Friday, March 9, 2012

God save the queen... er... Brush!

A Windsor Newton series of brushes.
Paint brushes.  We all own them.  They are an integral part of our hobby, yet few treat them with the respect they deserve.  Myself included.  Unless your an artist you've probably done what I do pretty often which is buy cheaper brushes from hobby stores in bulk and just toss them as they get used up.  However, if your a serious painter; either in actual or art or in model painting then you likely spend a good chunk of cash on your brushes and as such you expect them to last a while.

However, no matter how nice something is it wont last long without proper care and treatment.  This blog post is a quick discussion on brush soap or solvents/cleaners/restorers.  They go by many names but in the end they are all the same thing for our purposes.  They are a cleaning chemical designed to help your brush last longer and stay in shape.  Shape is very important to a brush, but we'll get to that in a bit.

First let's take a look at the humble paintbrush:
Note the 4 portions of a brush.
Clearly the most important parts of a brush are those at the brush end which see the action of painting.  The handle whilst important is really only so if you desire or require certain style grip.  Some people have no idea that there are different styles, but I prefer a pencil grip.  The handle is a solid thickness all the way through, and with more space to grasp and the natural feeling of having used pens/pencils all our lives I think it gives a bit better control. Again, not entirely important for this conversation.

Here's the main point of this conversation.  We've all used paintbrushes, and we've used them until their dead.  Usually this results in a pretty nice brush eventually getting trimmed into a drybrush or a stipling brush later in life.  Usually around the time that its looking like this:
This brush has definitely seen better days.
Have you ever wondered how that happens?  Even though you think you take really good care of your brushes?  Look at that anatomy picture again.  See, when you paint you dip your bristles into the paint.  As you put paint onto your models/canvas the paint slowly crawls up those bristles from the bottom (or if your not particular about how much paint is on your brush is already at the top).  That paint that crawls up the bristles moves into and under the metal ferrule.  The ferrule has a simple job.  Give the bristles a shape and form; then hold them there.  The problem is that when paint works its way up into the ferrule that even though we tinkle it around in water the paint doesn't come out.

Eventually this paint dries inside of it and that dried paint is what eventually causes your bristles to splay out from their original shape.  Now the brush above has obviously had worse done to it than that.  Clearly the bristles are bent signaling that it has had rough treatment such as being left sitting in a water pot on its tip thus bending them (which I'm sure NONE of you do, right?).  Still when that paint dries it essentially ruins the brushes.  Or so one might think.

There are a number of different products out there made by many different companies that are designed to help thoroughly clean your brushes and retain their shape longer by getting that paint out of the ferrule for you.  Tonight I'll be looking at one of these products.
Windsor Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer
Clearly you can get this stuff in a lot of different sizes, etc...  a small bottle runs around $10 USD.  The particular one I have is here:
The instructions for this are pretty simple.  Soak your brush in it.  Its a clear solution with a light odor.  Somewhat like turpentine or paint thinner.  I'm not entirely certain that isn't its primary component, but it claims to be 'non-toxic' so I assume that it isn't.  The key to this particular product is finding a way to keep your brush in the liquid without sitting it on the bottom.  I simply taped my brushes to the inside of a cup.  Speaking of which, you shouldn't put this stuff in a plastic one.  Cup that is.  It is a solvent remember, so it could melt its way out. Go glass or metal for a container.

After a nice 2 hour soak of 4 brushes that I've owned for a good long time I took them out.  Lathered up a small bit of dish soap and warm water in my hands and gave the brushes a mild swirling in the soap.  Then a gentle rinse through some warm water and wiped them down on a cloth attempting to reshape them as I did so.  You can see the results below:
Notice the two on the left are still in pretty bad shape.  I've had these for a long time and they had been the kind that were turned into drybrushes.  The two on the right however came out nicely.  Considering they looked a bit like the ones on the left at the start.  I've read that repeated washings will continue this improvement process up to a point.  Damage is still damage and you'll never get them back to their original shape, but at least you can get them into a usable one.

The best thing to do is be kind to your brushes.  I suggest getting some brush soap or cleaner and using it after every time you paint.  An step of prevention saves a mile of repair or replacement.  No matter how cheap your brushes are or are not, its worth the extra 10 spot to make them last just that much longer.  Hopefully you found this discussion useful.  You should be able to pick up any of these type of products in the art/paint section of any hobby shop although (shockingly I might add) GW doesn't make their own.  Of course they want you to continually buy there brushes at their exorbitant prices so yeah...

I've used one other brush cleaner product as well and that is The Master Painter Brush Soap:
This is a screw top tub filled with a solid/squishy soap that you gently swirl your brush on top of when you use it to clean the brush.  It is also a conditioner, designed to make your bristles softer (I suppose the idea is softer bristles leave less stroke marks).  About the same price as the Windsor Newton stuff.  My recommendation is try some different kinds.  See what works for you.

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