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[whitespace] Something in the air

Cupertino--You might not expect Walt Weightman to enjoy being called an airhead. At 70, with tidy, dark gray hair and beard, Weightman looks more like a schoolteacher than, well, an airhead.

But Weightman is one of many local airbrush artists proud to call himself a member of the Bay Area Airheads.

To encompass the range of artwork on display, the group donned a new moniker for a recent exhibit at the Kensington Art Center in Campbell. ìëThe Bay Area Airbrush and Mixed Media Association' is a more accurate name for what we have become," explained Bruce Chandler, an early member of the Airheads who was instrumental in organizing the group's first major exhibit.

Yet, it takes one conversation with a member to know that, mixed media or not, these artists are the Airheads. "The original name is indicative of what we do," Chandler said. "And it's catchy."

While he didn't come up with the name, it was primarily Weightman's efforts that led to the founding of the Airheads in February 1997.

"We wanted to get airbrush people together," said Weightman, a retired mechanical engineer from San Jose. "They're usually a pretty fragmented group."

Though he considers himself "a bit of an amateur," Weightman has been using the airbrush technique for 25 years. He became interested in airbrush in the 1970s, when van owners went wild airbrushing their vehicles in psychedelic colors and designs.

Since 1992, he has taught others how to use the art form at Fremont Union High School District Adult Education classes. He also volunteers his time teaching art classes to students at Lindberg High School, where the Airheads used to hold their meetings.

"I get a wonderful reception from my students," Weightman said fondly. "These are incredibly talented kids." And Weightman is a great success as a teacher. He brags that one of his students has gone on to be an illustrator at Skywalker Ranch and another is now at DreamWorks. It's proof that the airbrush is more than just a tool for graffiti and retouching photographs in magazines.

Yet, an airbrush does look and work much like a small spray gun. Paint is blown through a controlled nozzle onto a painting surface by pressing down on the trigger. "It provides a lot of control for painting," Weightman said. "Anywhere from a fine wash to a heavy application."

"The airbrush technique is unique in that it is not a tactile experience," Weightman said. "Traditionally, a paint brush or pastel stick makes contact with the canvas or paper. But with airbrush, you never touch the ground."

Without the tactile feedback that you get from other art forms, Weightman emphasizes the need for hand-eye coordination. "Some people find it challenging and hate it, but I love the subtle gradations that you can get with it that you just can't get with anything else," Weightman said. "Blending of a paintbrush doesn't even come close to what you can do with airbrushes. [Airbrushing] shows the depth, fullness and roundness of what you're doing beautifully."

Chandler, a Campbell resident for 26 years, first learned his airbrush strokes in a college art class. Over the years, he lost touch with the art, until a chance meeting at a Los Gatos art exhibit reminded him how much he'd loved it.

Several airbrush paintings by one artist instantly caught Chandler's eye. Noticing his curiosity, the artist handed him a flier for Bay Area Airheads. "After that, I went to one meeting, and I've been going to them ever since," Chandler said enthusiastically.

Though he also considers himself a novice in the fine art of airbrushing, Chandler, a retired bicycle shop owner, enjoys working with the Airheads, who are professional artists, and learning from them.

"There's a lot of support in the group," Chandler said. "And every member contributes something." Unlike other organizations, group members neither pay dues nor elect club officers.

"One Easter, we painted ostrich eggs," Chandler said, chuckling, "For Halloween, we've painted small pumpkins and masks."

The group also holds demonstrations where one member instructs the others on such projects as airbrushing motorcycles and designing T-shirts. Chandler found that his specialty is painting temporary tattoos with an airbrush and stencils. He has used his craft at high school Grad Nites, as well as holiday festivals.

The Kensington exhibit was the first large-scale opportunity for area residents to witness the power of the airbrush. Eighteen amateur and professional artists contributed pieces to the show.
Renee Canada

To find out more about the Bay Area Airbrush and Mixed Media Association, call Sandy Jones at 650.346.6413, or Walt Weightman at 408-255-9134, or visit the group's website, at www.geocities.com/ba-airheads.

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Web extra to the October 5-11, 2000 issue of Metro.

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