Whether it’s creating T-shirts for Alexander Wang or personalising aprons for Home Depot, Betzalel Avraham understands the power of the simple airbrush
Airbrushed T-shirts have been enjoying a resurgence over the past year: the internet lit up when Kanye West was pictured wearing a T-shirt with his late mother’s face airbrushed on the front and the face of his wife’s late father, Robert Kardashian, on the back. Harper’s Bazaar ran a piece recounting how the models in the Alexander Wang SS17 show at New York Fashion Week were given personalised T-shirts, each skilfully airbrushed by New York’s Art Of Your Mind.
For some, airbrushing has never lost its appeal since it started being used on T-shirts in the 1950s. While direct-to-garment and screen printing are both creative processes, airbrushing T-shirts – and making a living out of it – requires artistic talent, not to mention commercial savvy and persistence.
As Betzalel Avraham, the lead artist at Art of Your Mind, explains, to be able to create saleable, airbrushed T-shirts takes time. Lots of it. “I always tell people practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. It’s almost like learning a mini language when you’re picking up an airbrush. A lot of people that I’ve taught in the past, it would take them upwardly six to eight months of just straight practice, days on end, before they were even be able to do something as simple as writing their name in a way that would be saleable on a T-shirt.” Betzalel himself has been airbrushing since he was 21, racking up 15 years of experience in the technique.
The company does a lot of promotional type work, such as the Alexander Wang show, and has a good relationship with Home Depot that sees them personalising all sorts of items from aprons to tools for customers. “We can paint on anything that the paint will stick to because with an airbrush, the air is what’s applying the paint – you’re not directly interacting with the substrate. You can paint on any surface no matter what the shape, curve or how it’s texturised.”
The design Betzalel created for Images is similar to one that he would do at a promotional event – it’s quick to do, a few minutes is all it takes – yet it’s personal. And there’s no set up time. As soon as the customer has said what they want, he’s ready to go.
On a technical side, he recommends starting with opaque colours first and then transparent shades. As black is the sharpest colour, and opaque, he usually does the lettering and linework first (he does point out, however, that there are always exceptions to every rule). All of the colours in the Images design after the black are transparent and so he was able to layer them over each other and blend them together to create the colour fade, stars and other effects.
While this design was freehand, he does occasionally use stencils. “We use stencils to speed things up, to make it more affordable, because when it comes to production, time is money,” he says.
For those looking to try this technique, he recommends Iwata airbrushes. “For starting out, definitely a person should know that they should stick with a high quality brand that gives them consistent results every time that they perform this particular action with airbrush.” Any compressor will be fine, and for the ink he says Createx is the most versatile. It’s a bit on the expensive side, he admits, but its inks are very good for the fashion industry because they’re wash-fast as long as they are heat-pressed for around 30 seconds.
When creating a design, decorators need to pay attention to the composition. “On clothing there’s no real definite border, you need to know how to form fit anatomy and make sure that the design floats well in the shirt and is self-contained,” Betzalel explains. “Otherwise you could wind up having a design run off into someone’s armpit, or be crooked, or choking them – too high up on the neck – or too low.” After positioning and composition, the next thing is to use good, harmonising colours, and ensure that the linework is sharp.
For tips, he recommends reading Airbrush Action Magazine. And, of course, he adds: “Don’t forget to practice! There’s plenty of people out there in the airbrushing world producing garbage, but if you want to be someone who’s good, there’s dedication and time and practice that needs to go into it. Don’t give up.”