Interview with Joe Giannetto – 2016 International Airbrush Competition

Next on our series of interviews for the 2016 International Competition is with the 1st place winner in the Fine Arts category: Joe Giannetto. Joe writes about his experiences and inspirations for airbrushing. You can check out more of Joe’s work on his website:



Age 52, born in Syracuse, NY, have been residing in Columbus, OH for the last 15 years, married, with two daughters ages 5 and 7. BFA commercial design with an emphasis on illustration from the University of Dayton class of 87’

My first experience with an airbrush began with a class in college. I found it tremendously interesting but frustrating. Most of the time was spent trying to get the gun to work. It’s a delicate piece of machinery that requires many combinations of things (ink viscosity, air pressure, and trigger pressure) to work correctly. Mastering these takes time and patience.  I worked with the airbrush for two years at my first job at a sign shop, then drifted into sales/sales management and literally put my gun down for almost twenty years airbrushing only occasionally as a brief distraction from work. While reading Airbrush Action about seven years ago I noticed an ad for The Blair School of Art (now the School of Realism), took the class, and haven’t put down my gun since.

My Work

Most of my work is based on lighting, volume and subject matter. I love dramatic lighting and with portraits try to capture points in time. “First Ride of the Spring” was exactly that. After a long and very cold Ohio winter, my daughter could not wait to hit that bike and ride. I though it made for a nice piece. Capturing moments in time has its challenges as well. Not having the budget for a full time photographer to follow me around, some of my work is limited based on my novice skill taking pictures. I tend to work large so it is not uncommon for a piece to take up to 100 to 150 hours. It takes patience because we tend to want to see results right away, which really isn’t how the airbrush works. At least not for me.  Creating a montage with the airbrush is also one of my favorite things to do. It relies not only on your skills as a designer, but also as an illustrator. Dru Blair, Drew Struzan and N.C. Wyeth are all the masters at this. I have files filled with their work and often review them for inspiration. They are my favorite artists.

Continuing Inspiration

Without a doubt what inspires me to continue airbrushing is the joy I receive in storytelling and interpreting reality. It is a fun and challenging process which is constantly influenced by everyday life. For example, my portfolio features a couple of very famous Disney characters. While my girls were coloring one day, I pulled a page from their coloring book, and using nothing more than the black lines as reference, sought to add as much volume to the piece as possible. It was tremendously fun and using the airbrush, forced me to interpret and render what these characters would look like if they were real. In my daughters’ eyes, they are. It’s their reality.


I would like to be a full time artist. I have had several decent paying commissioned pieces, but not enough to pay the rent so I guess I need to keep my current gig. My dream would be to do nothing more than create art for other people. Utilizing my skill to interpret their photos and ideas into pieces that are meaningful to them. A target for me would be to make a greater effort in both marketing and social media. I am terrible, and I mean terrible at it.

What airbrushing means to me

At this stage in my life I have learned one thing: control is an illusion. Whether you’re a CEO of a fortune 500 company, or work in a fast food joint, we’re all accountable to someone. Stockholders, customers, kids, spouses, most people really don’t spend much time controlling anything. Airbrushing allows me to have a sense of control over my own little fantasy world. I have a 12 x 12 studio in my basement and it is my play area. Through airbrushing, I get to tell my own stories, make my own characters and interpret my own realities. The end result being, hopefully a nice piece of work. It is truly fun.

Advice to beginners

  1. Try not to get too frustrated. There are so many things that can go wrong with the mechanics of an airbrush it can make you want to pull your hair out. When you just can’t get your gun to work step back, take a deep breath, and go through your checklist of what could be wrong, and address those items one at a time.
  2. Keep your work that doesn’t turn out. I made the mistake of getting frustrated and throwing out most of my pieces that didn’t work. Bad mistake. Now I can’t reference my growth process over the years, and anything I may have learned from a bad piece is done strictly from memory.
  3. Hard making, loose masking, paper towels, brillo pads, frisket, pink attic insulation, cotton balls, torn paper, doylies, the screen from an old porch door. These items can create some great airbrushing effects. Keep it fun!
  4. Arm yourself with the best equipment you can reasonably afford. I don’t consider myself to be a very talented artist and always felt that a more expensive gun would make me a better artist. Yes, that’s actually how I thought. That statement does have a bit of truth to it. A better gun means better parts. Less time getting your gun to work, and more time airbrushing.
  5. Lastly, and most importantly: Find yourself a mentor. That may take many forms, books, videos, YouTube, and if you can afford it, actual classes. Dru Blair has been my mentor. Not only is he one of the most accomplished airbrush artists worldwide, he is also one of the best teachers. I have taken five or six of his classes now and they have been worth every penny. My airbrushing skills progressed more in four days at my first class, than they did in two years of college.