Archive | October, 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.

Continue Reading

Hopefully "Worth the Wait"!

I’ve had this gal finished for a little while now, but I needed to get a second set of pictures of her. I always get the angle wrong when I am trying to shoot photos of this mold, probably because model horses almost always need to be shot from a slightly upward angle. “Worth the Wait” is the exception in that she ends up looking off-balance unless she is shot slightly downward.

It was interesting to revisit this particular mold at this point in my career. I was reminded that the last “Worth the Wait” done in my own studio was actually the first horse I ever glazed here at home. (I had done several before while visiting Joan at the Pour Horse factory.) I didn’t own a kiln, so the horse was sent to one of those infamous ceramic stores that charge you by the inch to fire things in their kilns. You know – the kind of stores populated by a bunch of older women and a handful of cats.

Not only did I not own a kiln, I hadn’t actually applied the final glaze to my own pieces before. At Pour Horse I was invariably doing the detailing up until the last minute, so Joan had always applied the gloss and then shipped the finished piece to me. It would be the first of many skills that Joan would teach me over the phone. (Thank goodness for unlimited calling plans!)

Looking back, I can only marvel at my own insanity. I had promised the horse for a NAMHSA auction, even though I didn’t actually have the facilities to make the horse, or the precise knowledge of how to finish her. And ceramic production being what it was, I wouldn’t even know if I did it all right until the end. Yet I handed her over to the nice women at Creative Crafts and left for a family vacation. I would return the day before the event and then drive on to the show that day to deliver her. The whole vacation I worried that someone’s ceramic Christmas tree might end up permanently welded to my horse’s barrel. Or that she might end up in some forgotten corner of the shop (there seemed to be lot of those). Or get knocked over by a cat. Now I realize that the real risk was that I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was doing, but then I was blissfully ignorant about that part.

I had pretty much forgotten all that, at least until I began working on this one. It was a good reminder that sometimes the best thing is to take a few crazy chances and do something you aren’t quite sure you know how to do.

Continue Reading