Thursday 14 April 2011

Taking Care of your Paint Brushes

Paint Brush Care
Boring topic, I'm afraid, but if you don't look after them well enough, you'll end up spending more on hairy pencils than on lumps of the bare plastic you want to buy. Inevitably, though, your brushes will get damaged through age and misuse. Recycle - keep them as drybrushes, stirrers and stipplers. 

For everyday mini painting, you'll mostly be using brushes from size 0000 (or 4/0) for fine detail all the way up to 2 or larger for quick coverage of bigger areas.
Their construction is the same.

The bristles - usually made of hair or some rubbish synthetic - are held in place by a metal collar called a Ferrule. This is important. The interaction of your ferrule with the bristles governs how long the brush will survive. It's made of a thin, cheap metal - don't kid yourself, it's not titanium - and if it's mistreated, your brush will quickly become a paint stirrer.

If paint gets in and dries inside the ferrule, the bristles will harden as they're stuck together, become brittle and stiff, and fall out. Here's how to not end up with a mangy brush:
  • Don't stir the paint with a good brush. Use a crappy freebie from a beginner's Airfix set - the type that comes with mini-pots of thick, gloopy acrylic.
  • Don't mix paints with a good brush. See above for alternative.
  • When painting, try and wet only the tip (or toe) of the brush. The paint will work it's way to the ferrule, so keep an eye open.
  • Rinse often in water to stop the paint getting to the ferrule. If, for some reason, you're using oils, rinse in turpentine instead. The same goes for alternative acrylic thinners.
  • When drying off excess water or paint, wipe the paper towel in a single direction - from handle to point. Try and shape the bristles as you wipe.
  • Don't scrub with the brush - this will kink the bristles at the heel and deform the shape.
  • Wash your brush well after a session. I mean with soap, and until the last bit of acrylic paint comes out. If you allow even a little bit of paint to dry near the ferrule each time, it won't take many sessions before enough has gunged up the brush enough to kill it.
  • Don't use hot water to wash your brush. Sorry. Maybe I should have mentioned this earlier. The heat will expand the ferrule's metal structure, soften the glue holding the bristles and drop or deform your bristles.
  • Always reshape your brush - and always to its original pointed or flat form. Do this when drying on paper towel.
  • Store your brushes upright or flat. If you soak or store them with their weight on the bristles, you might as well go straight back to the shop and buy another set. If you need to soak the brush to give an extra clean, make sure it's suspended somehow.

The rules change a little for stipple brushes and drybrushes. You still need to store them properly and clean them thoroughly, to promote longevity, but the painting techniques you use are naturally abusive to the bristles. This is why many fine brushes are promoted to drybrush status in their twilight years.

These are the basics. We all break the rules from time to time, and often we get away with it. However, that's no reason to develop bad habits.

Any comments? Any tips for fixing brush care mistakes? Please post below.

I'm about to try a fabric softener/hair conditioner soak on a new brush that was given to me splayed. It may persuade it back into shape.

Brush on right was never pointed. Can it be saved?

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