Last weekend (Saturday October 3, 2020), I attended the first of four sessions in a class series by Aaron Lovejoy on using airbrushes for miniature painting. I thought it might be helpful for me to share my review of the class. It’s still possible to get in on one or all of the remaining sessions. You can also get the videos from the first lesson and feedback in the homework group if you want to sign up for the full series. Aaron Lovejoy will likely once again offer this in live workshops and additional online classes, so I figured it was worth writing a review for general purposes, as well. I have found other people’s reviews of classes and workshops helpful in determining whether something would be a good fit for me, so I thought I might as well share my thoughts.
I gave my Narthrax a dip in isopropyl alcohol. It’s my preferred way of cleaning miniatures.
I started writing this also intending to share some thoughts about my journey in learning to use an airbrush, and general ideas about learning, but I think it would be better to split those out to a separate post. I’ll keep notes as I go through the rest of the classes, and then share my learning journey thoughts.
Aaron Lovejoy is a prolific painter. He’s painted armies and display figures on commission for many years. He has done a lot of painting for the Shadows of Brimstone game. He uses an airbrush throughout the painting process, not just for zenithal priming or painting the main area. I’m definitely intrigued to see more of that in the later sessions! Aaron is part of the Miniature Monthly team that runs in person workshops (when the world is not on fire), and online learning through their Patreon.
Assembled and ready to duke it out with the airbrush. Chomp!
After taking this first class, it is already clear to me that Aaron is an experienced teacher who has worked with students before on this material. (And a lot of other topics!) He obviously prepared in advance, and worked to present the information in a logical order that built on itself. He demonstrated his points thoroughly (including an unplanned what not to do example!) His video set up allows you to see what is happening probably better than you would be able to at an in person event.
This first 101 class might seem basic, but in my experience as a newbie trying two very different styles of airbrushes, the basics are critical. You need to know how to take the airbrush apart and put it back together again, how to clean it, and how to swap out paint colours before you can do all the fun cool stuff. And most critically, you need to know how to deal with clogs and paint drying on the tip of the needle. Aaron reviewed all of this in depth, with lots of tips and info on handy tools. He discussed several other issues that commonly come up in airbrush painting for miniatures, as well.
Step one: Laying some shadows in over a black base coat.
If you don’t have a Reaper Vex or Badger airbrush and you want to take the class, I recommend searching YouTube for a video of someone breaking down and cleaning the brand of brush you do have. You’ll get the general info from Aaron, and still be able to figure out any quirks or differences your specific brush might have. Even way back in 2012 I found videos for my GREX that made the cleaning, disassembly, and reassembly much less scary. (Some pics and thoughts about my Reaper Vex and GREX Tritium airbrushes.)
Throughout this 101 class Aaron answered questions from attendees and helped people with specific problems, and he continues to do that in our homework chat group. He was ably assisted in that by Liz both during the class and in the homework group. Having a second person monitoring the chat and relaying questions allowed him focus on his presentation and helping people out. I need to find a way to convince my husband to do this for me. ;->
Step two: now for some midtones.
After our overview of the basics, things got a lot more exciting – he showed us how to paint a dragon! Or a large figure of your choice. Colour swaps were fine too. I did find it helpful to have and use his colours and his figure, because I find it easier to compare and contrast my work with the instructor’s when I do that. He gave some great advice on choosing colours for use in this kind of airbrushing. There are some differences to how I pick colours for brush painting, and this is definitely information I could have used when I first tried airbrushing some years ago!
Aaron quickly ran through the steps he would take to airbrush a foundation of paint onto Narthrax. Aaron’s ‘foundation’ would make for a nice looking dragon on most tabletops. I’d be fine just adding some details like talons and teeth by brush and calling it good for game play, but I’ll likely be tempted to fiddle a little more than that. ;-> I painted the first step of shadows during the class, but decided to wait and review the second video before painting more. Others airbrushed more quickly and were able to get some critique on their work at the end of the class. Those of us who were slower are able to post pictures to a Discord group for class members and get feedback on our miniatures, as well as answers to airbrush issues and questions.
Step three: highlights.
Following the class we received a PDF that summarized the main points with lots of useful reference pictures. We also have links to the video of the class itself, and a video of Aaron painting Narthrax the dragon a bit more thoroughly. Those will remain up for reference until the end of November. I watched the Narthrax video before I finished my attempts to follow Aaron’s example on my copy. I’m pretty happy with him!
There are definite advantages to this type of interactive remote instruction. I find scheduled events and limited access to information pushes me to study something more thoroughly and do more practice with it than I usually do with permanent access videos, which I usually put off studying until some time when I’m less busy. (A time I begin to doubt will ever appear…) It’s also great fun when a group of people are working on something at the same time and posting their results. There’s an energy to it, and it’s fun to see people’s different interpretations and approaches. It can be as helpful to ponder the feedback given to others as the feedback on my own work.
Step four: bonus fun colour.
The one downside of this and any remote course is that there are some limits to remote feedback. It’s not possible for Aaron to physically examine your airbrush or compressor to help solve problems, or to study how you’re using these tools, examine your paint dilution, etc. And while cameras and our ability to use them to take pictures of miniatures have improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years, there are still some things that we can’t see in pictures the same way that we do in person. Aaron is doing his best within the parameters, but it’s something to be aware of. (But the fact that a lot of miniature painting instructors are using this usual time to get more set up for online instruction is a boon to the main people who can’t get to painting workshops and conventions though!)
FULL DISCLOSURE NOTE: I am friends with Aaron. I am a freelance painter for Reaper Miniatures. It is reasonable to imagine that I am predisposed to think favourably of both. :-> However, it is also worth noting that I wrote this on my own initiative. Nothing I wrote is based on any obligation or expectation of either Aaron or Reaper.