The Artist’s Studio: 5 Tips for Caring for Your Brushes

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You might have noticed that some paintbrushes are very expensive! Most of the time the reason is that they are of very high quality, and worth the investment. But a good brush is only worth it if you can get the most use out of it. If you treat your expensive paintbrushes just like your inexpensive ones, you are wasting your investment.

Here are five tips to help you care for and extend the life of your brushes:

1. Clean your brush immediately after using it.

When you are having an artistic moment, it may be tempting to leave a dirty brush to sit for a while while you grab another one to complete your masterpiece. Resist! Especially in the case of painting with acrylics, forgetting to clean a brush often means buying a new one.

And while it’s true that painting with oils, the paint will take longer to dry on the brush than acrylics or watercolors, the longer one sits out, the more thoroughly you’ll need to clean it. After too many sessions of neglect and non-thorough cleanings, an oil brush too will be ready for the trash bin.

2. Between painting sessions, clean your brushes with brush cleaner, soapy water or shampoo.

When you know you’ll be putting your brushes away for a while, a simple rinse in water (or mineral spirits for oils) isn’t good enough. Work brush soap or shampoo into the bristles of the brush all the way down to the ferrule, and rinse thoroughly with lukewarm to cool water until no trace of paint or suds are left. Some folks use dishwashing liquid and even ammonia-based glass cleaner for particularly stubborn water-soluble paints.

3. Do your best to clean the base of the bristles.

The area near the ferrule is often the hardest to clean, but it’s actually just as important for maintaining a brush’s shape as the tip. Any paint residue that coats the bristles at their base will prevent them from coming together at the top. Gradually, your brush tip will become more and more spread apart until it no longer holds its shape.

4. Never store your brushes vertically in water or solvent.

There are a few good reasons not to do this. The pressure on the brush can permanently misshape the bristles, bending them or spreading them out so they no longer come to a point. If they are left too long to rest on the bristles, most brushes will never regain their original shape.

The other reason not to do this has to do with the ferrule. If you are working in oils, the solvents you use to clean your brush could also eat away at the glue inside the ferrule holding the bristles to the handle. With acrylics or watercolors, water can eventually cause the wooden handle to swell or crack, also potentially damaging the ferrule.

If you’ve ever picked up a brush from a jar of cloudy solvent or water only to find a handle without a ferrule or bristles, you know what I’m talking about.

5. Store clean brushes vertically head-side-up or horizontally.

Make sure that brushes aren’t resting against the tips of other brushes, or they can become deformed. Many artists keep their brushes rolled in canvas sleeves with individual pockets for each brush, or in drawers. As long the head is undisturbed, a brush should be fine stored vertically with the head up or horizontally. Avoid packing them up too tightly.

Be sure to take a look at our paint brush primer to learn more about the anatomy of a paintbrush bush and the six main types of brushes available.

If you take good care of your brushes, they should last you for many paintings. What is your best advice for caring for your paint brushes?

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