On the Paintbrush: Part III

24June 2011

On Paintbrush:  Part III
Some artists simply use a paintbrush, they don’t clean it, and the oil-color will harden and ruin the brush.  If you can afford to do that, bravo, you are a wasteful consumer and probably not a very good painter.  Taking care of paint brushes to keep them supple, resilient, and like-new is essential to increase their longevity and to extend their usefulness.  This is the single most important part of paintbrushes.  
It is unwise to leave a paint brush sitting bristle-side down in a solvent for days on end.  This will cause the brush to lose its original shape as the bristles will splay out from time spent soaking and softening, making them weaker and more susceptible to the weight of the handle.  Ideally the oil painter will want to clean paint and solvent residue off his brushes immediately after each use, however that is fairly unrealistic.  I have left my brushes in solvent for a few days if I am feeling lazy or really busy.  It has never destroyed my brushes.  

Most artists will simply use soap and water to get their brushes clean.  I prefer using liquid dish-soap.  I tried many brush cleaners, and found that simple is best.   I have used Dawn liquid dish soap to clean oil and pigment out of my paintbrushes for over ten years.  It’s true, Dawn does cut through grease, and it doesn’t damage the bristles at all, where most brush cleaners can cause split ends in the bristles of your brush from the harsh chemical clean.    
It is important not to use the same paint brush for different mediums, or even different colors.  Different kinds of paint and the solvents used to clean them affect the bristles differently.  Using the same paint brush with different kinds of paint will rapidly destroy the brush.  An oil brush should never be used for acrylic or water based paints.  The bristles of a paintbrush become slightly coated with the medium and oddly accustomed to the original medium used.  Going back and forth between oil based and water based paints with the same brush will literally clog the ferrel with pigment and quickly destroy the brush.  
There have been many questions as to what kinds of brushes I use. 
I use a wide variety of brushes including: brights, flats, filberts, and selected rounds.  I own (and regularly use) 6 brushes of each size and type for the basic color wheel.  I can work with no less.  
I purchased a complete set of brushes in 1998 and now they are finally wearing out and will become unusable in the next year.  Those brushes lasted over 1000 paintings and twelve years only because I took care of them.  I intend to still use the set I have now in the future, but as first layer brushes, scrubbers and varnishers.  When my brushes wear from use, I simply find another use for them.  I keep my brushes in use until they fall apart.  They can still last another three to five years for those purposes. 
I have six classifications of each brush type and size, based on color usage because I am picky.  Separating brush use by violets, blues, greens, reds, oranges, yellows, whites and blacks (but I rarely use black, I substitute a very dark violet or blue for black) is important to me for many reasons.  Even though the painter will always mix and blend colors of different hues together, each brush should almost exclusively be used with one color hue.  There will always be a small amount of paint left inside the ferrel of the brush, and using a freshly cleaned brush that was first used with a different color causes unintentional mixing and color changes within a painting.  Even after the cleaned brush is dry, a trace of the previously used color can and will show its face when you use it again.  Sometimes the result is disastrous when the paint color turns to a grey green mud as a result of poor cleaning.  By keeping brushes separated by color use, the oil painter extends the lasting usefulness of his paint brushes.    
As brushes naturally degrade from use, they can be downgraded to other uses, again extending their life by years.  Turn scrubbers into old worn-out brushes, varnishers and glazers into old brushes with spring left to it, but the hairs have all split.  Under-painters become fairly good brushes, and over-painters become the best and newest brushes.  Other artists buy special brushes for each task; I just use what I have and keep a brush in use until the hairs have almost totally fallen out and are split beyond repair.  I also repair my brushes by trimming them with a scissors or a razor-blade.  Brushes are so expensive that I have never had the luxury of wasting them. 
I use Princeton Art Brush Company brand brushes.  They are not the best (according to other artists), but I feel they are of the highest quality, and last the longest.  I have used many different brush types.  I take great care of my brushes because of their expense. 

Well there you have it…
…some of my opinions about the paintbrush.