Early Airbrush Stigma

This amusing illustration for a paper advertisement is by William Addison Dwiggins. It pokes fun at airbrush artists of the time. It depicts of a weary artist, slouched in an armchair, using an airbrush to create a painting while a servant operates the hand-pump compressor and a monkey holds up a stencil for him. Many artists looked down their nose at those who used airbrushes and especially stencils. There was resistance to this new “machine” being intermingled into art and illustration. This stigma somewhat still exists today and most fine art schools still do not teach airbrushing.

The compressor depicted is actually somewhat realistic in that back then compressors for an airbrush were hand pump as were early vacuum cleaners.


“The New Ideas in Illustration” advertisement by S.D. Warren & Co. (Print, vol. V, no. 4, 1915). Illustration and lettering by W.A. Dwiggins (1914)
The complete airbrush apparatus with air pump and connections. Detail from The Manufacturer and Builder vol. XXII, no. 5 (May 1890), p. 98

Philip Castle

Philip Castle is British airbrush artists best known for creating the poster art for the Stanley Kubrick films A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. He worked very closely with Kubrick on these projects and the extent of their collaboration shows, as the posters do a great job of capturing the essence of the films. He’s also known for designing some classic album covers for David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and many others. For more about his process check out this article.

The Art of Show Card Writing

Below is an interesting page from The Art of Show Card Writing published back in 1919. “Showcards” were what they called temporary signs made from cardstock that were displayed in store front windows. (So it’s essentially a sign painting book.) It depicts an artist at work on a sign using and airbrush and a foot pump compressor. The text offers some technique advice that is still relevant today. (Well, minus the foot pump.) You can find the whole ebook version for free on Google Books.

Page 66 of The Art of Show Card Writing by Lawrence J. Strong and Charles J. Strong which was originally published by The Detroit School of Lettering back in 1919.


Prehistoric Airbrushing

These “airbrushed” hand stencils have been found throughout the major Paleolithic cave painting sites of Indonesia and Europe, as well as throughout Aboriginal Australia. The ancient paintings were accomplished by blowing paint through hollow bones, yielding a finely grained distribution of pigment, similar to that of an airbrush.

Cave painting from about 30,000 years ago.
prehostoric mouth atomizer
This illustrates how the ancient people used bird bones as mouth atomizers.
The Hieroglyphic Sanskrit Hand Stencils of Tewet Cave, Indonesia

Learn more about it here.

Worlds Largest Airbrush Collection?


You’re looking at some aerial shots of Wissam Shawkat’s impressive airbrush collection!

His collection includes just about every brand of airbrush from every decade dating all the back over 100 years.

Wissam is an artist who specializes in Arabic calligraphy. When ask why a calligraphy artist needs so many airbrushe he replied, “I actually use to use them many years ago in illustration, but not in calligraphy, but I am just in love with tool. I use it now rarely in getting even tones and gradients.”