Basic Airbrush Exercises That Will Improve Your Airbrushing

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What's This?

As an airbrush artist you will use a variety of strokes to compile your paintings. Most of the strokes that you use will fall into just a few different categories. These categories are dots, lines, dagger strokes and cut and fades. A good example of how an airbrush artist uses a stroke to build a painting, or an element of an airbrush painting is hair. Generally an artist would use several hundred, maybe even thousands of different size and type dagger strokes to build a representation of hair. The simple strokes that we use to build paintings are very important. Therefor it is important that we practice the strokes over and over again.  So what I really wanted to do here is show you some of the more important strokes you can use and how to practice them.

 Airbrushing Dots

I will start with the most basic stroke, which really is not a stroke at all, the dot! You will use dot to accomplish many different desired effects. From highlighting to texture building the dot has endless uses. So when practicing airbrushing dots it is important to focus on varying dot size and placement accuracy.  Your goal is to become accurate, speed will then follow.  One of the best exercises is to start with a small dot then incrementally move up to a larger dot size while maintaining equal spacing. This will improve your accuracy greatly.  Another great exercise which I did not include on my reference sheet is the circle dot exercise where you airbrush a circle and then aim for the center with a dot. This will increase your accuracy.
airbrush practice 1

 Airbrushing Lines

The next basic stroke that you should practice is the line. You will use lines of different sizes, lengths and directions constantly.  So when practicing your lines make sure that you use different techniques. I dont recommend you copy my practice sheet below, but uses it for reference. Take for example the left side of the sheet below. See the lines that start out small then build into larger lines. This practice is similar to the dot exercise above. You should practice lines from the left, lines from the right, lines from the top and lines from the bottom. Dont forget about practicing lines at various angles. You can also practice small texture building exercises.

airbrush linesAirbrushing Dagger Strokes

The next stroke is the famed dagger stroke. The dagger stroke is one of the most challenging and important strokes you will ever learn. Dagger strokes and variations of the dagger stroke are used constantly in airbrushing. Like skinning a cat there is more than one way to create dagger strokes. The most common way to airbrush a dagger stroke is very much like airbrushing a line except that as you begin to get closer to the end of your line you move the tip of your airbrush closer to your painting surface. So you essentially end up with a line that is thick on one side and thinner as the line progresses. It is good to do basic dagger strokes from left to right and then right to left. As well as from top to bottom and bottom to top. You should also practice curved dagger strokes and other directionally oriented daggers. You can even as pictured below build small dagger stroke based textures to practice.


airbrush dagger stokes

Airbrushing Cut And Blends

Finally cut and blend strokes are the most challenging strokes you will ever learn airbrushing. Cut and blending is actually a series of strokes that work together to create a single blend. As you can see from the image below cut and blending is the blending out from a sharp edge to a feathered out edge. The thing about cut and blends is that you are creating a sharp edge without using a freehand mask. The edge that you create is sharp, but it is not overly sharp. Freehand airbrush masks create edges that are many times to sharp. As you create your blends you gradually increase the angle at which your holding your airbrush. You general start at about a 90 degree angle and continue to increase that angle as you blend the stroke out into a gradient. Like all of the above strokes you should be practicing directional blending from different angle. You should also practice circular angles.

airbrush cut and blends

I hope this article gives you an idea of the more important airbrush strokes that you should be practicing. You will begin to see where these strokes work in your paintings as you progress in your airbrushing. I put the images together exclusively for this article, so there are many other exercises you can practice to progress in your airbrushing. Be creative in your exercises and practice strokes that are going to give you maximum control and accuracy. If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments below.

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