Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Some Things to Know About Brushes

As with any other thoughts that I write here, I can promise you that somewhere, somehow, somebody will find the opposite to be true for them. Each artist runs their own show which is why painting is a joy and what also makes it just so darned difficult. That being said, I can say thing for certain that I have spent a great deal of money on brushes over the years. I guess that qualifies me to throw a few thoughts out there. So here's my take and remember that I paint with water soluble oils.
I relegate my brushes into categories; brand spanking new ( which is always so lovely), slightly used, headed for the end, (but still good for tough work,) and over the hill. I generally save the last two categories for students. Whenever I am starting new work that is commissioned, I generally buy a couple of brushes to work with as it immediately takes away some of the problems that older brushes can cause. But wash your new brushes first; it removes the "starch"  they use on them when new and also eliminates the inevitable hairs that fall out at first. I try to keep all of my brushes in separate containers for each category if I can.
Once in awhile, I will go through a couple of hours of brush care and devote time to weeding through the lost causes, cleaning them very well and doing any repair. I used to poo-poo the use of brush cleaner and restorer because I felt like I am exposed to enough chemical ingredients as it is, but this stuff really works! Eventually, paint gets stuck into the ferrule of the brush and yes, you can scrub it really hard to get it all out, but you wear the brush out and fray the ends too quickly.  The cleaner will get up into the ferrule and coax the hardened paint out. It will also restore the brush that somehow you forgot a few days ago that is stiff as a board and appears to be a lost cause. Just soak it in the restorer/cleaner liquid for as long as it takes to soften up the brush and you can can see the paint coming out as you wash. A caution here; do not let the restorer get all over your handle, because it will remove the paint there as well and  you really will have a mess. A little cleaner goes a long way and I use small, glass, spice containers which allow me to soak the brush up to the ferrule without using a lot of cleaner.
On some of the brushes that are over the hill, I sometimes get small scissors and trim away the crazy bent hairs that are in the way. I would not suggest trimming any brush that is very expensive or that is not on its way to the trash can. But trimming some brushes can allow them to live a bit longer and can also allow for interesting line textures and for other duties like gessoing a canvas, or some wild abstract work. There is an interesting YouTube video called How to Trim a Chinese Painting brush and Turn an old Split Brush into a Sharp Liner by www.BlueHeronArts.com If you watch this you can easily see some "do it yourself" fixes for wayward brushes.
It is hard to buy a brush without having it in your hand, bending the hairs, feeling the bounce and knowing what seems like a good fit. It is important to make sure that the ferrule is tight. Once you find a brand that you like and that lasts well, remember it and reordering down the road will be much easier. It is always fun to try new brushes, but I generally feel that most of the wild cut out brushes and strange shapes are mostly gimmicks that only cost the artist big money where it need not be spent. I can remember the days in college, where we had a choice of about a dozen brushes and that was it. Now there are so many that it is difficult to choose.
Once last piece of advice, which applies to just about ALL artist materials; Buy the best quality that you can possibly afford. It DOES make a difference!

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