Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to not to kill your brushes

When I first started painting I would go through brushes like crazy. I'd have my medium quality brush and have paid 10$ for it (expensive when you're 14) and really wanted it to last but it never did so I usually ended up just buying whatever cheap-0 brush I could. Why not, they're both going to last just as long and the smear paint the same right? Wrong!

That Kolinsky sable brush is a great investment. It'll last long, give you a much smoother, more even coat and has a more durable point. Now the question is, how to care for it??

Step one, the anatomy of the brush:
A. The point
B. The belly
C. The Ferrule
D. The handle

The point and the belly are of most concern when caring for your brush. The point is the whole reason you've got a brush in your hand and the belly is the reservoir of paint you'll be spreading on your mini and the foundation of the point's quality. These are the parts I focus on the most and the other two areas of care follow suit.

Your Paint choice:

The GW paints are horribly thick. This thick paint is your brush's worst nightmare. The paint dries nasty, it goes on clumpy and is just generally hellish paint for your brush. Before I use any GW paint I'll thin it with straight drying retardant. I use the liquitex brand and just fill the remaining empty space in a new pot with the retardant.

This step is the first step in not killing your brush. Make sure the paint you use isn't going to dry on your brush. The brushes we use, 00 or 000 are really small and have really small amounts of paint in them, it dries surprisingly quick. Make sure your paint is thinned!

Using the Brush:

It's important that when you use the brush you're keeping in mind the integrity of your point. If you're pushing the brush against the mini or pulling strokes on semi-dry paint you're going to start breaking the tips off your brush and pulling hairs out of the ferrule. When you break the tips, the hair becomes a natural 'straw' and will suction paint up into the ferrule and dry which is one way your point will start to fray out.

Another problem that comes for misuse of the brush is that you'll get paint too far into the belly. The hairs will suction the paint up the belly naturally and this is one thing that limits the amount of time you can use your brush before the paint either reaches the ferrule or dries out in the belly and you'll need to clean it. When I dip my brush into my paint, I always use the reservoir in the top of GW's paint pots and never into the pot its self and always on the side of the brush and never straight in. This prevents me from putting too much paint on the brush and having it get down to the ferrule immediately. Once it's in the ferrule it becomes much harder to clean out and if any of it dries, it'll start to cause fraying in your brush.

Cleaning your brush:

Cleaning your brush is probably where most people fail by either cleaning too harsh or not cleaning enough.

When ever you clean your brush make sure you're cleaning on the side of your water and not on the bottom. When you press your brush on the bottom you'll usually have between and 60 and 90 degree angle. This causes breaks in the hairs and deterioration of the point. And never do it so rough that the hairs splay out like the coyote after falling down a cliff. This creates angles greater than 90 and will spell certain doom for your brush. Also, when you clean on the bottom of your water, you're rubbing your brush in all the paint residue from previous cleanings. When you clean on the side of your container you're generally at a 45-30 degrees which will be sufficient enough to get any paint off.

This low angle will be enough to get any paint off because you need to clean your brush before it dries, which means you should be rinsing it in water every 2-3 minutes. I consider these the maintance cleanings, just a quick deep to get any paint that starting to dry out of the brush before it fully dries and I have a problem. This step is crucial to preventing hte break down of your brush due to dried paint. One way to remember is that if you're watching TV, rinse your brush during every commercial, that way you're at least doing it every 10 minutes or so.

When I set up my painting station, I have two rinse cups, one of clean water and one of soapy water. I use the Mona Lisa pink soap and have been generally happy with that, but I've heard of people just using dish soap and it works out fine. For my maintenance cleanings I just give the brush a quick swirl on the side of the clean water pot and then a swirl on the side of the soap pot and a little 30 degree angle rub on a paper towel.

Storing your brush:

The final step in brush care is storage. There is a range of preference from worst way to better way to best way; worst being bristles down, better way being bristles up and best way being side laying. They way I achieve the best way to store my brushes is with a sushi mat. I picked up the idea from a painter I saw at a convention and she used one to store her brushes and I thought it was a great idea. When you use the mat you'll protect the points from anything crushing them, be able to store many brushes sideways without worrying about them rollling away and its cheap!

Before I store my brush I have to do some pre storage care on them. I first rinse them under hot water with a thorough soaping and rinsing. After that I use a product called brush save to re oil the hairs to keep them strong and springy like we like them.
This product can also be used as a cleaner if you get dried paint. With gentle strokes, simple brush over and over, rotating your brush, and it will help work paint out of the ferrule. I heard a story about something cleaning elmers glue out of a brush with this stuff. They must have loved that brush to do that much work on it!

Hopefully you guys all found this helpful and hopefully your brushes will start lasting a little longer! Please feel free to add any tips and tricks of your own to comments. Thanks for reading!


  1. Excellent article - thanks!
    Thought I was looking after my stuff well but you've educated me today for sure.

  2. Great article, I never thought of going to so much trouble with my brushes, but this'll help them last longer.

    I must say though, I never knew that such a thing as brush soap existed!

  3. Is bristles down the worst only if they are resting on the bristles? What about hanging bristles down by the handle? Is that a problem?

  4. In all my years painting I have never seen such a great article on brush care.

    I even learned a couple things. I never thought of topping off the paint pots with drying retardent.

  5. Well written and quite informative. If I only follow half of these tips I'll improve the lifespan of my brushes tenfold.

  6. When I took the Games Workshop Academy program, they told us to wash the brush (in a cup of water) every 30 seconds to keep the brush in pristine condition. This can be difficult to do, at first, since once you start painting you sort of "get into it". But this does keep a couple of things in mind while you paint: 1: Don't let the paint dry, and 2: don't put more paint then you need onto the brush. I still use some of my brushes after a year of painting.

    Also, whenever I buy my brushes (either at my local GW or at a local, cheaper, hobby shop) my brushes come with a plastic tube that covers the end of the brush. If you can keep using that, then you'll likely find that your brush will keep in good condition no matter how you store it (since the tube is usually longer than the brush ends and nothing can bend it).

    Good article! Surprising how the small stuff can save you time and money at the end of the day.

  7. Excellent article mate, I've just started using the Masters soap but the antidrying agent is new to me. I always seem to have problems with paints thickening up.

    Thanks for the tip.

  8. Thanks I have been experimenting with my tools care. since it is an expensive hobby already when you look at the tools you need and the average price it is another expensive factor.

    your post enlightened me a lot and help me decide to buy a proper retardant and brushes to better paint my tools.

  9. Fantastic article! Thanks for posting it!

  10. Scherdy- Yes, you are correct, only when the brushes are laying on a surface. otherwise, its a good way to store them if you have the means to do it.

    Everyone- Thanks for the positive comments! I'm the kind of person that in real life I do anything I can to advance the hobby side. I'm always talking to people about painting and modeling, inviting them over to use my airbrush, anything. It really makes me happy that this created a buzz for the hobby side of the game!

    Kerrar- Good points all around! Proper care can keep your brushes in good shape for a very long time.
    I didn't mention the tube because I've seen the unsteady hand ram that tube into the bristles and wreck a brush. However it is a good idea as long as you're not crushing bristles with it to use it to help store you brushes.

  11. Great article! I am going to get myself some liquitex after work today and try it out tonight.