Your brushes are arguably your most important tools and can account for a significant portion of your supply costs.
Caring for your brushes properly prolongs their usefulness and saves money.
If you’re like most artists, you’d rather spend your hard-earned money on paint, canvases and frames instead of boring, utilitarian brushes.
Here are a few ways you can prolong the lives of your little buddies and save a few bucks for important things like paints and snacks.
1) Don’t Soak Brushes
Whether you’re a water media painter or use oil paints, soaking brushes in either water or turpentine for a prolonged period is a very bad habit. A brush is typically made with a wooden handle, and the bristles are held in place with glue inside a metal ferrule.
Extended soaking swells the wood, and this expansion can loosen the ferrule. The liquid can also corrode the metal ferrule and will dissolve the adhesive used to hold the bristles in place.
Only leave your brushes in any liquid for a brief period. If you’re in the habit of leaving your brushes in the rinse container for the entirety of your painting session, break that habit immediately.
2) Keep Brushes Scrupulously Clean
Cleaning brushes is not one of the most romantic visions of being an artist. However, it’s an important job you shouldn’t ignore. Schedule that little task into your painting session religiously. It’s costly to replace brushes, so adding a few minutes to your painting session for proper clean up is time well spent.
Little traces of paint build up over time, and if you are using acrylics or oils, that tiny amount will gradually increase until your brush becomes useless. Paint seeps under the edge of the ferrule and stiffens the base of your brush. Slowly, the springy nature of your brush is lost and what remains is a rigid glob of bristles.
If you’re a watercolorist, any traces of remaining paint will contaminate your next puddle of paint. This may not mean much if you’re working with grays and brown, but just try to paint a bright yellow sunflower with a brush that was last used to paint a blue sky.
3) Don’t Use A Brush As A Scrubbing Tool
Everyone needs a little scrubby tool or two. Whether you need to scumble an oil painting or scrub out errant color in a watercolor, a few brushes that can be used for scrubbing are essential for every painter.
However, repeated scrubbing with a brush will damage the bristles. Stiff bristles will break off and soft bristles will no longer hold their intended shape.
Old, worn-out brushes should be consigned to the scrubber assignment and used solely for that purpose. Segregate those brushes so they’re readily available. That way you won’t be tempted to scrub with a good brush ‘just this once.’
4) Reshape Brushes After Cleaning
Once your brushes are clean, take a few moments to shape the bristles into their original form. Brushes are produced in a particular shape to serve a specific purpose. Bristles are selected and placed to achieve a certain profile for a distinct use.
While the bristles are still moist, gently nudge them into perfect alignment. They will dry in their original shape and be ready for their next assignment.
5) Store Brushes Properly
There are two ways to store brushes improperly. One method involves dry brushes and the other affects wet ones.
One inappropriate method is storing brushes vertically with the brush resting on its bristles. The bristles will deform and lose their shape. Over time, this will become permanent and will ruin the brush. If you want to store your brushes vertically, stand them on their wooden ends.
However, after cleaning a brush, there is moisture inside the metal ferrule. Standing brushes upright on their wooden end allows the moisture to pool inside the ferrule. As pointed out earlier, the moisture will degrade the glue and can rust the metal ferrule.
Brushes should be completely dry before storing them vertically. Dry brushes by laying them flat on an absorbent surface or suspend them with the bristles hanging down until they are entirely dry.
These five tips are good habits for a beginning artist to develop. If you’re an experienced painter, you should be following these guidelines. If you’re not, you’re probably spending more than you should on brushes. Get in the habit of treating your brushes properly and your wallet will thank you.