceramics. When I was done working I would take the brush apart (just like the picture at the top of this post) and dump all the parts into the water to soak while I cleaned up my workspace. Then I would dry the pieces and reassemble the brush. This wouldn't have worked with the acrylics, but it seemed to do the trick for underglazes.

What I didn't know was that this process was stripping the lubricants inside the brush. Most specifically, it was removing lubricant from the trigger mechanism. I didn't need to replace the brush or even the trigger. I just needed to add some more lubricant.

This little tube was all I needed. Oddly enough, while I didn't remember that you weren't supposed to submerge the brush, I did remember that you were supposed to use special lubrication. That saved my not-really-ruined airbrush from being truly ruined by the WD-40 my husband wanted to try. (He is among those men who truly believe, down to the depths of their souls, that all life's problems can be fixed with either duct tape or WD-40. Despite warnings on numerous airbrush forums, he remains skeptical that it would not have worked.)

Another interesting thing that I discovered through all this was that the underglazes abrade the needles themselves, as well as the cones. Both the cones in this picture are new, but the needle to the right has been in use for months. You can see it protrudes out significantly more than the needle on the left. The underglazes, with their clay content, have worn the metal enough that the needle is thinner. Now I know that even though the needles look fine (they don't get bent like they do with acrylics), using an old needle is going to give me the same problem as using an older cone.

The good news is that not only am I a little wiser about the proper care of airbrushes, but I never did toss the last sticky-triggered brush. So now I have two working brushes.

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