The following post is from Jerry Ott’s editorial featured in the July-August issue of Airbrush Action. It’ s funny, honest, and from the hip; just great stuff that I wanted to share with those who may not have seen it. Jerry Ott is one of the all-time great photorealists in fine artist, and he was extremely gracious to agree to teach the Power Portraits course at the upcoming Airbrush Getaway in Las Vegas (September 29-October 2). Enjoy!
Who’d have thought, 43 years ago when I first picked up this strange instrument, that I’d still be going into the studio every day, closing the door behind me and attempting to produce paintings that were largely airbrush-generated artworks categorized variously as “Photorealism” or the more recently categorized “Hyperrealism”? Although not thinking of myself as an “airbrush artist,” I have nonetheless used one almost without exception to produce the work I’ve done throughout the past decades.
When first approached about this article I couldn’t even quote what brand and type of airbrush I use without some serious thinking (I guessed wrong), nor could I even hope to tell you what type of compressor I use, but I remember it was small, expensive, runs quietly, and has been rebuilt more than once since I purchased it some 20 odd years ago. In my early career, when the airbrush began a silent mutiny against me and decided to impede my progress, I’d simply take it and smash it against the nearest wall. Now that I recall these distant episodes, I see them as simple indications of my impetuous youth and long lasting adolescence. I still, however, have boxes full of their shiny little carcasses and scattered body parts.
I use only one airbrush, and I’ve never used peripheral gadgetry and multiple connections, etc., and that airbrush is generally to be found in a state of extreme external filth and covered in layers of paint, getting cleaned only when its performance begins to falter. Inevitably and quite often I’ll step on the air hose, instantly pulling the airbrush from my fingers in near supersonic speed and propelling it with a sickening “THUD!!!!!!!” needle first into either the floor or the wall causing great damage and much loud cursing. I then simply go online and my much needed parts arrive the very next morning to begin the process all over again.
When plans were begun for this article, I had just gathered a number of young women models and asked them to apply heavy makeup and then flood their faces with water to get the makeup to run and smear. This would be the basis of a four-painting series to be called Pretty Portraits, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about a somewhat forgotten and relegated style of painting. These paintings (at 48- by 60-inches) were to be somewhat smaller and also, to a degree, somewhat more straightforward in both their subject and their manner of execution than most of my other work, so they were almost tailor-made for this purpose.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, being somewhat of a pioneer in this particular usage of an airbrush, I naturally helped to spawn a lot of followers in terms of style (much as I was inspired by the work of German artist Paul Wunderlich), and I quickly realized and often stated after seeing tons of poorly executed paintings, that an airbrush is not a substitute for ability; it is not, in itself, a magic tool; yet in the hands of an accomplished artist, it can, in fact, help produce magic.
As an “airbrush artist,” I use no tricks or “shortcuts,” as such, but merely rely upon drawing skill, observation, and years of experience to provide that seat-of-the-pants approach that has served my needs so long. I use no stencils or templates, and I don’t really have any magic wands to wave. Here you’ll see the process in a step-by-step fashion in the hope that you may find something helpful and of interest. I will admit with a word of caution, however, that if I should mention anything having to do with color, please check it out with your own eyes and remember that I am overwhelmingly color blind (having only identified three items out of a color test of twenty four). I’ve always hoped and thought that this has perhaps helped me to compensate by developing a more acute awareness of value and tone, but that’s all conjecture, and tomorrow you could run into me on the street with one purple sock and one green. . . . . .