Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some advice on brushes

I received this query today. I am always happy to get questions, as they prompt me on what to write.
Could you tell us what make of brushes you recommend. Also, how do you maintain them and when do you throw them away?

I am not loyal to a single brand of brushes. Lately I have been using the Winsor Newton brushes. I buy them from Jerries Artarama. They have a funny handle that is supposed to counterbalance their weight. It gives them a wasp shape that I am not sure I like, but they are median priced and the quality is excellent. So many of the brushes are made in China now and I have been unhappy with their quality. They seem to develop loose ferrules. That's the metal part that holds the bristles onto the stick part. If it gets wiggly the brush is useless. I have had that problem with brushes from a number of different manufacturers all of whom have their brushes made in China.The exception to this is that I do buy the Creativemark brushes from Jerries, they are Chinese cheapies so I only use the #1 size, it seems like their ferules don't come loose as easily.

I recently bought some Canson bristle brushes that were made in France. The silky hairs in them gave great handling and I think I will try some more of them. I also have been keeping a
# 12 nylon brush in my kit and laying things in with that. I like the softer stroke that makes sometimes.Those brushes tips do seem to explode though. The big ones, just as in the bristle brushes tend to last longer than the small ones.

I don't ever wash brushes. I rinse them out in my thinner and set them aside for the next day. I am sure that shortens their lifespans and I go through a lot of brushes. I get the same number of days out of a brush as its size number. A number four lasts me about four days for instance. If a brush becomes choked with paint or I forget to clean one, I use professional house painters brush cleaner on it. That's a noxious product, best used outside. I also treat brushes with GOOP the mechanics handcleaner. That softens them up when they get stiff.

I throw away lots of brushes as I like them sharp. When they start to wear, out they go. I look at them as Popsicle sticks, disposable.


billspaintingmn said...

Ha! The 3 stooges and a mop!
Some folks make their own paint, I'm sure there are recipes to making a good brush.
I had done alot of sign painting, and have some brushes that they dont make anymore.
Some of the newer ones don't snap
or twirl as they should.
Once you know what a good brush can do, best to take care of it I say.
I'm still learning about brushes,
some brushes need to look like those guys hair-do's before they are 'broke-in' (like large backgrounds for photographers...)
Some I modify to get my result.
Can you explain who may have painted with what, and how the brush is handled?
Thanks Stape!

Dot Courson said...

You need to save your old brushes as I'm sure your friends in MN could have just about built a new house with your handles by now! (they used a toilet chain on that chandelier? Really?!)
Almost all of the brushes I have ever thrown out are worn down to the nub... (crew cut looking)
"Really Works" is a product that I use for cleaning my brushes. Dried paint just melts when soaked a day in it...

jeff said...

Is that not Sideshow Bob?

jeff said...

I use linseed oil soap when they get a little stiff. It gets out dried paint as well and is not toxic.

Tim said...

Wow Stape! Such a brush man-handler!

I too use linseed soap every night on the brushes, and I do the whole rigmarole with cutting out little paper squares, rinsing the brushes in cold water and then wrapping them up tight in the paper. They dry the next morning, and something in the paper towels, could be the sizing or something, helps them keep their shape. They are razor sharp, and I have brushes that are 3 years old, look as good as new (almost)

I have certain brushes for scrubbing in and such that don't look as purdy, but the get the same shampooing and shaping deal. The Robert Simmons brushes are great, with the off white and green tipped handle.

If you have trouble with loos ferrules, you can leave the brushes overnight in water, and the wood should swell enough to stop that. If the ferrule is still loose, I just rip it off and plop in some "Repair Extreme", a strong goopy adhesive and that does the trick.

Another thing if you cant be bothered to clean brushes every night, is to use one of those paint roller trays, and fill it with linseed-oil. The brushes lay at a 20 degree incline, and wont get bent, wont dry out and wont get "burnt" by having thinner in them all night.

4 days for a number 4 man... that aint right!

Edward said...

Wow! Those cats in the photos REALLY need to buy better brushes! .....I used to think I was washing my brushes well using 3 different mineral spirit tanks, progressively clearing the brush going from one to the next until nothing was coming out of it. Then I started using brush soap (in this case 'the masters' brush cleaner and preserver) and found that there was a ton of paint in the ferrule that I wasn't getting at. I also found the bristles are more supple and tend to behave better as a result of lathering up. A good friend of mine uses the Stape cleaning method of simply swishing them in solvent and swears by that. He also paints 24.5 hours a day like Stape and that must figure into it, as they are always in use. I can't believe what I'm seeing in the Spector photo. That has to be in the top 5 nuttiest hairdo's ever! That is CRAZY!!!

mariandioguardi.com said...

Mary Byrom is the champ of clean brushes. After a full day of painting, her brushes looked new.

Being a pallet knife painter, I don't' think about brushes much EXCEPT for the rigging /liner brushes I bought after your workshop.What a great tool for ellipses and drawing in paint. Another thanks for that one.

The couple of times (or so) that I have cleaned a brush, I found that good old Les-toil is a miracle cleaner (for paint on clothes too).

Susan McCullough said...

Can we vote on which "brush head" we like the best? I love those pics!

Susan Roux said...

So sorry, I had trouble following what you were saying, I was sidetracked by your well chosen images!

I love finding humor in the morning... Anytime, really.

Some of my most worn out brushes are my favorites. Kind of like old slippers...

armandcabrera said...


Beside the lousy quality, the newer brushes are now numbered differently. I have older brushes from most of the manufacturers and they have changed the number designation, what used to be a size six is now a size eight. So you pay for the larger brush size but get 25 to 30 % less brush. And people say there is no more American ingenuity.

Cheri Dennett said...

What a fun way to begin my day - I think I see a beak poking out of Spectors' head!!!
My new favorite product that seems to do a fine job on my brushes is Dawn (the original blue one) dishwashing liquid!!! I have used the Masters for years and Dawn works just as well...

Chris said...

Thanks for your great blog, always lots to think about.

Have you ever tried kerosene to clean brushes, as recommended by Carlson and others?

alotter said...

What about that mom and pop operation, Kalish? Are you dissatisfied with their brushes now? I have tried them, and they seem OK, but I don't paint every day like you do.

I do tend to treat my brushes pretty cavalierly, --I wipe them, swish them around in the Gamsol and return them to their airtight tube, which keeps them soft for a couple of days. For longer periods, I keep a bucket of veggie or mineral oil handy to plunge them into until I need them again.

Philip Koch said...

Would it be tough love to call Stape a brush abuser?

I too love a sharp new brush but I can't bring myself to go through them in 4 days. Though it is time consuming I clean with Gamsol and then Masters brand brush cleaner (which I think I learned about on this blog by the way).

It works pretty well and it always boosts my morale to look at the word "Masters" on the lid. "Guess they're talking about me" I say to myself and then lean to my task of brush washing.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I needed that laugh today, Stape. Thanks! At first I was afraid it would be a discussion of mops, scrubbers, liners, hogs, mongooses, squirrels, etc. And thanks everyone for all the cleaning tips. I use Ivory soap once in a while. I find if I am painting out several days (in foreign countrysides), I can use plastic zipper bags to keep the brushes until they can be cleaned. Just separate the greens from the others or they all seem to end up green.

Carol Nelson said...

You should start a BAA (Brush Abusers Anonymous) club. I'd be your first member.
I thought I alone did not follow brush cleaning protocol. Mine are lucky if they get swished in turpenoid and Windsor Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer.
I loved all the mop photos. You crack me up Stape.


I like the "funny" too.
No one hates to clean brushes more than I do . . . until I purchased the Brush-Mate electric cleaner about 4 years ago. I'm posting a picture of it on my blog as soon as I finish this comment.

Unknown said...

I've been in continual search mode for brushes that LAST. Still haven't found them, but lately, I've been buying watercolor brushes (red sable flats) and they seem to hold shape and bounce better than the oil brushes.
I'm not great about keeping them perfectly clean, though trying to be better. Have used Fells Naptha soap, available in the laundry aisle of the supermarket for about $1.00. It smells nice too. Also have used some linseed oil soap, but the Fells Naptha works wonders and is cheaper. I put the bar in some old plastic tub with a lid and scrub the brushes on it several times till they rinse clean.

willek said...

Marian is right, I saw with my own eyes... Mary Byrom is the Queen of Clean brushes. Whatever she does, we should all be doing. Her brushes sparkle!

Mary Byrom said...

Thanks Marian! Didn't realize my brushes were that noticeably clean. I paint almost everyday and my flats become brights. I wash them in the same stuff that Deb does and handmade milk & honey soap if I have any stubs of it around after my bath. My brushes love it as Marian will confirm. They like their soap & bath so much that they last a very long time... and on special nights when the moon is just right they sing and dance and finish paintings for me.

Mary Byrom said...

Willek, thank you. Stapleton appears to like that wild man rough and tumble approach with his brushes while I prefer a more sublime, gentle relationship...if he could only hear what they are saying about him late at night when he is not around....

Unknown said...

So, Mary, what brand are those singing brushes? I could use a few of those!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will try to do that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes they actually used toilet chain to make that chandelier. They were giggling about it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sideshow Bob?

Stapleton Kearns said...

That works, but I prefer toxic.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't even have shoes that are three years old.
Your method is great if you don't wear them out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is a good method too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There is an advantage to knife painting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that Phil Spector would win.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I am a worn out slipper myself.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hadn't noticed that. My brushes are English and French though mostly.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like Ivory bar soap for that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I read that too, but I have never tried it. I should though. Kerosene is not explosive like gasoline by the way.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like them well enough but I ordered last from Jerries. When I order brushes I buy enough to last for 6 months or so.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The little tub frightens me. I like Ivory soap.The masters does do a good job though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You can wrap them up in Saran and throw them in the frig. too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Brush abusers therapy,25cents.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I've never even heard of that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sables are a different story, they need to be kept scrupulously clean.

Stapleton Kearns said...

She is substituting new brushes when you look away. Its a trick. Her brushes are as dirty as anyone else's.I have reason to believe she never changes the oil in her Gremlin.

Stapleton Kearns said...

On other nights they steal your liquor.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Willek is heavily armed, watch out.He has killed truckloads of wildfowl and God knows what else.