Self-taught Kitchener airbrush artist creates hyperrealistic portraits
KITCHENER – Inspiration struck Michael R. Brown almost a decade ago during a particularly stressful time in his life.
The Kitchener man, 57, said the responsibilities and demands of his job as director of technical services for a large engineering firm meant many sleepless nights and hectic days.
“I take everything personally, I take it home,” Brown said. “The stress was getting bad so I started building rc planes; it worked for a while.”
Brown’s ability to focus deeply and for long periods of time meant that when he was engaged in something unrelated to work, he was fully engaged. The distraction was good for him.
Then, in 2011, he received a gift.
Brown’s wife Cindy gave him a set of airbrushes, the kind of equipment hobbyists use to paint pictures on motorcycles and cars. In his case, Brown wanted to paint pin-ups on his plane to look like WWII airplanes.
At that time he wasn’t much of an artist – certainly not a trained artist – but once he held that airbrush he filled the little pot with paint and pointed it at a sheet of paper, something. thing turned into him. He had some serious learning to do, starting with understanding color theory. He also had to figure out how to paint with an airbrush, which is very different from oil painting. Not that he knows anything about oils anyway.
“Some people never find their talent hidden,” he said.
Thanks to his motivation and focus, combined with a timely gift, Brown was not one of them.
Growing up in a poor family in England, Brown said life had few luxuries.
“As a kid, the excitement for me was having a new sharpener and pencils,” he said. Other than a few doodles, that had been the breadth of his artistic experience.
Once he got that airbrush, however, he was propelled into a different league, but he had to learn techniques.
“There was no one around teaching it,” he said. “I really started looking on YouTube, but they’re not going to show you their secrets.”
So he decided to find out for himself and when Brown started to investigate he went deeper.
“I experimented, played with what worked, what didn’t work,” he said. “I started to have some success.”
This “little success” came as a major surprise to Brown as he discovered a hidden talent as an airbrush artist capable of creating stunningly lifelike portraits. The idea of painting pin-ups on his planes seemed too small to him, and he started getting more commissions than he could handle.
“I could see the potential,” he said. “With the airbrush you can blend the surface to make it very smooth and you can blend one color into another.”
As far as Brown is aware, he is the only artist in the area, if not further afield, to do airbrush portraits, and many of his works are on display in the Woolwich Township offices, 24 Church St. W. , in Elmira.
The airbrush is powered by a small generator under the art table in his Kitchener home, where he is currently working on a portrait of a fellow artist who, at the same time, paints a portrait of Brown in acrylics. They jokingly decided to charge themselves $ 1 million for the paintings.
Brown has also recently started painting in oils. His wife bought a number of lessons from a local art teacher, just enough for Brown to understand how to use brushes and palette knives instead of the airbrush.
He is happy with the Mennonite paintings he made, but not the trees and green backgrounds. And even if three paintings are already framed and hung on the living room wall, he is determined to redo the works. His wife is just as determined that he won’t.
Much of Brown’s success as an artist comes from his desire to get it right and not give up.
“I invested 100% before giving up,” he said. “I want this to work.”
The Mennonite paintings are kind of a reminder that he’s not always right.
This need to do the best job possible stems from his childhood and adolescence, much of which was devoted to taking care of himself after the family immigrated to Canada. He said he supported himself through high school and as a young man he quickly made a reputation for being stubborn in his work ethic. Employers paid him to do a number of trades, he said, including tool and die maker, mold maker and machine builder – skills that help him today examine a problem and find logical solutions. This also applies to his art.
“I’m a sponge for learning,” Brown said. “You don’t know what you can do until you are 100% dedicated to it.”