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Jonathan Stephenson

revised by Andy Penaluna

Hand-held painting instrument, of about the same size as or slightly larger than a pen, that delivers paint in a controlled spray. It is connected to a supply of compressed air by a flexible hose and draws paint from an integral reservoir or attached cup. Depending on the sophistication of the model, the user may control the supply of air and paint and the spray pattern in varying degrees. Additional effects are achieved by a form of stencilling, using special masking film or other means to protect areas of the artwork that are either yet to be worked upon, or have already been completed by the artist. An airbrush may be used with any paint if it is sufficiently thinned and contains pigment particles that are suitably fine. Dyes are also employed. Versions of several media exist that are specifically intended for airbrush application.

Airbrush evolved due to popularisation of the photograph and a demand for enlarged photographic likenesses, especially in portraiture. Crayon and pastel were commonly employed. In an attempt to provide more permanent and expeditious alternatives, pigment atomisation devices were designed in the 1870s. Frank E. Stanley of Auburn, Maine, and Abner Peeler of Fort Dodge, Iowa patented alternative forms of artist’s atomisers, termed ‘Paint Distributors’. In ...