Review: Aaron Lovejoy’s Airbrushing 101 Class

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.

IMG 1391I 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.

IMG 1392Assembled 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.

IMG 1421Step 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. ;->

IMG 1455Step 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.

IMG 1457Step 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.

IMG 1474Step 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. 

Products in this Post
Narthrax the dragon in Bones plastic
Reaper Vex airbrush

Vex Airbrush Impressions and October Airbrush Class Signups

I got my hands on a Reaper Vex airbrush! This was part of a preview sale release at ReaperCon, but they will go back on sale on Monday, September 28, 2020. Check this page after that date.

IMG 1356

I gotta admit, it’s a sexy looking gadget. But can it possibly work as well for me as Aaron Lovejoy has claimed and demonstrated in his recent videos?

I took it for a spin to find out. I’m not a total airbrush novice, but I am the next thing to. My current airbrush is a GREX Tritium. It is a very well-made airbrush, and after an initial session or two of struggling to figure it out, I haven’t really had any problems with it. But I also haven’t really loved it enough to catch the airbrushing bug. Unless I’m painting a lot of smaller things in the same colours or painting something larger, it doesn’t seem worth dragging it out or, more particularly, cleaning it up after (and between colours). I don’t do either of those things very often.

One issue the Tritium has is I think it is more of a 1.5 action than true dual action. I’m going to have to give it a thorough cleaning and try again, but on previous attempts I was not able to get a spray of just air alone.

Mystics baddies 1000Villains from the Mice and Mystics board game. Painted in 2013. I really haven’t used my airbrush enough…

The last time I tried airbrushing with my Tritium, my compressor overheated and then I ended up not liking the colours I had picked. I started fixing it with standard brushes instead of dragging out the airbrush again. (My GREX airbrush is high quality, but I’m not so sure about my compressor… Though I have my water trap on my compressor, not on my hose as Aaron recommends, so maybe that would help.)

Rocky group 800My GREX definitely came in useful for doing base coats and initial highlights on chonky baby dragons though!

Although I’m not very practiced with airbrushes, I have learned one tip to pass along. You need to know your brush well. You need to feel comfortable taking it apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together, because that’s how you fix most problems. So for my first session trying out the new Reaper Vex, I rewatched Aaron’s demo video and sat down to do only that. I had to go back and watch a section of video again because I didn’t remember how to reassemble the trigger parts after the first watching. I shot some water through it and called it a night. Whatever brand of airbrush you have, I recommend looking for some videos of people breaking it down and putting it back together again to have for handy reference.

I had a group of figures to prime, so for my next session with the Vex I started there. Just basic grey brush-on primer. (The figures are for a project I can’t yet reveal, so no picture, sorry. Also because of the nature of the project, I couldn’t try the zenithal prime method from Aaron’s videos.) It did not go well at first. I’m not sure what I had done wrong, but it was sputtering and reluctant to spray. I poured out the primer and cleaned out the brush.

IMG 1371At the end of my first airbrushing session with the Reaper Vex. The grey blob is primer that got spilled when I knocked over one of those mixing cups.

For my second attempt I decided to try some spraying some regular paint on a Bones figure since that’s easier to clean up than primer. This went much better! I gave the primer another shot, and that went well too! The Vex is light and sleek, so it seemed less cumbersome to put down and pick up and so on for the frequent tip cleaning (required with any airbrush when using acrylic paint), moving the minis around, refilling the cup, etc. I used the last of my grey primer to do a sort of zenithal prime on the Bones mini I had practiced with earlier to practice my aim with the Vex a little more. (That figure, which is in the picture, has a darker grey overall spray and then a light grey zenithal spray, so not really true zenithal prime. I was going to paint over it anyway so it didn’t much matter about the colours.)

I only used the larger needle since I was spraying primer, I didn’t switch to the fine needle and try that. The larger needle seemed to do pretty well with more targeted spraying, as well. I will need a lot more practice before I can do the sort of detail work Aaron shows off in his video, though! Tools are only one part of that equation. I’d have to do a more thorough comparison, but I felt like it was a little easier to aim for where I was spraying than I have found it with the Tritium.

VexThe silver end needle is larger for priming and base coats, the black end needle is smaller for more detail work.

I’m excited about the possibilities for airbrushing more often and more comfortably in the future. I had expected to have more problems with the dual action trigger, because I’m not very coordinated at doing multiple things at the same time. I was also concerned about whether the classic airbrush style of trigger would be an issue with my hands. The reason I bought the pistol trigger style GREX is I have some issues with pain in my hands and fingers. (I don’t know the exact issue, my doctor poked around a bit and gave up on it.) Using this traditional trigger style airbrush was more comfortable than I had expected! I suspect I’ll have days when it will hurt my hands, but being able to use it for a few hours on a good hand day is honestly more than I had expected. 

IMG 1358The pouch is more convenient for easy access home storage than the larger Reaper case or the plastic case of my GREX. Those plastic cases are great to have for safer travel and long term storage though.

I finished up the session by taking the brush apart to clean it. I’m not fanatical, I don’t typically use airbrush cleaner, but I like to be thorough in rinsing everything out with water and wiping/scrubbing it down before putting an airbrush away if I’m not sure how long it’s going to be until I next use it. If only I had such good habits with my wet palette. ;->

There are some features I miss from my GREX. The Vex paint cup is built-in, you have to choose small or large size at purchase. The GREX paint cups screw on and I can swap between three sizes depending on the needs of my project. The chrome of the GREX is very easy to wipe paint off of, though the plastic is decidedly less so. The Vex finish is in-between. Both come with a crown cap to protect the needle. The GREX came with two styles of crown. (The bit on the front that protects the needle tip but also makes it a little harder to see when aiming for precise application.) Both attach magnetically, which is very convenient. They also magnetically attach to the back of the airbrush to store when you aren’t using them. The Vex has a reversible cap, but in both orientations you have to screw it on. The GREX also has a magnetic cap for the paint cup. The Vex has a plastic cap. The paint cup caps on either get pretty messy if you use them (and many people do not), but it’s less messy than tilting your brush and spilling paint all over. The GREX came with a printed instruction booklet that lists the part numbers of replacement parts and is very thorough in instructions for cleaning. It was still super helpful to watch videos of someone breaking down and reassembling the brush, but it’s handy to have that printed reference.

IMG 1380My GREX Tritium. A wealth of paint cups. The fitted case is nice, but only the bottom is fitted. The top is clear plastic and not snug to the contents. So for travel and storage I have to add bubble wrap padding.

Both the Vex and the GREX have a nice feature for those of us who are newer to airbrushing. You can set a ‘brake’ that limits the maximum volume/pressure of spray. If you twist the knob at the back of the brush, it limits how far you can pull back on the trigger. So if you’re doing delicate detail work you can set that to ensure you don’t shoot a really strong spray by accident. 

IMG 1359The soft case has a main pocket for the airbrush, and a second pocket for the other needle. The Vex ships with both needles. My GREX can accept multiple needle sizes, but I would have to swap out the nozzle as well as the needle every time I wanted to switch. (And buy the other size nozzle and needle.) With the Vex you just need to clean out the paint and swap the needles and you’re good to go.

Although my initial attempts went pretty well, I’m also well aware that I don’t really know what I’m doing. How do I actually get good at this? What can I use it for apart from priming and base coats? I decided the most effective way for me to learn would be to sign up for the Miniature Monthly airbrush classes in October. That will give me four sessions of instruction with a master of the airbrush and regular practice sessions that should leave me feeling a lot more comfortable using this nifty new tool. Reaper has put together packages to buy the paints and figures Aaron will use in the classes, but you can use your own paint and supplies, and any brand of airbrush.

Has anyone else picked up a Vex airbrush? How are you liking it so far? Or are any of you signed up for the Miniature Monthly classes? (They also have a cool Patreon with information on lots of different painting techniques.)

NOTE: My information about both the Vex and the GREX should be considered first impressions rather than in-depth reviews. I am not an experienced enough airbrush user right now to write quality in-depth reviews, and even if I were, I haven’t used either enough to do a true review.