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Not Clean...Not Paint
By Michael Cacy
While this installment of Cacy's Corner may not seem as "flashy" as a few of my previous installments, the premise of this specific column is a fact of life for airbrush artists.
Cleaning your airbrush during the painting process and at the conclusion of any painting session is a must. Anyone with airbrush experience knows that a dirty or clogged airbrush just won't perform the way that it should. The information I offer here comes from years of keeping my airbrushes operational without going "bonkers."
Nobody ever said that airbrushes aren't sometimes cantankerous. The head design of most airbrushes is somewhat delicate, so even the tiniest particle of pigment or dust may cause you problems. Keeping your airbrush clean has always been a priority, but modern airbrushes offer some advantages over those I started with in the sixties. I have used most available brands and types of airbrushes over the years. Not being the tidiest artist on the planet, for me, the advent of gravity feed airbrushes allowed for more time spent painting and less time spent cussing and fooling around with the airbrush. The airbrush I use most is a simple Iwata HP-C, a gravity feed airbrush with a relatively large cup (large enough to get a finger into). I like the speed and ease of clearing the airbrush as I paint and the simplicity of cleanup once I finish a project. Siphon feed airbrushes (those where a paint cup or bottle attach at the side or bottom of the airbrush) may be your cup of tea, but they also present more areas to be cleaned. For the type of work I am most often engaged in, the gravity feed types work more painlessly for me, but whether you use a gravity feed or siphon feed airbrush, the principles are the same.
Do not get into the habit of wiping down any part of your airbrush (except the exterior of the body) with a tissue or paper towel. Reason: If you wipe the inside of the paint cup with a paper towel, paper filaments or fibers may get inside and clog the nozzle. This can cause you undue aggravation. You are better off using a lint-free cloth rag.
I prefer to clean the paint cup using a fairly stiff #4 synthetic bristle brush and/or a cotton swab. I work mainly with water-base media, and the easiest way to clear wet paint is to flush clean water through the airbrush. But, when paint remains, I flush a little airbrush cleaner through my airbrush. If you use volatile media, the principle is the same, but you would use a solvent instead of water and cleaner.
Never allow paint of any kind to dry in your airbrush! Clean up your airbrush while the paint is still in liquid form. This is especially true if you paint with traditional artist's acrylics like Liquitex.
Occasionally remove the needle from your airbrush and draw the business end through a rag moistened with cleaner or thinner.
If parts need to be soaked in cleaner, leave them soaking for only an hour. Rinse when done.
So, clean and agreeable, your airbrush remains your best friend and ready to paint another day.
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