I got a new toy this week – a rather expensive Iwata HP-BH, with a tiny 0.2 needle for detail work. Having tweeted excitedly, a rather arrogant individual decided to lecture me about how dual action airbrushes were too complex for painting minis, despite the fact I’ve happily been using an Iwata Neo and two cheaper dual actions for some time now, and that most of the articles and my research recommends duals. It made me step back, though, and really think about the importance of our tools in what we do, and how the right tool for you is far more important than the RIGHT tool that everyone is shouting about … and also how the right tool for you isn’t the right tool for everybody.
Lets start with the main tool we use to apply paints to miniatures … brushes! I had another interesting discussion this week about the best brushes. Brushes have so many quirks! There are probably 4 main factors in choice of brush – the material of the bristles, the shape of the bristles, the shape of the handle, and the length of a handle. I don’t think anyone would argue that Kolinsky Sable is the best material for bristles – it maintains its shape really well, and responds really well to a maintenance regimes of good cleaning, brush soap and conditioner. Artificial bristles can be pretty much as good, but don’t tend to last. The shape is very important for some particular painting tasks – the round ended GW stippling brush is fabulous, as is the slanted Army Painter dry brush, for example – but the general brush shape is standard. The length varies, though should always come to a fine point – the idea behind a tiny ultra detail brush isn’t that you can paint a finer line – its so your visibility of the tiny details isn’t obscured as you do so. The shape of a handle can make a massive difference – I find the triangular feel of the Army Painter brushes really stable in my hand, though I find it difficult to paint curving lines as smoothly. In terms of handle length, the length tends to determine the heft in your hand, and the balance, and is a very personal touch. It doesn’t often make much difference in terms of general technique, as you’ll hold it close to the point for control, except for slapping paint on tanks with a larger brush.
Most longer term hobbyists will swear by one brand for their general purpose brushes, and pick up specialist brushes from a range of suppliers for individual techniques. I use expensive Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes for my absolute top quality models – commanders, painting contest entries and the like. Generally, I use Army Painter brushes for regimental work, GW stippling brushes, and the wonderful slanted army painter dry brushes and … even a Games & Gears Katana brush for freehand bits occasionally, though I really wouldn’t recommend the rest of their line. Its the combination that works for me. Some use series 7s for everything, others like Rosemary & Co brushes (which aren’t far off W&N for quality but much cheaper), other swear by the round GW brushes where I use triangular Army Painter ones. It is very much a matter of taste.
I’ve written a whole series about airbrushes, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, except to say that it is really important to find a brush that works for you. Some people love Iwatas (like me), while others love badgers, and others like simple cheap single action brushes. Partly it depends on how you want to use the airbrush – if you just want to chuck down a simple one colour primer, a dual action probably is a bit much, though for really even coverage a single trigger can have some sputter on initial trigger pulls compared to a dual with separate airflow…. though the pain in maintaining and cleaning it has to be taken into account. Its funny how individual taste with the various brands can go – I really like the Iwata trigger action, and definitely like the level of control with the duals.
Applying decals is another area where tools can matter. While most decals can be applied using simple water and applying it onto paint, varnishing the area first and using dedicated transfer solutions to ensure smooth application can really make a difference! I don’t use transfers much myself – I like folded insignia or pads, or airbrush stencils, but using a dedicated solution makes a heck of a difference.
In short, you can’t do a great piece of work with rubbish tools, generally. Adequate tools can get great results, but won’t generally last as long. And great tools aren’t cheap, but you can really guarantee consistent results. I wish I could say they guarantee great results, but thats down to you! So much of the final choice is down to what effects you want to try, and your personal ergonomics. A tiny handed person isn’t going to get on with large brushes, while a larger chap is probably going to favour a little more heft to their brush. Just accept that what works for you won’t work for everyone, and bear that in mind listening to their recommendations too.