Archive for the ‘Scribal Tools’ Category

Scribal Hint 11: Care and Feeding of Brushes

Monday, January 3rd, 2011


Before we go any farther with paint, I would like to discuss the care and feeding of your brushes. Specifically, I am referring to natural bristle brushes for gouache or watercolor paints. If you treat them right, they will last for years! I have quite a few of my favorite brushes that I have been using for over a decade, and they are still going strong! I don’t generally get the expensive brushes. The ones I get run anywhere from $3 to $12 each. So the price of the brush really doesn’t have much to do with the longevity.

I am not one to usually say to specifically “Never” or “Always” do something, but I feel very strongly about these points, so I am using those words in this post.

The Care and Feeding of Your Brushes:

Never! Ever! Ever!…

Never keep brushes sitting in your wash water container! It will bend the bristles out of shape or if your brush has paint built up at the base on it, the weight of the water can break/snap the bristles completely.

Never smash the brush into the bottom of the water cup. Always swish the brush around above the bottom of the brush in the water. If the paint near the quarrel (the silver part between the bristles and handle) is caked on and a bit harder to get out, place the side of the bristles next to the side of the water container, so that the brush is at a very steep angle, and the bristles are just below the surface of the water. Place the brush between your first finger and thumb, then roll the brush back and forth quickly a few times. Then, rinse it out in the water again. If the stubborn paint is still there repeat until it’s gone.
Rinsing Brush on Side of Water Container

Never lick the brush to get the paint off of it. Some paints are still quite toxic, even in very tiny quantities. It’s just not a good habit to have, especially if you want to eventually try your hand at authentic materials and techniques. It’s a naughty habit and one that’s potentially dangerous..

Never lick the brush to get it to a fine point. Always dip it into the water container and gently dab it off on a paper towel.

Never dab your brush point first on the paper towel. Always dab it on it’s side at a low angle, so just the sides of the bristles are gently touching the paper towel. Dabbing point first will result in frayed and broken bristles. That does not make for easy or good painting!
Dabbing Brush

Never pull on the bristles, especially when the brush is wet. Yes, this does mean even if you do it really gently. Yes, this includes when a paper towel is between your fingers and the bristles. Even pulling gently on the bristles when wet can cause bristle loss, or them to come out of the quarrel completely.

Never store your brushes tip up while the bristles are still wet. Doing so can cause mold (even in the desert), or sometimes the glue holding the bristles in can become soft and the bristles can fall out. Once they’re dry, storing them upright is the safest way to keep the bristles pristine.
Brushes Stored Upright


Always clean your brushed thoroughly between colors and after you’re finished painting for the day, or if the doorbell rings, etc. There’s nothing worse than getting a color you didn’t want in the color you do want because your brush was dirty. The second worse thing is to have a brush clogged with paint after it’s set out too long. Depending on your paints/pigments this can also eat away at your bristle, so no more brush.

Always mix your paints with a pallet knife or a brush dedicated to mixing that gets rigorously cleaned after each color is mixed. This saves your brushes unnecessary wear and tear, and not to forget, fraying.

If the paint starts to chip on the handle near the quarrel, take a little clear nail polish and paint it over the chipped area, and over the quarrel a little, as well as over the paint a little further up the handle (maybe 1/16 of an inch), so that water doesn’t seep in between and chip off more paint.
Clear Nail Polish Over the Chipped Paint

If you feel the need to use soap on your brushes, make sure it is  recommended for your type of brush. Honestly, I have never used soap on any of my brushes, and they are still good as new!

Always respect and care for your brushes, and they will last you a lifetime.

Hopefully Helpful,