Monday, February 7, 2011

Brush Cleaning


Back when I was painting more casually, I cleaned my brushes religiously at the end of each painting session.  I rinsed them in Gamsol, washed them up with soap and water, and then slicked on a little hair gel to preserve the shape.  I finally realized that I was spending a good deal of time each day just cleaning brushes.

Things got really bad when I started teaching back-to-back workshops and participating in plein air events, both of which required me to spend more time dirtying brushes than cleaning them.  Life is too short!  These activities led me to a better way to clean brushes.

So here's my current practice, and now I actually have time to catch up with the evening news.   If I'm painting every day, I swish my brushes briefly in Turpenoid Natural.  This is a non-drying oil that gets most of the paint out, and it doesn't seem to "burn" the brushes like mineral spirits.  It smells nice, too.  Once a week, I'll also wash the brushes with shampoo and water.  Yes, with  shampoo - I use natural bristle brushes, and they are, after all, hair.  Or, I might wash them with Master's Brush Cleaner or Jack's Linseed Studio Soap.  I reshape the tips while wet.  If they have wild hairs, I still use a little hair gel.   (I have about a case of it, left over from when I had hair back in the 80s.)  If the brushes are really wild, I'll use a trick I picked up from Richard Schmid's Alla Prima, and use cardboard sleeves with clothespins to train them back into shape.

I travel a lot, and I don't always have Turpenoid Natural with me.   In this case, I'll just wipe off my brushes and then roll them up in plastic wrap and put them in a freezer.  Oil paint cures through oxidation, a chemical reaction which can be slowed by cooling.  Of course, the brushes are dirty, but I generally have two sets in use - one set for cools or darks, a second for warms or lights.  This helps keep my color cleaner until I can rinse them out properly at the end of the week.

Now, here's a little painting that has nothing much to do with cleaning brushes:


"Barn Shadow with Painter" 9x12, oil 

5 comments:

Happy Little Trees Studio said...

Thanks for sharing your tips! I know what you mean about cleaning the brushes. I provide all the brushes for my students in my classes....so I've spent quite a bit of time cleaning them as well. Great advice!

Pam Holnback said...

Great brush tips. Thanks for sharing those. If my brushes get really bad, I soak them in Murphy's oil soap. That helps, too!

Jeanne Levasseur said...

Great tips! Thanks for posting!

Leecia Price said...

Thanks for these helpful tips. I look forward to your journey back to the NE, I hope you do too. It must be such a challenge to deal with all that ORANGE of the Southwest? I lived in Phoenix for 2 years but I did not paint then. If you are open to suggestions in your posts, could you say a bit about handling chalkiness when lightening oranges? I've used yellows and part-zinc white to lighten instead of titanium white and this helps but are there orangish tube colors that you avoid and prefer? I've been painting a number of red/orange animals of late and I'm still struggling.

David Westerfield said...

Yes, thanks for the tips. I hate taking the time to clean brushes.