The Do's and Don't's of Caring for Your Paint Brushes

July 01, 2020 0 Comments

The Do's and Don't's of Caring for Your Paint Brushes

Traditional artists rely on using paint brushes to create their art. They’re tools that we use day in and day out. Paint brushes are in use (sometimes) on a daily basis. Without them, we would be hindered in the way we create art and express our ideas to the world. They’re an important tool to have in our arsenal (check out our Field Case if you wanna jazz up that arsenal too!), and it’s important to know how to take care of them properly.

Taking care of our paint brushes can impact the life expectancy of our brushes, save us money, and even make it easier to create quality works of art. Abusing brushes and being completely reckless with them isn’t mindful of the money that went into purchasing them. For this reason, it can be a great motivation to keep our brushes clean. Another reason to regularly and thoroughly clean our paint brushes is that it affects our painting experience–a brush that has been completely ruined makes it difficult to paint well, but a well cared-for brush streamlines our efficiency.

It’s easy to explain why we creatives should take care of our brushes, but finding the right methods for taking care of our brushes can be a learning curve. But once those methods are learned, paint brush care is easily a no brainer. 

The First Steps in Caring for Our Paint Brushes

The first step to good paint brush care is to treat the brush like the exceptional tool that it is. A lot of money goes into simply buying a quality paint brush. Poking around the internet is quick to reveal that these tools can be a hefty investment, and this is one of the reasons why it is so vital we care for our paint brushes well.   

Clean Your Paint Brushes Frequently

The best thing you can do for your brush, no matter which medium you like to use, is to clean it frequently. Never let the paint dry in the bristles. Clean the brushes between every new colour and after every use. 

Regularly cleaning your brushes is the best habit any creative can form, and it’s the easiest way to ensure the longest life for a paint brush. 

Clean Your Brushes Appropriately

What does it mean to clean your brushes “appropriately”? Every medium requires a different type of brush to paint correctly, but each medium also cleans differently. The first step in caring for your paint brushes is to determine what type of cleaning they require. Watercolour brushes, for example, don’t require the same stringent cleaning routine that brushes used for oil-based paint. 

Watercolour and gouache brushes do need cleaning, but it is a lot harder to ruin them if the paint accidentally dries in the bristles. These paints are made to activate in water, and cleaning a watercolour brush full of dried paint simply needs to be run through water to clean it. This doesn’t mean we can be careless with these brushes, they need the same amount of TLC—just in a different way. 

Acrylic and oil-based brushes are harder to maintain, and it takes more work to get the paint out of the bristles. If these brushes aren’t cleaned often, there is a risk of the paint drying onto the bristles. Solvents and brush cleaners are very important for cleaning brushes used in these mediums. If enough paint is left in the brush, it can dry so thoroughly that the brush is ruined and becomes unusable. There are cleaners for both types of paints. Acrylic and oil paints have different bases, and the paint cleans up differently for each one. Find the best cleaner for the paint you use.

And every brush needs the painting medium to be worked out of the bristles. It’s important to do this after every use, but it’s also important to do it gently so that the shape of the brush isn’t lost. There are useful brush cleaning containers out there designed to help artists clean the paint out of their bristles. Acrylic and oil paint that is left near the roots of the brush begin to harden over time, and while it is still usable, it affects the usefulness of the brush. Over time the hardened paint continues working its way down the brush until it isn’t good anymore.

Don’t Lose the Brush’s Shape

When cleaning your brushes, take care that you don’t clean them too roughly that they lose their original shape. We choose brushes for their shape and size, and carelessly cleaning them with too much strength can force a brush out of its intended shape. Carefully working the paint out of the brush and then drying the brush back into its original shape with a soft cloth is the perfect way to keep them properly formed. 

Storing the paint brushes upright and in a place where other objects can’t compromise their shape is also another way to protect them.

Don’t Let Them Soak for too Long

There are two opposites when it comes to cleaning paint brushes. You can clean them too infrequently, or you can let them sit in the cleaning solution for far too long. Letting a brush soak for too long doesn’t always harm the head of the brush, but it can warp the wood handle and destroy the brush’s finish. In some cases, it can even loosen the handle of the brush so that it begins to separate from the rest of the brush. Soak the brush as needed to prevent it from falling apart because of the cleaner.

Ensuring that our brushes are cared for and maintained takes a great deal of careful thought and intent, but the outcome saves us a great deal of money. It also ensures that our experiences using these important tools are the best they can be. Without these tools, our creativity would be hindered, and giving them the attention and care they deserve is an essential part of the creative process.

Ellie Tran is a freelance illustrator and writer soon to be based in Anchorage, Alaska. She uses watercolours to illustrate her own stories; and when not illustrating or writing, she enjoys being out in nature.