Chapter 2

A Thin Coating of Toxic Red Mist

I had lost the feeling in at least six of my eight fingers, and if I concentrated exceptionally hard, I could just about move the tip of my left thumb.  It was springtime in England, and whilst the evening was certainly a little chilly, somehow (possibly due to an ancient Viking curse,) my parent’s house always managed to maintain a temperature that placed it on a par with Lapland.  It was like being on the set of the Exorcist.

Creating art when the blood absolutely refuses to travel to your extremities is not easy, but I had adapted to these conditions over the years, and from an evolutionary standpoint, I fully expected my children to be born with a thick coating of fur.  My problem however, had nothing to do with the temperature; my problem was all about technique.

The kind of art that interested me was the kind that looked very real.  Photo-realism was where I wanted to go, and if you added this to fantasy or sci-fi subject matter, you had what was for me, the perfect discipline.

From a very early age, the pencil and I had got along extremely well and by the time I was in my mid-teens I had reached a point where I figured (through the misguided smugness of youth,) that the quality of my work was as good as it could get.  There was however, very limited scope professionally for someone who confined themselves to pencil drawings, and so I had worked hard to broaden my horizons.

Over the years I had tried my hand with most mediums.  Watercolors, oils, inks and acrylics all had their attraction, but what I was looking for was a technique that didn’t impose itself on the work.  The idea that I could produce style-free, technique-free art was clearly ridiculous, but it was exactly this goal that first introduced me to the seductive eccentricities of the airbrush.

The independent double-action airbrush, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of its acquaintance, is a pen-shaped instrument that has a small cup (top or side,) and a kind of button or lever near the tip that controls the flow of air and the amount of liquid that is sprayed.  Once the hose is connected to your air supply, the reservoir can be filled with the medium of your choice and you are ready to embark upon a momentous journey of joy and exasperation.

I had managed to save enough money to buy myself a DeVilbiss Sprite (an excellent, yet affordable airbrush) and sitting in my bedroom, the frost slowly crystallizing on my skin, I removed it from its case with the reverence that it deserved, and hooked it up to a large aerosol can of compressed air.  In front of me was an enormous sheet of white paper and I loaded the airbrush with some cerulean blue ink and took a deep, cleansing breath, ready to create my first airbrushed work of art.

Five minutes and two refills later, I was done.  It was beautiful.  The airbrush had proved to be everything that I had hoped for, and it’s slim, semi-metallic body heralded the start of a new chapter in my life as an artist.  I put the airbrush down and proudly inspected my work.  It was my name “Hayden” written four times across the middle of the page, a large smiley face, and a selection of wiggly lines.  The smiley face was a little deformed, and one of the times I had written my name I had run out of ink towards the end, but that was hardly the point.  I was hooked.

Over the next few weeks I spent all of my evenings developing my technique and learning more about the airbrush universe.  My Dad had built me a desk that folded out from the wall, and this side of my bedroom was now uniformly dark blue.  Overspray, to use the technical term, was never really an issue with pencils, as the lines tended to stay on the page exactly where they were drawn.  Even oil paint, whilst evil and mischievous, tended to remain in place unless, for example, you unknowingly caught your sleeve in it and then trailed it through the school until your Art Teacher tracked you down and threatened to hot-glue your legs together if you didn’t clean it up.  With the airbrush however, everything within several feet of the target area received a very fine coating of whatever it was that you were spraying and over time, this layer built up until it was completely opaque.

Reading books about airbrushing, I noticed that the photos always showed the artist in some kind of breathing apparatus, so not wanting to look like an amateur, I went to my nearest hardware store and bought a packet of disposable facemasks, designed to be used by someone operating an industrial spray gun.  After little more than an hour however, I’d come to the conclusion that the mask wasn’t going to work.  There were two main problems:

Firstly, I found that both wearing the mask and being able to breathe was not easy.  Inhaling through the specially designed filtration material was like trying to suck ice-cream through a ten-foot straw, which is to say that whilst not technically impossible, the energy required is far too great to make it a reasonable proposition.

Secondly, I failed to arrive at a solution that would allow me to wear the mask and still be able to see.  Unfortunately, as my eyesight approximates that of a geriatric sea anemone, painting would have to involve glasses.  The problem with this was that due to sloppy design (or a sadistic dislike of the vision-impaired,) any hot air exhaled was cleverly channeled directly towards the eyes, steaming up your glasses every time that you breathed out.

Not being able to see or breathe seemed to me fairly solid justification for ditching the mask, and so I decided to search for alternatives.  Reading through the literature, I found another phrase that cropped up regularly: “always work in a well-ventilated area,” and it seemed likely that opening the large window above my desk would improve air-flow significantly.  As it happened, I was correct, and opening the window allowed plenty of fresh air to circulate into the room.  Unfortunately, with the fresh air came the rain.

Needless to say, a continual spattering of rain across my work was not really helping matters, and it quickly became obvious that the window would have to remain closed.  As far as I could see, there was no easy way to improve the situation, and so I made the executive decision that I would simply have to try and breathe less. 

Thinning any kind of paint down sufficiently meant that it could be passed through an airbrush and I had a great deal of fun mixing chemicals of all varieties and spraying them with wild abandon.  It was around this time that I started to wonder if my recent bout of crippling headaches could be connected to my airbrush in any way, and so I did a bit of research.

It was not long before it became abundantly clear to me that Chemical Engineers hated artists.  The more I looked into it, the more toxic, deadly and downright carcinogenic compounds I found that were used as pigmentation for paint products.  It appeared that only after an initial period of training with the Pentagon’s Chemical Weaponry Division, were these scientists deemed suitable to work in the art supply industry, and that they would not rest until every artist on the planet had been eradicated.

It was time for me to think seriously about my health.  Maybe I should put down my paint, walk away from my airbrush and follow another career path altogether, maybe train to be something sensible, like a Chemical Engineer for example.  And then it hit me.  It was all an elaborate hoax.  Chemical Engineers didn’t want to rid the world of artists, no, their plan was far more cunning than that.  What they wanted to do was frighten the artists away from their brushes and into the laboratories, swelling the ranks of the secret Chemical Engineer Army that they had been creating, and when the time was right, when the people least expected it—BAM—they would take over the world.

Congratulating myself on my ability to see past this nefarious scheme I fired up my airbrush once more, sprayed some Napthol Crimson into the air in front of me and inhaled deeply.  Ah, the paint tasted great.  I was nobody’s fool, and as I felt the waves of creative energy burning in my lungs I finally knew what it was to be a real Artist. 

It was time for me to get serious.  I hoped that the art world was ready, and after writing a list of possible avenues to explore, I went for a lie down.  For some reason, I felt strangely unwell…

Black INaC Chapter 1Chapter 1