Serious artists and hobbyists alike should pay close attention to the care and feeding or brushes as brushes are an absolutely critical painter’s tool and one which is seldom cheap. Cleaning up after a day in the studio is not my favorite thing to do but it is one of those things that must be done if art supplies are to last.
All of my brushes get a good turpentine wash first. As a rule, once I ‘turp’ a brush, I don’t use it again until it has been washed, conditioned and dried and, as noted above, I wash my brushes after each day’s painting sessions. Wearing gloves is not a bad idea considering the potential for toxic traces from oil paints and mediums but I seldom wear gloves at this stage. I do wash my hands with a moisturing soap afterwards and I apply a moisturizer. If you decide gloves are your thing, use disposable latex or latex-free gloves that can be picked up at grocery and dollar stores.
Care for Your Hands
I do use latex gloves when cleaning my turpentine container. My container of choice is a nickel plated steel studio brush washer (Giant Spiral Brush Washer) which measures 5.6″ in diameter and 6″ high and features a fold up spring holder that allows you to suspend even the largest brushes in solvent or to dry brushes between paint sessions. I seldom suspend my brushes in solvent or leave them too long in liquid of any kind and I have a carousel for drying. But this brush washer is very cool. It has a lift out receptacle that keeps excess paint below and clean fluid above its holes. Comes with a lid to prevent evaporation. It isn’t portable so don’t try to pack with your French easel for plein air!
Natural Turpenoid is my product choice for solvent. Natural Turpenoid is a certified AP non-toxic and environmentally friendly brush cleaner and conditioner made from citrus essences and other natural products. It is not flammable, does not emit harmful vapors, and will not irritate skin or eyes, making it an excellent oil paint thinner for artists seeking safer painting alternatives for themselves or their children. Turpenoid Natural can also work well as an oil or alkyd medium, though it should not be used for washes, glazes, or to “wet” a canvas prior to painting. Odorless Turpenoid is my next best thing.
Before dunking brushes into solvent or soapy water, always wipe the excess with a paper towel to remove as much paint from the bristles as possible. The turp has an easier job with less pigment packed on. I squeeze excess from the bristles starting at the ferrule and pull as much paint out as possible then I dunk the brushes into the washer, gently brushing against the container’s removable grate. I remove excess solvent by dabbing against cotton rags and then I’m ready to wash.
Rinse and Repeat
I use bars of Ivory Soap and cheap any-brand-name leave-in hair conditioners. Ivory soap is remarkable for breaking down and removing paint from my brushes. It’s gentle on my hands and on delicate (often expensive) brushes. I take 3 or 4 brushes at one time, lather well and brush against the palm of my hand to clean. Clean your brushes thoroughly.
Use cool or tepid water for the entire process as you don’t want hot water breaking down your ferrule glue and wrecking the shape of your bristles. When I’m satisfied my wash has been effective and all color is gone, I squeeze the brushes gently in a paper towel.
This next step is something I do with every other wash to keep the bristle ‘hair’ conditioned. I put about a teaspoon of leave-in hair conditioner in my palm and swish a number of brushes through, wetting but not saturating the brushes. Squeeze to remove excess and put brushes down to dry. Be careful not to leave a lot of conditioner on your brushes. You don’t want hardened brushes and you don’t want conditioner in your paint. You do want this bristles to maintain their flexibility and conditioner helps. Of course, you can buy expensive brush conditioners but … why?
When you put your brushes down to dry, always shape them. You’ll be glad you did.
Products referenced in this Article:
- Latex Gloves
- Giant Spiral Brush Washer
- Ivory Soap
- Leave-in Hair Conditioner
- Natural Turpenoid
- Odorless Turpenoid