Art Term

Airbrushing

Airbrushing is a painting technique which uses an airbrush to give an even and consistent surface, often used to create a high level of realism

James Rosenquist, ‘Marilyn’ 1974
James Rosenquist
Marilyn 1974
Tate
© James Rosenquist/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2018

An airbrush is a small, hand-held instrument connected to a canister of compressed air that sprays paint in a controlled way giving an even and consistent surface. Artists and illustrators often use airbrushing to create a high level of realism. The airbrush was invented in the late nineteenth century, but it was not until the mid twentieth century that it became a popular tool in painting.

Pioneers of airbrushing were the graphic illustrators George Petty and Alberto Vargas (or Varga) in the 1930s and 1940s. Later, Pop artist James Rosenquist used it to evoke the qualities of advertising. In Britain, the artist Barrie Cook became one of the leading practitioners to use airbrushing. Today, it is the sci-fi artist H.K. Giger who is most commonly associated with the medium.

There is also an airbrushing computer program, invented in the early 1980s, which creates a similar effect in a digital format.

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