Paint, Angst and a Flathead Screwdriver


When I think about airbrushing, I think about my first experience, about 50 years ago.

I was 10 and I had been a “modeler” for 3 years. I’d hand-painted all my models and was actually, for that time, not all that bad at it. Very early on however, I already started to get frustrated with the results, since I couldn’t get rid of the paint streaks or brush marks. Whatever I tried, there was always some brush stroke that was left behind and became visible, after the paint had completely dried. It drove me nuts!

When I pointed these “tragedies” out to my mother to extract some sort of sympathy, she, as loving mothers almost always do, told her son that it looked “wonderful” and that there was nothing wrong with it. I knew, even then, she was faking it! What did she know about modeling! I was ten and experienced! I could have finger-painted the damned thing and she still would have found a way to praise it into high heaven! This was not going well.

Then there was my father, who in his own way, was able to show more understanding, especially when a man’s job was in question. Maybe he would be more lenient to listen, if I skillfully pleaded my case.

A week before at a local craft show, I had seen “a man” who, haplessly wedged between two tables of Bobbin Lace and Pyrography, was “spray-painting” a silver Airfix C-130 Hercules. Placed behind him was an old pool table, covered with a large glass lid. In there, in contrast with the green felt, were at least 50 Airfix and Frog kits, immaculately painted! Boy, that was something! I must have asked him a thousand questions within the hour I was there and from what I remember, his hands started to shake violently after 30 minutes! I felt sorry for him because he was “old” and old people tremble. Little did I know, it was me that gave him the willies!

Nevertheless, I was all homed in, getting one of these spray-painting-things, whatever the cost! So, I started “working” my dad and after some chores and being uncomfortable extra friendly for a week, the old man gave in and off we went, to the hobby store.

Following some haggling with the owner of what would be best for his son, we left the store, me holding the coveted airbrush. It was made from black plastic. It had an open side feed but no fine tuning. I forgot the brand name but remember that it came in a plexi case with a blue hose, adapter and an aerosol can. Couldn’t wait to get home. I already had lined up a few projects, one being a German staff car in an odd scale.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the sun was out so mother allowed me to paint in the sun room as long as dad was supervising. With juddering hands, I wrangled the airbrush from its nesting and tried to attach the hose to the can with propellant. Somehow, I had managed to inadvertently screw the adapter on crooked. The pin that needed to pierce the top of the can, didn’t go all the way in, which prevented air being fed to the gun. My father came to the rescue, but for some reason was not successful in removing the adapter either. I had forced it on in such a way that something had snapped and it became impossible to get it back off, no matter which way you turned the adapter.

After staring at it for a few minutes, dad decided to use a large flat head screwdriver and try to pry the cap back off. And yes, you guessed it, a hole was poked but not where it was supposed to be! Suddenly all hell broke loose! The aerosol can, took off like a Saturn V rocket, ripping it out of my father’s grip and in the process, yanking the airbrush out of my little hands, splashing paint all over the place. It flew through the window, broke the glass, entered the living room and knocked over the Delfts Blue vase my dad had bought my mother for her birthday a week before. It ended its trajectory by getting stuck in the plaster of the back living room wall, hissing like an angry snake until it literally run out of air.

Although the whole ordeal only lasted a few seconds, it turned our house into a battle zone! Dad’s face gave new meaning to the “Whiter Shade of Pale” song and I stood there with my mouth and eyes wide open, speechless and covered in Chocolate Brown Humbrol! We both stared at my mother, who ran to the broken window, afraid to find out that the Germans were back for the third time!

Needless to say, that my airbrushing education was pushed to the back burner for a while. Until my father, one day, completely out of the blue, showed up with ginormous inflated inner tube of a truck tire, strapped to the roof of the family car!

He had rigged up some contraption, where I could connect my airbrush to the tube and use the air to spray paint. It worked! I was able to do some “professional” work going forward. I even convinced my older sister about the importance of air pressure and made her to sit off and on the tire while airbrushing, so I could “regulate” it!

I made many eyebrows raise in my street, when neighbors witnessed me go back and forth, rolling a big inner tube to the gas station 3-4 times a week…

I’m glad that the hobby came a long way since then with numerous choices in quality airbrushes and accessories. But if you would ask me, if I would do the same thing if I had a chance to go back in time? Without hesitation I will tell you, that I would give up my right arm to relive that moment all over again!


Jef V.

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