Mistakes That Ruin Paint Brushes and How to Avoid Them
Proper Brush Cleaning and Storage Are Key
Artists’ paint brushes can be quite expensive, and once you invest a small fortune to get all the shapes and sizes you need for your art-making, the last thing you want is to ruin your newly acquired, precious tools.
Listed here are the five main things you should avoid if you want to keep your brushes in good shape.
1. Letting Paint Dry on the Brush
It is always easier to clean paint off the brush when it’s still wet. Once dry, it becomes almost impossible to completely remove paint from the bristles.
To avoid any risks of paint drying on the brush, keep your brush moist during painting sessions, and clean it as soon as you are done.
Paint left on the brush will make hairs stiffer and the bristles will lose their shape.
When using acrylic paint keep the bristles moist with water, but don't leave brushes soaking in water for a long time (see #2). Oil paint is slower to dry, so there is no urgency to keep the brushes moist (with thinner) during the painting session, but you need to clean them properly when you are done.
If oil paint dries on the brush, try soaking the bristles in a good degreaser for a few minutes then rub them on the palm of your hand, adding soap as needed.
Caution: I recommend always using rubber gloves when handling paint. Many pigments are toxic or carcinogenic. I avoid contact with my skin as much as I can.
Anatomy of a Brush
2. Leaving Brushes Soaking for a Long Time
The brush is made of different parts, kept together by glue and/or pressure.
While you don’t want to let paint dry on the brush, and it’s useful to keep the brush wet during the painting session, leaving a brush soaking in water for a long time can damage it, irreversibly. Even worse than water is a brush left soaking in thinner/oil solution.
The damages of soaking:
- Too much moisture and the weight of the whole brush resting on the bristles cause bristles to bend and deform.
- Liquid penetrates under the ferrule, soaks the unvarnished part of the handle, and soften the glue, possibly causing the ferrule to detach from the handle. In the long run the glue that holds the bristles and the brush together can also dissolve, causing the ferrule to come off, or hair starts shedding while you paint – and it’s so frustrating to remove hairs from the painting.
- Fluid penetrates under the handle varnish, making it flaky. When a brush loses the varnish, the texture of the handle is different, but also pieces of varnish may peel and fall in the paint and get on your painting surface – another frustrating removal.
3. Not Cleaning the Bristles Properly
Whether you use oil paint or a water based paint, not cleaning the bristles thoroughly can shorten the life of the brush.
First take the excess paint off with a cloth rag or paper, then clean and wash the hairs until no trace of paint is left.
Make sure you clean at the base of the bristles too, rubbing them between your fingers with soapy water. Buildup of old paint at the base of the brush “shortens” the hairs, making them thicker and less flexible.
4. Storing a Wet Brush Upright
After you wash your brushes carefully and rinse them well, they need to dry. The best position to dry is lying flat, in a dry environment and far from sources of heat.
Most people store their brushes in a jar or holder of some sort, bristles up; that’s great, but only after they are completely dry.
When the brush is still wet, if you keep it standing upright, the water captured in the bristles will run down under the ferrule and create problems, like loosen the grip of the ferrule on the handle, and on the hair of the brush.
5. Storing a Brush Bristle-Down
Once you have your valuable brushes clean and dry, make sure you store them in a way that does not put any pressure on the bristles. Hairs are flexible and a prolonged pressure keeping them bent or spread out will irreparably ruin the shape of your bristles.
So never, ever store your brushes standing on their hairs, always on their handles.
I have a bamboo rolling case for my oil paint brushes and a hard case with a zipper for my acrylic brushes - they actually came with a case from a company called De Dazzle.
The extra brushes I store them dry and clean in a tin can, bristles up.
How to make your own brush cleaning tool for big brushes using oil paint.
© 2012 Robie Benve