Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A worn out brush

I wrote last about the importance of clean, sharp brushes. Someday when I am rich and famous I will just throw my brushes away, with my rags, every evening. I would buy my brushes by the gross, in three different sizes.

The brush ( a #4 flat) pictured above is ruined, worn out ( not good anymore). The pro's are rolling their eyes reading this, for they maintain a collection of fine tools. But a lot of people read this blog and most of them are in the earlier stages of their march to artistic greatness.

Now your brushes may wear more evenly than this abraded specimen but the wear happens the same way on a finer scale. The hairs have broken or been worn off in gradated lengths back to the ferrule ( the shiny part). Why its almost like a Mesopotamian ziggurat, or a layered haircut from the David Cassidy period! The same sort of unattractive wear and fragmented deterioration you would expect to find in a broom.

It makes a stroke or line with a chopped up edge, or drag marks at its side. Next to a sharp brush stroke it looks raggedy assed. Rather than acting as a flexible blade, different units of the brush operate in splayed and stiff independent scales or groups. Like a burr that sticks to your woolen sweater in the autumn ( under fading light at fields edge on a hillside in Northern Vermont, with big maples and a 19th century barn and the whole landscape woven into a tapestry of ochers, grays and violet. There's thistles there and sumac) Or imagine an anesthetized porcupine or large hedge hog, gently, kindly, but firmly, attached at its stomach area to a mop handle.

This is a worn brush, an evil thing, but there is something darker still. There are among us men and women (well, I think there are men) who carry with them a collection of brushes in which the paint has been allowed to dry. These brushes are a solid mass from ferrule to tip. They are like a tongue depressor or small pry bar. Obviously these people have to know that the brushes in this condition could never be used, Certainly there is no way they are going to resuscitate one out on location and work with it. But they still carry them, sometimes a dozen or more. They have brushes that once were an inch and a half long worn down to half an inch and totally rigid all the way to its heel. You could hammer one into a phone pole. But they have em, why?

They are not really being honest with themselves, they are engaged in "magical thinking". Or at best a low level simmering resentment, and yes, regret over the lost value of once useful brushes bought at high retail in some big box craft store. I'm not sorry for them, I just can't be.I don't have the time, I have my painting and my commitments. I don't really think about them that much.


Mimi said...

this is definitely one of the reasons I switched to watercolor!

As always I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

Barbara said...

Well written - the first and best biting satire I've read on this topic. I know a painter who leaves price tags on his brushes so he'll know exactly what he's wasting when he doesn't clean them.

Jan Bushart said...

I have a lovely collection of great brushes that are in good condition.I also keep some old bristle brushes around that are way past their prime for "special effects". Sometimes I find them perfect for creating a loose effect: ragged edges on clouds for instance. Those annoying little splayed bristles pick up little wisps of paint and created great edges. Once a year I do give away my piles of old brushes (except for those special effect brushes) away to local art centers.
Jan Bushart
President Plein Air Painters Of Hawaii

Kessie said...

Hahaha! Yes! The dried paint brushes that you could hammer through a phone pole with! At the studio where I used to take art classes, the teacher would have entire coffee cans full of dried-paint brushes that the students had neglected to wash up. I always wondered why he didn't just throw them away. They weren't expensive brands.

Judy P. said...

Whaddaya mean, "someday"?
Well I guess I don't know about the "rich" part- you da man, Stape! said...

I get a particular satisfaction from throwing my used paint brushes and painting knives away. It promotes the feeling that I have been working away. Keep those brushes coming , Stapleton.

Tim said...

Im assuming youre not a fan of the filbert?

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Will you also write about painting with knives, Stape?

BTW, the word verification I get when I leave this comment is "sable." How apropos!

Jim Gibbons said...

It's hard to through out a brush that was once capable of creating one of your finest pieces. Soooo true, Stapleton, and so funny. I toss mine, but it's never fun. I hold on to mine thinking I can use them for "special" techniques.........unfortunatly, I don't use special techniques that include crappy beat up poop brushes! Regardless.........I will carry them for a year minimum. Cheers!!

My3Starz said...

HA HAHHAHA! Hedgehog attached to mop handle!!! HA! I'm so lazy my brushes get crusty and end up in coffee cans as future javelins. :( I'll try to improve. rigid furry brushes do suck. Well written. Thanks for reminder!

willek said...

I very seldom throw anything away. I detach my handles from my old brushes in the event that a handle on a perfectly good brush will break or be run over by a passing auto. The ferrules? Well, the ferrules of an old brush can be worked open by inserting an ice pick into the ferrule and working it around. The old bristles fall out and new hog bristles, obtainable from any fly tying supply house, can be inserted. The ferrule is re crimped with the appropriate sized pipe cutter or a pair of nicely adjusted vise grips. Viola!

Mary Byrom said...

The Renaissance man is making his own brushes! Amazing!

Kevin said...

Thanks for discussing Stape, I've wondered about this. I hate to be wasteful, but brushes do seem to lose their spunk after a few paintings. I have yet to splurge and treat brushes as disposable tools, but perhaps that's holding me back from painting better pictures. Have you seen Ken Auster's "brushes"? (top left)

I can't imagine Sargent, Gerome, Sorolla, or any painter from pre-cheap-labor times using up brushes so lavishly. Any idea of how long artists might have used their brushes in the "olden days"?

Bob Carter said...

In answer to Kevin's question, Gruppe in his second book, "Brushwork for the Oil Painter" (p. 15) has this to say: "Oddly enough, the Europeans once bred a special breed of pig, just for use in brushes. Their bristles had a natural taper But World War I took care of them. The people ate them all! Nowadays, the bristles are sanded to a taper. You've probably noticed the result. Since the end of the bristles have been damaged, they always hold a ghost of color, even after you've cleaned the rest of the brush."

Incidentally, yesterday I mentioned a synthetic brush series from Princeton that stays sharp and acts sort of like a bristle brush (emphasis on "sort of"). It's their 6300 series, if you want to try one, and it was actually A. C. Moore where I got them (not that there's much difference from Michael's).

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks Mimi.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Barbara ;
Thanks. Biting satire!OK

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jan Bushart;.
Different strokes for different folks,like Sly said.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Maybe he thought someday he would clean them up and they would be just fine. It can be done but it is a drag and they are never really good even then.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Judy P;
Derek Jeter is foamous, whoever he is.I think Kim Kardashian is famous too.Painters, at least traditional painters don't become famous or Richard Schmid would be on the cover of People Magazine now and again.

Stapleton Kearns said...;
Do you wear out knives?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lots of folks like those, but I paint in a square touch so the flats are what I like. I learned to paint with rounds.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Michael Chesley Johnson;
I don't know, I hardly ever paint with my knife.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim Gibbons;
Tape them to your upper arms, looks fierce!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hi there! Painting is hard enough to do with the best of materials

Stapleton Kearns said...

Could that be done in a shotgun shell reloader?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom;
I am perplexed by this.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I can't imagine being happy with those brushes.Fine painter though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob Carter;
I remember hearing old timers talk about the wonderful brushes of their youth. Brushes seem fine to me now, no complaints except I don't like them worn down very much.