Interview With Cristian Silva – 2016 International Competition

After winning 1st place in our Automotive / Kustom category and 2nd place in the Fine Arts category, Cristian did a very candid interview with us on his background and gave advice for airbrushers. See his works in our winners announcement post, and on his Facebook page: “Cristian Silva Airbrush Art”


Sparmax (S): Please provide a brief background about yourself; including, when you started airbrushing and what the learning process was like?

Cristian (CS): My name is Cristian Silva living in Sydney Australia, Married with two children. My previous occupation for 10yrs was owning/managing and teaching with the school of Airbrush Venturi within the State of NSW. My current occupation for the last 10yrs has been as a game development artist for slot machines.

So here is my story of how I got into airbrushing:

I first picked up the airbrush in the late 90’s, I was at a point where I was seeking a faster means to develop my illustrations by replacing the pencil and pastels I was using at the time as well to be able to paint on many other surfaces, I was taking on more commissioned drawings and the larger they became the longer they took. I never really got into the traditional paint brush approach so the airbrush seemed to be something I was interested, curious and willing to try out to see if it was for me.

I enrolled myself into a weekend course where I learned the very basics, at the time I was quite impressed with what it could do and how quickly I managed to pick it up and coordinate the functions of the tool. I bought a whole airbrush kit/paints from the instructor and a compressor from my local art supplies to start practicing at home….it was here when things started to go downhill. I later found out the airbrush I purchased was not suitable to the type of work or application I had intended and the small diaphragm compressor kept overheating and giving me irregular pressure, the airbrush kept breaking down and having issues, so with my own frustrations and lack of knowledge I put the airbrush away in the cupboard for a couple of years till I visited a sign expo. Here artists were displaying and airbrushing artworks. It was at this expo that I had the opportunity to discuss some of those hurdles and experiences I encountered with my own airbrushing where things started to make sense about what went wrong for me. While looking at all the airbrushed artworks around me and watching the artist create so quickly with this unique and powerful tool, it gave me the confidence to give it another go and seek out the knowledge and tutoring I’m looking for to get good quickly…surely there had to be something or someone out there willing to share their skills. I soon found what I had been looking for, the school of “Airbrush Venturi” which teaches very special and unique system of realist rendering.

The school was only established and running classes in Victoria (a different state to where I lived), and the 10 day classes gave for me were more incentive to learn and attend this course as I know I would learn a considerable amount within the 10 days.

So in 2000, after saving up enough for the flight and class fees, I attended the class and was completely blown away, not only with the teaching, the curriculum and steady learning curve, but every aspect of what a beginner, someone new to airbrush should know and learn, a systematic approach with strong foundation skills while learning about the maintenance and common issues encountered while using this tool.

This course set me on a path that I had never imagined, my passion towards art and illustration in general just magnified as I found a new enjoyment, a new passion and challenge where I could push and motivate myself to higher levels.

Not too long after, I was given the opportunity to start up the school in my own state. For the next year or two I continued attending classes flying back and forth from Sydney to Melbourne numerous times a year undergoing intensive skillset and teacher training while developing and setting up some foundations for the new school, I remember this time where I was painting anything and everything, making mistakes and learning from them while experiencing the unknown and what’s possible. I was determined and committed to make it work…so committed in fact that one of the two weeks of my honeymoon was spent training in Melbourne….my wife loves me and understands.

Within the next couple of years and a lot of hard work, the school of Airbrush Venturi in NSW became well established in multiple regions across the state, running night classes, weekend and the school holiday 5/10 day classes as well as teaching 1-day introduction programs to secondary schools. I enjoyed attending and airbrushing at numerous shows and exhibitions throughout every year, with demonstrations and airbrushing sprint artworks one after the another while spreading the word about this amazing art tool and its classes, it’s at these exhibitions where I developed speed with my airbrushing capable of producing amazing realist artworks within such a short time, it amazed people as it once did myself.

While teaching and running the school, I made time for my own creative airbrushing and development as well as found time for commission/commercial work here and there towards those works that excited and had interest for.

As the Venturi system and student base expanded and so did the class programs offering additional classes in automotive, advanced classes which became available to those student who completes the Venturi system as well as additional applied method programs. The growth was quite extraordinary and only one of me in such a big place. After teaching and contributing to the growth of some amazing artists, some students were willing to start up and teach these classes in other areas, I invested in a few teaching kits and not long after classes were now running simultaneously in multiple regions across the state.

After some unforeseen circumstances I decided to sell my teaching kits and continue teaching part time while pursuing a profession in digital art. Unfortunately, at the time the business model wasn’t working as expected and with a young family in mind a responsible decision was made. Digital art/illustration/design using Photoshop/Illustrator is an art form which I had actively been developing and using for many years prior to starting the school up, used actively in the development of airbrush artworks to commission designs and used in my previous employment.

I’m now using my creative thoughts and skillsets developing artwork for games, from conceptual ideas through to final production art and animation. For me its a similar feel of satisfaction and achievement to that of what I get from airbrushing, though in a very different and flexible way while working alongside other talented developers. The skillsets I’ve learnt and developed through airbrushing has and is being used within my digital art and illustrations, physically and mentally and vice versa.

With airbrushing, for me, I tend to be process driven, thinking about my actions and steps prior to applying them, knowing what I’m about to do before I do it, taking action with a level of certainty and awareness. I guess its how I’ve been programmed and think, to trial and explore the unknown for how and what’s possible.

Even though the teaching brush has been hung for now…., I’m still actively airbrushing whenever I can and try to fit it in along with my other interests, I continue to have a strong passion and enjoyment as the less I airbrush nowadays the more I get from it when I do, whether its doodling developing artworks of my own interest, creating artworks for family and friends, attending my kids school fates airbrushing caps and tattoos to the odd commission work I do here and there.


S: Can you tell us a bit more about your work? How / why did you choose it? How long did it take, and what inspired you?

CS: Answer for “The Gates OF Hell” artwork submission:

  • The bike tank is part of a full custom bike I painted for a good friend of mine. The fuel tank, oil tank, two wheel guards and front/back frames where all fully painted.

Here is brief outline how this project came about and some of the techniques I used to paint it.

This project started off with no more than a heads up from a mate of mine saying he will soon be building his own custom chopper bike and would like for me to airbrush on it.

When he received all the separate body parts it was time to get serious and start discussing specifics in what he wanted etc… So when I asked, what do you have in mind, his reply was don’t know, whatever do what you want….WHAT! you can’t be serious. This guy was going to let me paint whatever I wanted on this $80k + bike…. He’s NUTZ though humble he trusts me with doing whatever. Anyway I needed something from him to go off and start up some designs, colours, themes etc… After nagging and asking him for some ideas…something…He agreed with a general colour and a Grim Reaper theme the rest would be up to me. So I spent the next month or so coming up with a complete design. A great opportunity for me to go all out. Do something new and paint a complete bike which I never have.

I first started writing down my design thoughts and making some rough sketches before getting into some research. I soon found myself going into a dark Satanic place where the design evolved into evil reapers, demons and devils surrounded with pentagrams and occult symbolism, through this, secondary colours were established along with a stronger overall theme to tie the whole bike together. The name “The Gates Of Hell” seemed like a fitting name to label the bike and all sections of the bike had a grim reaper displayed on it.

Showing the owner the design for the first time, I think his mouth dropped to the floor as he wasn’t expecting such a complex creative design, luckily he absolutely loved what I had proposed though to go ahead with it, I requested no time limit as this would be a project I would have to work on the side in my spare time and thankfully he agreed.

After taking accurate measurements and photographs of each panel, the design was worked up and finalised using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator in preparation to use as line transfers and reference while airbrushing. The design and all reference material was printed out 1:1 scale making it simple to transfer over the curved and dimensional panels.

As all the panels had already been painted in the selected golden base color only minor prep work was performed before transferring over the design using tracing paper being careful not to smudge the design on the surface.

I first started painting the fuel tank which was the most complex piece out of the whole design, at the time I wasn’t really tracking time but Ill say the tank alone took close to 120hrs to complete before moving on to the rear and front guards, oil tank, frame etc…

Considering the scale and level of detail in the design, I spent some time exploring the right airbrush/settings, paint mixture and air pressures combination to use in order to achieve very fine and workable detail. I found confidence in using the Badger 150 (siphon fed) using a fine tip/needle setting and a modified rounded head, I carefully modified the tip for a larger opining so the needle sits further out (used up many tips throughout this project), for a siphon fed airbrush this seemed to give me the confidence and control in order to establish the finer detail than some of my other finer brushes could give. To further help develop fine detail, I occasionally used a longer trigger on the airbrush which increases the paint flow movements making it feel link an even finer brush.

After sorting out the right paint/thinning mixture (slow thinners was used) I created two mixtures of the colours I would use, one that was thinned for good opacity/coverage for general airbrush use and another over thinned for those extremely finer detailed areas where opacity would have to be build up slowly. Solid and candy paint mixtures were used throughout.

Certain areas of the design would be masked off establishing sharp edges as well as protecting them from any possible overspray. The majority of the work was development free hand with the aid of using loose stencils wherever necessary. The use of an electric eraser and a curved scalpel blade was carefully used to develop finer detail, highlights and textures.

Most areas were built up using a darker variant of the golden base colour, as the base colour had metallic I felt the developing colours should have them too. Candy mixtures were used over the mid base for the deeper darker shadows as well as adding hue or saturation.

A lot of time, energy and exploration went into completing this bike, more so than any other project Ive worked on, in return with the experience earned, the sense of accomplishment and appreciation received, it all makes it worthwhile and such good fun.


Answer for Sunrise children’s villages “Surfboard” artwork submission.

  • The surfboard was airbrushed for an invitational event held by House Of Kolor Australia to raise funds and awareness for the Sunrise children’s villages Cambodia foundation.

Ten airbrush artists from around the country were selected to paint a surfboard which were then auctioned off at a special event to raise funds for this foundation.

Surfboards and requested HOK paints were given out to all the artist with an open theme to paint whatever we wanted.

After some thought, I decided to create a design relevant towards the foundation and drive the message. After some research I found some ideal reference material of Cambodian children and started fleshing out some designs in Photoshop. I used colours red, blue and white from the Cambodian flag, imagery of Angor Wat along the top, an outline of the country framing the little girl holding the help sign and dove to signify the necessary peace from civil war in this country’s history. The girls together display a sense innocence, purity and a message of hear no evil, speak no evil contributes to the thousands of orphans in need of HELP crippled by corruption and war.

The painting side of things was relatively straight forward, I masked out the surrounding edges of the board in preparation for paint. After finalizing the design, I made a print on transparency film which I then transferred by line drawing onto the surfboard. A single colour mix was created for the blue and red shaded portraits, blue/black and red/black built up as a general monochromatic piece with using a lighter version of the colour or white for highlights/textures etc.. Candy colours were used as overlays adding more colour vibrancy to areas. The side frames were re-masked and the logo vinyl masks applied and sprayed in their specific colours along the bottom. It was then sent off to be cleared ready for the auction event.


S: What inspires you to continue airbrushing?

CS: Simple, I enjoy it….. ok let me expand lol.

I’ve been airbrushing for nearly 20yrs, every time I complete an artwork Im still amazed in awe feeling satisfied. The first time I ever picked up and used an airbrush was a magic feeling, felt and looked so different and unique where its driven by a machine. You can’t see any paint come out yet it magically appears on the surface to create amazing works of art. It enables you to create a hair thin line and instantaneously a very thick and soft edge….in effect control FOCUS. There is no other art tool that can match its versatility and control, it is the most powerful art tool I’ve used and this certainly contributes as to why I continue to use it, this and the fact that I’m continually leaning and picking up little things here and there, weather its tool/mechanical, material driven or technique based, it doesn’t get tiresome or dull unless you make it that way. I’ve developed a strong set of unique skills, to be able to share this with others and experience their goals and accomplishments is rewarding.


S: What are your goals / targets for airbrushing? What do you want to achieve?

CS: Don’t have any really, just to continue making time and enjoying it.


S: What does airbrushing mean to you?

CS: As I’ve spend many years educating and developing a community or airbrush artists, the word Airbrushing is a very powerful word to me. Its been a big part of my life both personally and professionally. Its given me challenges to face and overcome, it’s a place where I can forget about anything or everything and zone out, to bring a smile or a tear of happiness to someone, to something that has provided for me and my family.


S: Any advice to beginners looking to start airbrushing?

CS: Best advice I can give to those looking at starting to airbrush would be…

  • Attend an entry level workshop to see if it’s something you’ll like to pursue before purchasing all the equipment.
  • Before purchasing the equipment, be sure its suitable for the type of work you’ll be doing. Know the cons/pros for a more educated decision.
  • Get to know the general maintenance and cleaning of the airbrush….YES it needs to be cleaned.
  • Learn from various sources. Attending workshops/classes can fast track your leaning and abilities considerably. Go online, watch videos read magazines and lean from others.
  • Be patient, calm and composed. Starting out can be frustrating. NO one is good at airbrushing when they first start out.
  • Start on simple artworks, minimal detail, simple large shapes and work up to those that are more challenging pieces.
  • Work on your weaknesses, establish exercises to increase and practice on those skillsets.
  • Airbrushing is not all physical, most of its driven by your mental thought process, get good at that.


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