Who knew 50 years ago when Iwata introduced the HP-C airbrush, it would start the modern day airbrush revolution? But it did when famed artists Charles White III, David Willardson and Michael Cacy, in 1981, switched to the gravity-feed Iwata HP-C from other brands of side-feed models.
The Iwata HP-C gave artists the ability to spray thicker acrylics without clogging problems which gave them the versatility they needed to work beyond the world of inks & dyes. The use of the HP-C with acrylics completely changed airbrush technique for these 3 hugely popular, trailblazing artists in the airbrush industry.
Because of these three artists’ influence in the commercial graphics field, the Iwata HP-C became the favorite airbrush for all illustration artists. It was the go-to airbrush to create all the advertising & fine art graphics before the advent of computers.
It began in 1981 when Charlie White and Dave Willardson, at the invitation of Iwata-Medea, agreed to bring slides and talk about their art at an art materials convention in Pasadena. Dave and Charlie had been introduced to the Iwata brand, and had been using the HP-C airbrush in particular, and loved how it could handle thicker acrylic paints. Before they had only been able to use inks, dyes and thinned paints because of the limitations of other brands of airbrushes.
Dave and Charlie were driving around that day in Pasadena having a hard time finding the convention center. Not really having many expectations for the speaking event, they figured if they didn’t find the place, they’d just go get sushi and call it a day! They gave their search another block or two before they told themselves they’d go get lunch. Luckily, they found the convention center up ahead on the next block. When they pulled in, their friends from Iwata were waiting for them, took care of parking the car and hurriedly ushered them into the hall – because truth is, they were late! When the doors opened there were thousands of people waiting to see them (some since early that morning) and hear them talk about their art. Dave and Charlie were blown away by the sea of people there to see them! They had no idea that this was what was awaiting them. They were very happy they hadn’t blown it off!
In 1982 Iwata ran this ad featuring Dave Willardson and Charles White III.
Dave Willardson is a hugely influential artist who, in the late 60’s, was searching for a style to set him apart and when he found the airbrush, he knew he’d found the look that would change his life. He would gain huge international fame for the American Graffiti album cover in 1973 and would go on to create a whole new look for Disney’s animated movie posters.
Charles White III is the legendary illustrator who brought airbrush to the forefront of commercial art back in the 70’s. Famous for his chrome wings for the Rolling Stones, Charles White says that airbrush spray gave him a “whole new image bank” to pull from – if he’d been oil painting, he never would have “done chrome.”
After their slide presentation, there was a Q & A session for the audience. One of their questions was “What airbrush do you use?” Both Charlie and Dave said the Iwata HP-C airbrush! They talked about how the Iwata HP-C had changed their life and their art because the HP-C could spray thicker acrylic paints and they could get the look they wanted. They said the vibrancy that they could now achieve brought their work to another level.
At this art materials convention and trade show, Iwata had a booth. After Dave Willardson’s and Charlie White’s presentation, it was 10 people deep at the booth and Iwata completely sold out their stock! It was at this point, with all the clamoring for Iwata’s HP-C airbrush due to Dave and Charlie’s glowing praise for the tool, that more & more art stores across the U.S. brought Iwata into their airbrush departments and made it available to all artists!
Needless to say, Iwata was very grateful for the great review and promptly delivered a box of airbrushes as thanks for the unexpected lucky break! Dave Willardson says he still has and uses airbrushes from that box Iwata sent!
Check out what Charles White III and David Willardson are doing now at
Another artist who had a huge impact on the Iwata HP-C gaining traction in the U.S. was renowned illustrator and fine artist, Michael Cacy.
Funnily enough, Michael was also at that same Pasadena art convention as an invited guest of Iwata! He came to speak to artists and answer questions in Iwata’s booth. Michael had been using the Iwata HP-C for years in his work and used it to teach airbrush in his advanced illustration courses at The Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art) in Portland, Oregon. Michael Cacy not only attended many trade shows for Iwata in those early days, but was also a contributor and featured artist in the Portland-based, early 80’s publication Airbrush Digest. All these avenues for sharing the tools he used and trusted gave him a huge sphere of influence.
To this day, Michael uses the original Iwata HP-C he bought for himself in the late 70’s!