Friday, December 17, 2010

Keeping the tools ship shape

What is the best way to clean a brush?

After years of cleaning brushes and all the different methods I have tried, (brush soaps, shampoo, conditioners, oils…etc., the method illustrated below is the quickest & simplest method and will keep your bristles in beautiful shape and flexible for a long and useful life.

One note about the lasting quality of brushes: if you paint on a rough, course linen or canvas, your bristles will wear down, much like running acarrot over a grater. Your brushes will wear regardless of how you clean them.

First wipe the excess paint from your brush using a rag or paper towel.
Next, use your cleaning solution, thinner. I like Gamsol, as my thinner-cleaner solution as the emissions from this solvent is lower than other mineral spirits.
Swish the brushes in the Gamsol and get the majority of oil paint off. Do not scrub the brush- just swish them with some vigor.

Now- it gets easy- set the brushes in a solution of concentrated Simple Green. You want to place your brushes so the brush-handle rests against the side of the solvent container (as shown below). This will keep a minimal amount of pressure on the bristles and they won’t loose their original shape.

You will want to make sure the bristles and the very bottom section of the metal ferrule is immersed in the Simple Green. Do not let any part of the wood handle to be in contact with the Simple Green. Simple Green is very effective in removing paint and it will also remove the paint from the handle and the glue attaching the ferrule to the wood handle.

I leave the brush in this solution overnight and then rinse under cool water the next day. (I have left my brushes in Simple Green for days, with no damage)
When rinsing your brushes, do it under a good stream of water and press the bristles against the bottom of the sink, again do not scrub it. If it seems there is still paint left up in the ferrule, put the brush back in the solution for another day. Paint trapped in the ferrule will cause your bristles to eventually fan out and loose their shape.

When you are satisfied the bristles are clean, tap off excess water and leave to dry in a horizontal position where air can circulate all around the brush. Your brushes should be dry by the next day and ready to use. Note, some pigment colors will stain the bristles, and this does not affect the life or flexibility of the brush.

Note: You can also remove dried on paint from palette knives in the same way. Leave only the metal blade in the simple green, you will be able to wipe the built-up paint off after leaving them soak for overnight, maybe longer if you have a lot of build up. Remember… don’t let the handle be in contact with the Simple Green- only the blade.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Let’s talk about brushes. Students ask me what to look for when purchasing brushes, as there are so many out there to choose from.

A good oil painting brush is your tool. A brush should lay down paint on the canvas, not drag or scrape it. Many of my students show up to class with a handful of brushes, which are “over the hill”. It is frustrating for them, because the paint won’t come off the brush and lay over the paint layer under it. Brushes do not last forever, but with good care they will live longer. I will cover cleaning in another post. Hey, but don’t throw out your old brushes. I like to use my old brushes for other uses, like paint touch ups on walls, cleaning lint out of sewing machines, crafts, scouring drain openings… use your imagination, there are many useful ways to use that old brush.

"Over the Hill Brushes"

My favorite overall choice is a filbert bristle brush, second is a flat. That said, there are many different brands and quality of bristle brushes. Remember, this is one of your most important tools (next to your brain). Just like a chef needs a good quality knife that cuts with ease, you need a brush that will apply the paint without a fight and keep the process fun.

This is what I look for in a brush.
Flexibility: A good bristle brush should have flex and be long enough to bend in the middle.
There is a difference between flex and soft. A soft haired brush, as in sables, is good for softening edges in oil or in painting with watercolor. I prefer a natural hog hair bristle brush for the majority of my oil painting applications.
If the bristles are too stiff the paint will not leave the brush and lay paint over the layer underneath, it will merely scrape it. Your painting will look thin and anemic and your colors will be dull, not luminous.

Dimension: I choose filberts that have a thin profile. This allows the brush to be used as a drawing tool as well as for layering of paint. If the brush is too thick, you loose the ability to make beautiful thin linear notes as well as overall control. Notice how much thinner one brush is. These two new brushes are both size 8, by different manufactures.

Flats vs. Filberts: I really like flats when I am working with square shapes or wanting a sharper edge. Filberts are the brush I use 90% of the time.
Notice how the paint layers differently with a flat versus a filbert. The filberts add layers without a hard edge. Also shown is the path of each brush as it paints on a clean canvas. The flat & filbert brushes used are both size #6.

Remember: Our tools are an extension of our desire. Choose the best and make a beautiful mark on the World.