Why has YouTube never produced an airbrush master?

A lot of newbies flock to YouTube, hungry to learn, and eager to become the next airbrush superstar.

The problem is that YouTube has been around for almost 20 years and has yet to produce a single top gun. One would think that with all the free information at everyone's fingertips, the airbrush scene would be exploding with hundreds of amazing new airbrush artists. Why hasn't that happened?

Let's first define our terms "top gun" or "airbrush master." A master is an artist who demonstrates consistently superior skills above and beyond accomplished peers to the degree that they are considered influential in their industry. Mike Lavalle was such an artist, as is David Naylor, and Paul MacDonald, among others.

So far, no current airbrush master can thank YouTube for their success. Not a single trainee of YouTube has risen to the top. So why aren't YouTube videos an effective method for learning how to airbrush?

While YouTube is filled with learning tips and tricks, there are several reasons why it doesn't teach people how to advance much further than beyond the intermediate stages.

YouTube contains abundance of false information.

In a review of the Airbrush videos available, I found 90% of YouTube airbrush videos contain false information. With one presenter, 100% of the videos contained misleading information about airbrushing. That is not to say that the entire content of their video was flawed, but without experience, new artists have difficulty discerning fact from false statements. Color theory and airbrush maintenance ranked among the top two subjects of misleading content. There are a few veteran airbrush artists posting good reliable content, however the sheer number of bad videos out there, makes their content difficult to locate. Unfortunately, there are no mechanisms to vet all the posters, many of whom have been airbrushing for a short period and are unqualified to speak with authority on the subjects they present.

Rules vs opinions

Secondly, there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the difference between the laws of physics and subjective preference, and many presenters can't seem to distinguish between the two. They encourage viewers to "break the rules," as if that might yield good results. For the record, it doesn't.

For example, when you mix true complementary colors together, they neutralize each other. That is an inescapable law of light physics, and the instructor's opinion will not alter the outcome. Or the fact that a transparent color such as blue, sprayed through an airbrush will always darken. Those laws are not subject to opinion.

And yet, some presenters boast about "breaking the rules" while touting a "new" and different way of doing things, while yielding questionable results. There are certain preferences, and subjective "rules" created which can (and should be) broken or ignored, such as the rule that you should "never use black." However, the laws of light physics are immutable, and therefore not subject to opinion.

YouTube is structureless

Another drawback of YouTube videos is the lack the necessary structure to teach fundamental art skills. While there are plenty of tips, these videos usually jump right into intermediate or advanced techniques without explaining basic concepts. YouTube videos are mostly demonstration videos and NOT course videos. There is also lack of quality narration which often fails to explain WHY a particular technique should or should not be used. Without a strong foundation, attempting to replicate advanced techniques leads to frustration and disappointment.

No interaction

Another limitation is the lack of feedback provided by YouTube videos. Unlike traditional in-person art classes, YouTube offers no instructor in the classroom to offer critiques or advice. This can make it difficult for a student to know what areas need improvement and how to progress as an artist. A student may be practicing and reinforcing bad habits without being aware of it.

Whose Way?

Most YouTube videos showcase a particular artist's personal approach to drawing. While this can be inspiring, it does not necessarily mean that their process will work for everyone. The problem is that after demonstrating techniques, the online instructor will then tell you to do it "your way." Some workshop instructors do this too. The issue here is that doing it "your way" might result in doing it the wrong way. Yes, there is a right and wrong way to do things.

In conclusion, while there are useful tips and tricks on YouTube, there is an equal amount of bad content. Don't trust everything you see on the internet, and don't expect to become a master from watching some videos. To really become proficient, you will need to learn to move from point A to point B to point C in a progression. Some content out there is so flawed, several of the veteran artists actually share the maker's channels with each other for entertainment. Unfortunately, that type of false information can actually damage the progress of young artists.

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Ryan Barkley

December 16, 2023

Great article again. I definitely agree with this. There’s a lot of info on YouTube, how is a beginner to discern what is good information and what is not? They may follow a certain path of instructions that delivers a better result on one project, but is the wrong way to go in long run. Bad habits are very hard to break.

Andy Penaluna

December 16, 2023

As an educator as well as airbrusher, there will always be a divide between remote learning and hands on learning in the style of apprenticeship. When discussing learning and teaching, we make distinction between learning about something, learning for (to be able to do in the future), and learning through doing, which is highly reliant on insights given and resulting reflection by the learner. You tube is very much an ‘about’ medium, so will never really hit the spot when it comes to leading the way through excellent teaching methods.


April 16, 2024

When I’m just not feeling it, I flick YouTube on and watch the videos that Mike and a few others have put up, just to get me enthused and put me in the zone. They have also helped to remind me of techniques, learned in classes, that have slipped my mind (from not painting often enough and old age lol). Definitely seen a lot of dodgy videos though lol, also been to classes with a few dodgy instructors back in the early days as well. lol Thankfully, my initial training, many years ago, was two years at technical college, the main focus was photographic retouching (which Photoshop pretty much made the skill obsolete a few years later). So, it was easy for me to spot the dodgy operators. One day I might make it out to the States again and continue my studies with Dru. One thing I am really glad about is that I did my courses with Dru before he got his stencil cutter, so learned a few extra skills of substitutes and creating my own

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