When most people hear the words air brush painting they instantly light up with the thoughts of body painting. Well, I guess you could relate my air brush painting project as body painting, but in a distant way. After a long period of brainstorming I was set and determined to teach the ins and outs of custom air brush painting your personal duck and goose hunting decoys. With the amount of technology involved in today’s air brush painting and the realism needed on decoys to attract birds into the closest distance, custom painting your personal decoys with an air brush system is an absolute pay off!

My reason for choosing to teach custom air brush painting was quite simple. I feel that the simple use of air brush painting can add quality to almost anything paint worthy as well as put anyone into a well paying career. This lesson of air brush painting is meant for anyone who enjoys renovation, art, needs another hobby, or simply wants to learn what the art of custom air brushing is all about.

Learning Outcomes and Objectives

1. To teach other students how easy painting can be with an air brush system.

2. To understand basic set up procedures, paint needs, safety tips, and user tips for air brush painting.

3. To obtain a new technologically advanced hobby that is becoming more and more popular in today’s realistic art advancement.

4. And lastly, to have fun in being educated on a useful tool that can one day be beneficial to each and every one of us.

Importance, History, and Social Trends

Unless you were an air brush fanatic, artist, or followed modern marvels, you may not realize that the air brush has a long line of history and interesting facts connected to its creation. The original name for the air brush is the “Paint Distributor”, and was first assembled by Abner Peeler in 1879. For the next 50 years the “Paint Distributor” was used as the one and only air brush design, and until a brilliant marketing man named Liberty Walkup came a long, the air brush creation was worth nothing but a penny.

The original Air Brush known as the "Paint Distributor"

The original drawn out model of the first Air Brush gun from the 1800's known as the "Paint Distributor." (

The above photo is the original invention of the “Paint Distributor” created by Abner Peeler in 1879. This original gun was sold for $10 at the time which is equivalent to over $100 in the 21st century.

In 1881 Bible salesman Liberty Walkup bought the rights to the “Paint Distributor” from Peeler for $750 and an additional $150 for further improvements to the invention. By 1883 Liberty Walkup started the Rockford Manufacturing Company and revised the “Paint Distributor” while renaming the creation to what is now known as the Air Brush. After years of improvements and companies nation wide marketing off of his newly designed Air Brush, the mass production of Air Brushes and Air Brush painting schemes started to rocket in the early 90’s.


Example of a high quality Air Brush Gun for custom Air Brushing. (

The above photo shows what the 21st century high tech Air Brush gun looks like. These Air brush guns range anywhere from $50 up to $2000 depending on size, manufactures, design, and capability.

Personal Experience and Others Experiences

While the use of air brush painting has blown up into a renovation of body painting and realistic portraits, the hunting industry has sky rocketed with decoy sales from decoys being mass produced from air brush painting for a realistic appeal. In 1998 a local company started here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon created the first custom air brush painted decoy that has now completely changed the design of decoy production across the world. Designed by a local water fowl hunter, the Dave Smith Decoy is an air brush painted goose decoy that is molded from a hand carved mold. The use of the air brush gives the decoy its ultimate realistic feather detail to bring in birds to the optimal shooting range.

After numerous visits with Dave and a few short lessons, I have come to the conclusion that I will never again use a decoy that has not been air brush painted whether it is a Dave Smith Decoy or my own air brush painted decoys, the air brush system is above and beyond any other decoy used for hunting.


Dave Smith Honker Decoy. Custom Air Brush painted. Photo taken by Brett Neffendorf

The picture to the right is a custom air brush painted Dave Smith decoy. Notice the bright feather detail and color variations that run together for optimal feather and body detail.

Since 2006 when I started air brushing my own decoys, I have gone through many trials of defeat with the air brush, but now with the amount of experience I have received from hours in the shop painting, I have become confident in my painting skills.


Brett's Air Brushed Custom painted full body goose decoys. Photo taken by Brett Neffendorf

This decoy is one of my own custom painted air brushed goose decoys that I now hunt over in every one of my field goose hunts. This was originally a mass produced decoy from a company that had a very unrealistic paint scheme. But, after using my air brushing skills I have brought out the perfect feather detail for the type of hunting we do here in the Oregon.

Air Brush Painting your own personal items…

The first step to air brush painting is figuring out exactly what it is you want to do. Since my own experiences are based off of painting plastic decoys I will give you a break down and teaching of exactly how to, what to, and when to paint these types of plastic materials, as well as what all you will need for this fun project!

Tools needed for Air Brush Painting

After purchasing your own air brush or borrowing an air brush, you are going to need a few simple tools and necessities. This is a cheap hobby after the initial air brush system is purchased.

A simple painting face mask, glasses, a ventilated area such as an open shop, a few cleaning towels, and a tooth brush for cleaning the air brush is just enough to get you started air brush painting. All of these materials can purchased at stores such as Lowes, Home Depot, or paint stores like Sherwin Williams.


Before you start to even think about painting a plastic material you must completely scrub down the surface to ensure that residue, film, dirt, and any other materials that will cause paint to flake are not caked onto the plastic. For this you will need just a wire brush, rag, and a surface cleaner.

TSP Lacquer for material cleansing

Here is an example of a cheap material lacquer that will remove any grime off of plastic. First scrub the decoy or plastic material you are painting with TSP lacquer purchased from Home Depot, then lightly brush down the material with a wire brush, scrub the plastic again with TSP, let dry, then wipe down the plastic with a dry towel.

Once the plastic has been properly cleaned, it is now time to get your air brush system set up for the initial base painting.

Air Brushing your Decoys

For airbrushing a plastic material such as decoys, you will want to use ONLY a water based paint. Water based paints are what I have found to stick best on a rough plastic surface and after being completely painted, the final go around of clear coat protector will keep the paint heeled to the plastic for maximum usage.

Step 1: Now it’s time to paint! After purchasing the color of water based paint that would like to use, you must mix the paint by following the directions on the paint can. With these paints and especially with air brushes you must mix the paint with a thinner. Mix the paint and thinner in a separate bottle or bucket from the paint can. Once the paint is mixed slowly pour the paint into the air brush paint bucket or container. Once this process has been surely done, you are now on to the actual painting of the product.

Step 2: Before you attempt to do any painting onto the actual material, make sure to test your spray gun onto paper or cardboard to make sure that the paint is being pumped into the gun properly as well as the nozzle being completely gunk free to give the perfect amount of air brushed paint flow.

Air brush nozzle

Air Brush Gun example. Photo taken by Brett Neffendorf

The above image gives you an idea of where the paint will be exiting the gun. Before and after using your air brush gun, make sure to clean the nozzle and needly with a tooth brush or tooth pick to remove any excess built up paint that will clog the needle.

Step 3: From here you are set up to actually spray your decoy. While air brush painting is quite simple and quick, you must know a few things before you start throwing paint onto the decoy itself. Hold your air brush gun at an angle horizontal with the decoy anywhere from 6-12 inches away from the material you are spraying. Make sure to start and stop your spray away from the material you are spraying. For example, start your spray about 6 inches in front of the body of the decoy working left to right and ending the spray 6 inches after you pass the back of the decoy. This will make sure that the same amount of paint is exiting the gun and holding onto the material at once so you do not over spray or under spray certain areas of your decoy.

Step 4: From here you want to let that first pass of air brushed paint dry for about an hour in a mild temperature area. Once you have allowed the product to dry, you may go over the decoy again with multiple coats at a time now. This just insures that the paint you put on for your first coat looks the way you want it, correctly sticks to the material, and has a base coat for your next layers to attach to. After you have sprayed the decoy as dark or as light as you would like, you are actually done! See, this is a lot simpler than you would have expected!

Step 5:With airbrush painting decoys all you are doing is varying the denseness of the dark and light brown that you are spraying onto the decoy. The lighter color on the bottom of the decoy is caused by lightly applying just one coat of paint, while the darker colors on the sides, top, and very butt of the decoy are caused by a heavier application of the brown colored paint used to spray the decoy.

After you are finished painting and satisfied with the coloration and detail that the brush has created from the ridges, and carves in the decoy and the application of coats, you are now ready to use your decoys in the field and test your product! Here are a couple of pictures from hunting this year and last year over my own air brushed decoys. With the realism of these decoys, I am able to land birds in the decoys which gives me an opportunity to take a mass amount of wildlife photos.

This picture was taken this year while hunting geese here in the Willamette Valley over air brushed decoys of my own. Notice that the decoys and the birds are very similar in color and with the amount of birds actually in the decoys it is hard to even tell that we have decoys set out!


Photo taken by Brett Neffendorf hunting over Air Brushed Custom painted decoys


Photo taken by Brett Neffendorf hunting over Air Brushed Custom painted decoys

Further Readings on Air Brush Painting


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