Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Brush Care

By | 8:23 PM
items needed for brush careItems needed:

· Brush Screen
· Brush Restorer
· Old plastic cards
· Rubber bands
· Dish soap or shampoo
· Odorless mineral spirits
· Jar with a metal coil

            The best advice anyone could follow to prolong the life of their brushes is to IMMEDIATELY clean them after use. For water based mediums this is generally a no-brainer, because five minutes could mean the beginning of your new brush’s life in the trash bin. What about oils since they take longer to dry? Oils still need to be cleaned immediately; just because you cannot see the paint residue on the bristles does not mean it is not there. If you do not clean them straightway, residue will build in the ferrule of the brush (where the bristles connect to the handle) and will eventually stiffen the bristles and reduce their ability to evenly distribute paint.

To begin the cleaning process, you first must use a diluting agent to get rid of most of the paint. For acrylics and watercolors, water and a brush screen is about as efficient as it will get. Oils require a solvent. The most common solvents are mineral spirits or turpentine, although these pose certain health risks with inhalation and skin contact such as CPD (chronic painter’s syndrome). For more information on potential hazards, visit this resource pageThere are many healthier alternatives including linseed oil, pure citrus peel oil, white vinegar, or spike lavender. If you are using spirits or vinegar, you want to clean your brush in a jar with a metal coil inside of it. The coil is a non abrasive way to rid your brush of paint. If you are using a higher viscosity oil solvent, you want to load up your brush and scrape it clean with a palette knife, from the heel to the toe of the brush. You will want to check with your local waste removal service to find out where to dispose of hazardous material.

ruined paint brush,
This is the result of storing a brush with the bristles down.
This is generally reversible with much reconditioning.
The brushes need to be washed once again, this time with an anti-oil agent like dish soap or shampoo. Shampoo tends to leave the bristles softer than dish-soap, but it just comes down to your preference. Do not store your brushes vertically with the bristles down, this will cause permanent warping to the hairs. You want to stress the bristles the least amount possible, for each stress is one day in the life of a brush. The final step which is they drying phase, which is often not given much consideration. Take your fingers and smooth out the bristles from the ferrule to the tip of the brush. You want to store your brush (bristles up!) in a warm and dry place like a windowsill. Otherwise your brush could be growing mold and bacteria inside of its bristles, inhibiting the even flow or the color of your paint.

soak brushes held with rubber bands
Use your rubber-bands to make sure the bristles
 are not touching the bottom of the jar when
soaking in restorative fluid.
If your brushes are already glued shut with dried paint, it may not be too late to play a little Victor Frankenstein and bring them back from the grave. One use for dried brushes is to just use them. I keep a variety of brushes that I don’t clean on purpose, because they allow you certain textures and lines with one stroke as opposed to making a texture with several strokes and layers.  Field grass is a prime example of the benefits of keeping a dried fan brush.

If you want to restore it, it is possible to soak it in brush restorer, available at any art supply store. Be careful, this stuff is very strong (in chemical, not in smell).  If you leave your brushes in the restorer overnight, you will find your bristles dissolving and your brushes sticking together as the paint/plastic on the handles is melting. If your bristles are frayed, take two plastic cards and sandwich the brush between them. Secure and apply pressure with rubber bands and let it stew for a couple of days. You can also close just the bristles of brush into a book and apply weight on top. I would say that even after these restoration techniques, 25% of brushes still need to be thrown away.

reshaping brush with cards
When reshaping a brush, make sure the cards are not only on the bristles. The edge of the cards should be resting on the ferrule. This prevents the toe of the brush from spreading out horizontally.

I hope you could benefit from this quick tutorial, and happy painting!

Further Reading and Sources:

Turner, Jacques. Brushes: a Handbook for Artists and Artisans. New York: Design Pr, 1992.
Mayer, Ralph. The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. 5th ed. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1991.

 Mary, Willenbrink, and Willenbrink Mark. Oil Painting for the Absolute Beginner. Cincinnati, Ohio: North Light Books, 2010.

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Rebecca said...

From artist/contributing writer Dustin E. Parr: Proper paint brush cleaning techniques with a few tips and tricks. This can prolong the length of use an artist can get from their brushes! #painting #artlife #artistway