One of my favorite parts about painting is the absurd amount of brushes that I get to collect and care for.
Each one has it’s own little quirk, it’s own strengths, and it’s own set of techniques that it loves to be used for.
One of the hardest parts of owning brushes is maintaining them so that you get to enjoy them for many millennia to come!
This important task is also one of the easiest things to do so I thought I would share with you a bit about my brush maintenance routine.
Cleaning your brush is an essential part of brush maintenance but it can be a case of “too much of a good thing” if you start doing this every day.
Luckily, when it comes to watercolors they are not super hard on our brushes, unlike oil paint or acrylics.
Your clean water jar does a lot of the heavy lifting and does it quite well.
Therefore you don’t need to or want to deep clean your brush after every painting. Especially when it comes to natural fiber brushes. If you think about it a natural fiber is just a piece of hair or fur attached to your brush with glue and a ferrule.
So as a good rule of thumb going forward - If it is bad for the hair on your head do not subject your precious (and probably pricey) brush to it.
Supplies for cleaning
Personally, I love to keep my processes as simple and idiot-proof as I can.
All I use is a nice mild hand soap like Kirk’s or Ivory, something to work the soap into the brush, and some good old fashioned H2O.
As I stated above you should not do this after every time you paint.
I only do this about 4 times a year or if I am using a brush that has been stored for a very long period of time.
- Wet the brush in the clean water
- Gently mix it into the surface of the soap
- Use a plate, small dish, or your hand to gently rub the soap into the bristles of the brush.
- This will help get any old paint out of the belly of the brush but your main objective is to get the old soap out from where the bristles are held inserted into the ferrule. Right at the base of the bristles is one of the few places that just clean water has a hard time removing paint from so it tends to build up there.
- Keep alternating between the clean water and working the soap into the bristles until the suds or water washes clean
- Use brush shaper or a little extra soap ( more on this to come) to shape the brush into a point and then let the brush dry flat on a horizontal surface.
It is as simple as that!
Something that needs to be done a little more often than cleaning is shaping the brush.
All this means is you are using your fingers along with some kind of shaping agent to bring all of the bristles to a fine point. You’re basically trying to make your brush look like how it did when you bought it.
You can use purpose-made brush shaping liquids to do this (they work great but can be pricey.)
You can also use something like a hair styling gel (if it’s ok for your hair it’s fine for your brush) - this is cheaper and will last you a long time.
Or you can use just a little bit of the wet soap - this is the most cost-effective route but the soap also provides the least amount of hold so it is not great for long term storage.
Once you have decided on which shaping agent you want to use you simply mix some into your fingers then work it into the bristles of your brush and use your fingers and the shaping agent to bring any stray bristles back into the belly of the brush and down into a nice tip at the end of the brush.
Once you have a sharp tip you simply let the brush dry flat on a horizontal surface.
*Shaping is primarily used on round brushes - which is the type of brush I use and own the most of.*
When it comes to storing your brushes long term it is important that they have dried thoroughly and have been shaped if need be.
I prefer to store mine by just laying them flat in a drawer and making sure nothing is putting pressure on the bristles but if they are completely dry you can also store them bristle end up on a can or a cup of some sort.
YOU NEVER STORE YOUR BRUSHES BRISTLE END DOWN
That is a death sentence for a watercolor brush.
If the brush is dried and stored properly it will serve you for a very long time.
Random Maintenance Tips
Never let your brush dry vertically either bristle side up or bristle end down.
Bristle end down puts too much strain on the belly of the brush and the ferrule holding the bristles together - you’re going to end up losing bristles left and right the next time you use your brush.
Letting it dry bristle end up allows too much water to penetrate and sit too far down into the ferrule where it can start to weather the wood and dissolve the glue holding the bristles to the brush. This means your brush will start shedding like a Siberian husky.
Don’t let your brush sit in your clean water
Again, this will lead to the glue inside the ferrule dissolving and losing its hold on the bristles of the brush. It can also lead to the wood of the brush warping and cracking.
Don’t dip your brush into your clean water past the top of the ferrule
Although your brush was made to paint with watercolors they were not made to withstand much more water exposure than that.
If you dip your brush into your clean water past the top of the ferrule then the water can seep down inside the ferrule and wreak havoc on your beautiful brush.
If you find that you are not good about being careful about not dunking your brush an easy way to avoid it is to fill your water glass only as high as the midline of the ferrule.
You can’t dunk the brush accidentally if there’s not enough water to dunk your brush! - Keeping it simple once again.
If you follow these tips then you will have a bunch of happy brushes at your disposal for many years to come.
I hope you got a few tips from reading this and I hope you have a great day!