Airbrush Career Choices : T’s or Cars?

The road to deciding which venue to start out in the airbrush world is exceptionally ambiguous via there are a broad range of risks you will take as you compromise the pros and cons in each demographic and sector.

There are things I have learned in my many years of doing this skill that reveal certain trends and patterns which can be useful to the incoming talent abroad. T-shirt airbrushing can yield alot of money because the check average can be anywhere from $7 for a 5 minute design to $33 for a 15 minute stencil design. The collective complaint that I have always heard across the board ( And know from experience) about T-shirt airbrushing is that it is absolutely redundant and draining, via rendering the same ole beach scenes and teddy bears day after day, and at the end of the day the last thing you ever want to see is anything airbrush related.

T-shirt airbrushing takes a very special kind of person to endure the depleting moments in which customers are rebellious, picky, unrealistic, overtly demanding, temperamental, and high maintenance to say the least. Adversely, someone who has spent their life in a factory for 20 years may see this environment as a sitting paradise and the laws of comparative tolerance thus apply.

Standing in one position for 12-13 hours a day can really take a toll on your lower back and the overspray can be eventually lethal hence you are so close to the surface for so many hours ( Thus presupposing you still have adequate ventilation). I must also admit that , it is where probably 95% of all the “Big Names” in the field got started, as did I. Henry Ascencio, Noah, and many other top names in the field all occupied at one time or another a 10×10 space at some tourist trap or festive type of environment.

Getting into T-shirts can be immediately redemptive and allow you to prosper as you are in your learning cycle. You can learn textures, basic color theory, control, and certainly how to deal with demanding clients with diverse needs and meet intense deadlines.

How someone can do T-shirts for more than 2 years is beyond me because I got burnt out quick, but again we are talking about issues of internal desire mired with a certain degree of passion per individual. People will gravitate towards certain mediums for reasons of creativity, diversity, money, scarcity and survival etc however some people will not. Ask any pro out there doing custom work why they left t-shirts and you will hear the same thing over and over: ” I couldnt take it anymore” or ” My back hurts like crazy” etc..etc.

I have also noticed over the years there up are many exquisitly talented people who have been doing T-shirts, many do not even call themselves artists at all, ( Since their using sublimation transfers and stencils ) but they seem to have perfectionistic qualities, good hand-writing ( Which comes in handy for T-shirt lettering ) and great business sense. It has been known that some T-shirt airbrushers gross over $100-$200k per year, so maybe the income keeps them from taking leaps into other fields. Who knows.

On the other side of the fence is custom automotive painting via motorcycles and other hard surfaces. This field is harder to break into but will allow more flexibility for creativity, allow you to work larger, and will fuse the outside world into your abilities in an entirely different way other than the isolated sector of T-shirts. If you do a T-shirt it may last only a year or so, but if you do a car hood you will have a floating advertisement for 10-20 years.

There have been many existential debates on which will make you more money, but again this comes down to talent, passion, and business sense. A well known artist like FITTO could perhaps demand thousands for his paint jobs on motorcycles, sit at home all month in his pajamas with his music playing and not have to report to anyone, however FITTO’s work is only going to scream as far as his compositional skills and his craftsmanship will allow.

An automotive airbrusher’s longevity are typically trade shows, bike and car rallys, online buzz, and certainly different degrees of magazine exposure. When I worked on huge skater boats, 80-90% of the work that was flowing in was from magazine hits and designated sponsors in that particular niche. That is all that is needed sometimes is two have one or two magazines who will run their mouths for you like you were the coming savior, and you will thrive prosperously.

Bottom line……….It’s who wants it the most. You will definitely make a decent living at this skill if you build a solid body of work whether it be 30 initial t-shirt designs or 16 gas tanks….. just BUILD THE BODY OF WORK , do not compromise the integrity, and pick and choose your battles on what you can sacrifice via whats in your soul… or your pocketbook. Hope this helps.


  1. avilaarts Says:

    Thank you David very much for this blog.
    I may add that in this new bad economy, that
    like minded people like you and many other airbrushers,
    pinstripers, and custom painters, and me have felt alittle of a jolt.

    But along with positive blogs like this, and constantly improving
    all of your skils no matter what level, and keeping your heart
    and soul in it, you will succeed. I remember many years ago in the
    1970’s, no one pinstriped. Then in the early 90’s its like a fad. People thinking they can become rich and famous quickly. Mostly because
    of alot of hype from tv shows and magazine coverage. Everyone did it.
    While many are good, most of it is a pastime. A fad.
    For everyone that strives to succeed and improve and is committed to
    these classic art forms regardless of being rich overnight.
    They will succeed.

    John Avila Uncle John Tucson, Arizona

  2. Great blog David,
    I find myself very diverse, in that I will airbrush on just about anything. Though I don’t make a full time living on my art, I do hope to one day, be able to set at home and just paint what ever I want on what ever I want.
    Your blog actualy reminds me of a time in my life… (here comes a story, I’ll make it short.)

    I was set up at a flea market, where I was attempting to pedal my art work, of variouse mediums, when (after several hours of no sales) a passer by commented “Your art work is awesome, why are you set up here? You should be making it big off your work!” My only reply was, ” Thank you sir! Which piece would you like to purchase?” …….. short pause, odd look, and ,,,, NO sale was made.

    I guess my point… It takes time. It takes talent. It takes an inner drive and a love for the art.


  3. avilaarts Says:

    Man is that ever so true. Been there many times too. Still
    at it. I hope you are doing good!!

    John Avila “Uncle John Tucson”

  4. Samer K. Says:

    Thank you so much David for this great blog, i learned a lot about airbrushing from you.
    By the way guys David is a real artist i bought his CDS from airbrush classes and its truely amazing.
    Thank you very much David
    Samer K.
    United Arab Emirates

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