How to Ruin a Paint Brush

Paint BrushesI confess, some of my brushes get more TLC (tender, loving care) than others. Some get a quick swirl and wiped on a cloth to check they won’t contaminate the next colour I use with them, and shoved back into the jar. Others get a swirl, a wipe on a cloth, a rinse in clean water, soap and clean water, a final rinse, dried on a clean cloth, and left horizontal to dry. What can I say, life’s not fair.

I do try never to make promises to a new brush, but then not all the brushes I use are equal. Some are cheap, rough bristle brushes with hairs that stand all over the place that I use when I don’t want controlled mark-making (read: cheap DIY brushes), while others have meticulously lined-up hairs for when I do (read: artist’s brushes). Like so many things in art, know what you ought to do and not, then decide where the balance lies for you.

How to Ruin a Paint Brush

1. Don’t Wash All the Paint Out of a Brush
If every time you wash a brush you leave a little bit of paint at the base of the bristles, in that hard-to-reach bit near the ferrule (metal bit), it’ll gradually accumulate as dry paint, stiffen and force the hairs apart. Yes, I agree, it’s tedious to ensure all the paint is washed out thoroughly at the end of every painting session, but at least do it with your best brushes.

2. Let Brushes Soak
You know how lovely a bath is when you first get in, all warm and relaxing, but all too soon the the water gets cold and your skin goes wrinkly, so you get out. Your brushes want to do the same, not be left to soak for extended periods resting on the bristles, the most valuable and delicate part. The water/solvent is also soaking into the wood of the handle and the glue holding the bristles in, and other dire tales of woe.

3. Use as a Scrubbing Brush
Save brush abuse for the worn-down or cheap, don’t be mean to new ones, forcing their beautiful hairs this way and that. The effects may be pleasing, but it doesn’t require a good brush.

4. Store Brushes On Their Bristles
The tip of the handle is sturdier than the tip of the bristles so, if you want to store you brushes upright, put them into the container standing on their handles, not the bristles.

5. Don’t Reshape a Brush
It takes but a moment to guide the bristles through your fingers into the ‘normal’ shape of the brush. (Do I even need to say it: don’t use your lips!) If they don’t want to co-operate, wrap a piece of damp tissue paper around then and leave it to dry; as the paper dries, it’ll contract and encourage the bristles into their original shape.

6. Mix Oils/Acrylics with a Brush Not a Knife
You’ve got the brush in your hand, so it’s all too easy to use it to mix colours together instead of using a palette knife. Not only are you adding mileage to the bristles, but unless you’re working with tiny quantities of paint you end up with globules of it at the ferrule, jammed up into the far reaches of the bristles. Don’t do it! A knife cleans so easily!

6 Replies to “How to Ruin a Paint Brush”

  1. Thank you Marion. Much needed reminders. Its so easy for me to say that I’ll give the good brush a “proper” clean next time.

  2. Up until very recently, I violated Rule No. 3. I used the expensive hog bristle brushes I “finish” a painting with to do the initial scrub-in. I was wondering why my brushes were getting so worn down….. I decided to buy some synthetics for the sole purpose of the scrub-in. Sometimes it takes a few decades to get smart.

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