Aaron Lovejoy Classes: Review

I previously reviewed Aaron Lovejoy’s Airbrushing 101 class. At the time I figured that was enough of an overview of Aaron’s attitude and approach to be helpful to other people deciding whether to take his classes. I found the experience of the Airbrushing 102 class revelatory enough that I started working on a review about that. But, I’m me, so between one thing and another I didn’t get that finished in a timely matter. On the upside, now I can review the class series as a whole.

I don’t know when Aaron will next offer his airbrushing class series, but he is currently taking signups for a class series on non-metallic metal to take place in January, so I figure this review will still be useful for people to help decide whether to take that. 

IMG 1474Airbrush 101 took us this far through painting a dragon! The airbrush 104 refresher video demonstrated ways to use an airbrush on other areas of the dragon I haven’t had a chance to practice yet. 

First, a little background on where I’m coming from as a reviewer. I’ve taken dozens of miniature painting classes at conventions. I’ve also taken a few weekend workshops. I have a lot of miniature painting video instruction, too, from the very first DVDs that came out years ago, to the videos released by the Patreons I support last week. (Though I will confess that I have not watched as much of that material as I should have yet!) For the past few years I’ve been studying traditional art, so I’ve also taken part in a lot of in person and online instruction on drawing and painting. I’ve studied everything from free YouTube videos, to $5 mini workshops, to $35 DVDs, to a $400 week long oil painting workshop. And I also teach miniature painting myself, both through this blog, and at convention classes. I have as active an interest in studying the methods of teaching and guiding as I do in the subject of the class.

Lastly I should note that I am friends with Aaron Lovejoy and Liz Hunt. This review is not given in exchange for consideration, and I feel no compunction to give a positive review. I am friends with a lot of people in our industry and feel free to choose the option of saying nothing at all if I don’t feel comfortable saying something negative about friends. 

The online instruction structure that Aaron Lovejoy and Liz Hunt have developed might be one of the few good things to come out of pandemic life. They clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the program before it started. Once it began, they refined and improved their approach based on feedback from their students. 

DotsAaron has developed a system of exercises to build levels of precision and finesse of airbrushing that I had not previously thought possible. (He demonstrates his skills in this video.) I can attest that the exercises help. My initial attempts on the left were poor. With practice I improved to be able to do the example on the right. I still have lots of practice to be able to do anything like what Aaron can do!

The following is an overview of the general structure for the classes, and I would anticipate that the structure for the non-metallic metal series will be similar. I took the entire series of four classes, but it is possible to take only an individual class or two.

Signup
After enrolment we received a document listing the topics that would be taught in each class, and the supplies that Aaron would use in each. Aaron outlined the figure prep for each class in a video, and discussed figure alternatives that would work for each class. (He was also responsive to questions about alternative supplies throughout the classes.)

Pre-Class
Prior to each class we received a class notes document. This allowed us to read and be familiar with it before the class itself. We also got reminder links to the supplies list and prep video. 

Class
Live classes took place on Zoom. Aaron had everything prepped and ready to go on his end, no time was wasted. (Something I have regularly found to be an issue in classes I’ve taken in the past.) Liz monitored the chat and Q&A channels and communicated questions and issues anyone was having to Aaron. I suspect that as a teacher that this was very helpful on his end as well as ours. He could focus more on instruction instead of having to multitask looking at a lot of screens.

The class was set up with the intention that students paint along after each demo stage, and then post photos of their results on a Discord channel for Aaron to look at and give advice. It did take some speediness to keep up with that. There were a few times I decided to wait to follow later steps until after the class, and I know a few others did the same. The structure worked well to accommodate both student approaches.

Aaron and Liz were not at all stingy with their time. I think we went over time pretty much every session because Aaron was thorough in answering questions and reviewing submitted photos.

Post-Class Refresher
It can take a considerable amount of time to edit videos and upload them. To help students keep momentum, Aaron prepared a refresher video in advance, and it was made available to access immediately after the class. These videos demonstrated the painting steps a bit more thoroughly and leisurely, and in most cases included additional bonus information or additional examples of how to put the techniques from the class into practice in miniature painting.

Class Video Recording
Within a few days the recording of the actual class was available for access. This allowed the structure to work for those of us who had to miss a live session. I find you usually find something you missed when you watch material like more than once, particularly if you watch it after having put some practice in yourself, so it was also useful to those who were present for the live session. 

Homework Critique
This is one of the areas that improved during the class series. We had access to a Discord channel for each class where we could post pictures of our practice for review, and ask questions. Initially Aaron responded to everything with text messages within the Discord channel, but he quickly evolved that to daily video critiques for a week following each class. He displayed the photos on screen while pointing out issues and successes with the practice attempts. We were all able to easily see and benefit from each other’s critiques as well as our own. Liz and Aaron continued to answer questions in the Discord channel as well.

Gnoll zeniAirbrush 102 also focused on good zenithal priming. My feedback on the my first attempt (left) was less about airbrush use and more where to place shadow and light more effectively, as in the adjusted version on the right.

Review: Positives

As a student, I was very pleased with this approach. In many ways I think it is superior to a lot of in person instruction. The fact that you continue to have contact with both the instructor and other students for a week after the session is a significant advantage. It gives you time to practice and get feedback, and to benefit from the shared struggles and successes of others. This is very different from a convention class where you are usually unlikely to have much time to practice during the convention, and often can’t easily find the instructor later for feedback anyway. (ReaperCon is a little different in that regard, but you still have a lot of other fun activities competing for your attention there.)

This scheduled class approach works in my experience. The nice thing about a permanent on demand video through DVD or Patreon or whatever is that it is there whenever you want to access it. The bad thing about recorded video is that ‘whenever you want’ often becomes ‘I’ll watch that later’, which often ends up meaning never. Or even if you do watch now it’s easy to put off trying to practice what you learn. A scheduled event prompts you figure out how to fit it into your schedule and do it now. That’s not going to work for everyone every time, but if you find you aren’t self-directing your study of recorded materials as well as you’d like, you might want to give something like this a try. Having a recording of the live session available within a day or three meant those who couldn’t attend live could still take advantage of the information, but also still had that push to practice and study now to be able to get feedback. There was an energy and cohesion among the participants that I haven’t often seen in discussion fora for permanent on demand information.

Zenithal comboMore zenithal priming practice.

Aaron and Liz clearly put a lot of effort into this series of classes. Information was prepared in advance and the presentation was polished. (But still in Aaron’s affable and goofy style.) Both were attentive to student questions and concerns, and just generally accessible and friendly. Several of the daily critique sessions included additional review of class material or extra information in response to student concerns/conversation, and I’m sure these extras required additional time and effort on Aaron’s part that he may not originally have planned for.

One thing I particularly appreciated about Aaron’s instruction is that he included a lot of information about why and when he does what he does.  His feedback often emphasized lighting and focus on figures through use of value and saturation. The nuts and bolts of how to use an airbrush and perform the specific techniques he does with it is invaluable information, but it’s only half of the puzzle of getting a great looking paint job. I really appreciated getting insight into his choice and placement of colours.

As an instructor, I have been considering methods for online instruction for some time now as I prepared to start my Patreon. This experience has given me a lot of food for thought. 

Ab blending fullAirbrush 103 focused on how to use an airbrush to blend and glaze figures. I went a bit overboard by the point of the final picture on the right and would need to bring back some of the midtones and highlights. Aaron repeatedly emphasized that this, like many other miniature painting techniques, is a back and forth process.

Review: Negatives

One of the big draws of attending in person classes and workshops is the opportunity to get feedback. Even the best camera equipment and photo setup can’t capture every aspect of seeing a three dimensional object in person with our own eyes. And most of us aren’t working with the best equipment or knowledge! There were times with the photos in the homework group that Aaron couldn’t be sure whether the issue was more with the photograph or the miniature(s). He took the approach of acknowledging that and proceeding with the advice he’d give if it were the figure.

It may also be worth noting that digital camera technology has improved in leaps and bounds. Most of us have better cameras in our phones than those people paid hundreds of dollars for 10 or 15 years ago. Until the point of talking about subtle nuances of colour changes and so on, you can get some pretty good information from a photo. Photo critiques also allow the instructor time to reflect on the image, or use photo editing to illustrate points. 

IMG 1589Airbrush 104 demonstrated how to use the airbrush to glaze, refine, and enhance almost finished figures. This picture is not my attempt at doing any of those things. ;-> Between real life crises and work demands, I haven’t had the time to practice anything from 104. I did use information from the three preceding classes to put a foundation on the skin of these goblins though.

Live classes also allow instructors to study the painter’s materials and process as well as their results. When I first started teaching classes I would describe and do a quick demo of the consistency of paint needed for the techniques used in the class. There would always be a few people who were quite off when mixing their own paint to practice in class. Over time I came up with different ways to explain and demonstrate consistency, and I try to use as many of these as possible to be clear in classes. Fewer people have problems now, but it is still the case that my feedback is often based on an assessment of their paint dilution or the type of brush they have. Often you can see the issues by studying their work, but it can help to see the tools and tool preparation, as well. However, if I’m being honest, it is rare for me to study how someone is holding the brush and manipulating it and comment on that specific a level, and I don’t recall a lot of that happening in classes I’ve taken with others. There’s a lot going on in a 90 minute class and it’s hard to see since we’re working at such small scale. So while in theory this might be one of the things you miss out on with an online experience, in practice I’m not sure it’s as big a detriment as it seems.

The inability to review equipment and its use may have been more of an issue with the airbrush class than it would be with a standard brush painting class. Airbrushes aren’t super complex, but they are devices and there’s a little more to them than just use the hairy end like on a regular brush. There were probably issues that could have been resolved more quickly or easily if Aaron could have looked at someone’s airbrush or compressor in person.

VexWait, which end do I use?

There was something I would have found very helpful to see as part of the class. Aaron talked a lot about how he uses the skills and techniques from the four classes, but I would have found it very helpful to see his process of painting with a combination of brush and airbrush from start to finish to get the best idea of how the puzzle pieces all fit together. Switching back and forth seems like it must be a bit clunky, but Aaron paints a lot faster than I can, so clearly he makes it work!

One thing that is an issue is live video quality. The main venue for paid live classes is Zoom, and Zoom has somewhat poor video quality. (And occasional brief audio stutters and the like, but this is common in any live video format.) I have experienced that not just in Aaron’s classes, but also with video workshops for traditional media. There the issue is compounded by the fact that most traditional artists do not have the video setup and expertise that Aaron has developed in his years making Patreon videos. Luckily for students of the airbrush classes, the recorded video we had access to within a few days was of much higher quality. (Which is not always the base with my live traditional art workshops.) I don’t know if there’s another alternative to Zoom. I’d guess not or we wouldn’t all be using Zoom. I hope Zoom is aware that people are using this for more than video conference calls now and works to improve their video quality.

Figures in this Post

Reaper Vex Airbrush information
Narthrax the dragon is available in plastic.
The Gnoll Warrior is available in plastic or metal.
The Ogre Guard is available in plastic or metal.
Athak undead knight is available in plastic or metal.
Arran Rabin is available in plastic or metal.
The Bloodbite Goblins are available in metal, or in plastic by adding the Dungeon Dwellers set to your Bones 5 pledge.

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