Toolbox: Betty Tompkins’s Airbrush

In our new weekly feature we ask artists to describe the one item that they couldn't do without. Here, American painter Betty Tompkins discusses the airbrush she uses to create her large-scale yet highly intimate works.

My favourite tool is an airbrush. I have two of them. One is used only with white paint, the other for chromatic blacks. The greys that I get are from layering one over the other until I have what I want. It takes ten to twenty layers of paint for the paint to build up to a meatiness that allows subtlety of tone and details to emerge. My airbrushes have taught me patience. It did not naturally come to me, but I have learned that those first layers will always look just terrible and I have accepted that. What I love about painting with airbrushes is that there are always moments where I don’t know where the paint is actually going, so the risk of failure is great. I love that challenge. It keeps me alert and focussed. The other thing I love about it is that I stand over here and the painting comes out over there with no physical contact between me and the canvas. It is like magic to me.

Betty Tompkins with her airbrush in action


Betty Tompkins runs at Kunstraum Innsbruck until November 11.