It can be the “Best of mediums; and it  can be the Worst”! It requires a surgeon’s skill, a steady hand and the cleanliness of an operating room….and a lot of preparation. But it is certainly magical! Gently peeling away layers of frisket films from a painting when all the airbrushing is completed to reveal what had been the plan all along is breathtaking and pleasurable.

But by the time that plan is executed successfully, there is a lot of preparation beforehand.

Airbrush was always fascinating to me; it could be used for dreamy Disney cartoon features or skin tones or sunset backgrounds or cloudy skies …..or to deck out hard line motorcycles and sharp vans. So versatile.

I decided to study airbrush at OCAD back in the ‘80’s and found it to look easy but was so so challenging for me to do. But when I mastered the techniques taught to me, I began to feature airbrush in my paintings and drawings. My series “Backyards: the Garden of Eden” were hosted by the Toronto Theatre Plus organization and then at the “Here and Now” Gallery. They were the first to feature airbrush with mixed media.

Using airbrush in my children’s illustrations feels like a completely natural way for me to depict the soft tones of childhood and in each illustration, I try to include a creature or bird, also soft or furry and that seems to delight wee readers.

Scientifically, airbrush is a good example of the use of positive and negative space. You airbrush in both the positive and the negative space at different times. Kids view it like a cut out: you can colour around the cutout or inside the cutout…or repeat the cutout..so many possibilities.

Each illustration is simplified into patterns of colour and for each colour, there must be a prepared and cut out frisket film. Then, the frisket films are applied, working either from front to back or from darkest to the lightest or a combination of both.

Hopefully each film will hold it’s integrity and not allow any bleeding of colour, so I always check. I always make a detailed plan of how I will proceed and each piece is different! And I prepare the colours the day ahead to move swiftly.

The airbrush also needs to be cleaned after each pass of colour. The small amount of space between the needle and the nozzle can be as fine as a human hair. Watercolour paints are easier to clean up after and provide a lovely transparent glaze but they are not permanent. Acrylic airbrush mediums are more stable but can clog the nozzle if not cleaned thoroughly. Every airbrush artist has had to learn to take apart their airbrush eventually to clean any residue left behind. Those tiny little parts require a steady hand to clean and put back.

All of this artistic airbrushing has to be done in one “fell swoop”. The frisket film will have to be gently peeled off after 3 to 4 hours or it will be harder to remove successfully and will begin to take the paper surface with it, if one is not very careful. But once it is done, and the film gently peeled away, it is always magical to me!

When it is not magical, it is immediately obvious: the film has bled, your hand was too heavy, the airbrush wasn’t in pristine condition and seized up in the middle and had to be cleaned…maybe it “coughed” or splattered…..maybe you forgot to block out an area with film and you have an unwanted area of colour. But errors are obvious and immediate and you can decide to repair it or toss it aside and start anew. And because it is done in an afternoon, you will know right away if you need to redo the piece which can be done on the following day.

It’s still always fun for me! Both challenging and magical!