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How to Care for Your Artist Brushes

Taking care of your brushes can save you money and time, and good quality brushes can last a lifetime if you look after them well. There are some general rules which will make sure that all of your brushes last:

  • Always clean your brushes right after you have used them
  • Use your fingers to shape the bristles after cleaning
  • Place the brush in a pot or jar with the bristles facing upwards
  • Only store brushes once they are completely dry
  • Use an airtight box if you are storing brushes for any length of time

Here are a few tips on how to keep your different brushes in the best condition.

Care and Cleaning of Oil Brushes

Try to set aside a few minutes after each painting session to clean your brushes thoroughly. If you have been working with oils or alkyds or water for Artisan, wipe away as much color as you can from your brush with a rag. Then rinse any color that is left using Winsor & Newton Artists’ White Spirit or Sansodor or Brush Cleaner. If you have been using solvent-based varnishes then Artists’ White Spirit is a great choice to remove it.

After this, you need to wash the bristles thoroughly either with Winsor & Newton Artgel or household soap (not detergent). Just like hand washing, create a lather and rinse your brush under some warm, but not hot, water until all of the color and any remaining soap has gone.

Finally, you can shape your brush, dry the handle and ferrule (the metal clamp that holds the bristles and handle together) and rest it with the bristles facing upwards in a pot to dry off.

If you are storing hog brushes for any length of time, make sure they are clean and completely dry – a box with a tight fitting lid is ideal and will stop moth damage. Brushes that are not dry may develop mildew.

It is also important not to allow paint to dry on any of your brushes. You can try to remove it using household paint stripper but your brush is unlikely to return to its original shape.

Cleaning Liquin from your Brushes

Using Liquin when oil painting will help reduce the drying time of the color on the surface. However, whereas oil will not dry on the end of your brush over the course of a day, Liquin will start to dry in two hours and you will not be able to remove it without paint stripper which is not kind to brushes.

The trick is to rinse your brushes in white spirit at least every hour so that the Liquin dissolves, working the solvent well into the end of the brush. Once you have finished for the day and cleaned the Liquin and color from your brushes, wash them in warm water and soap until all the color has gone.

Care and Cleaning of Artisan Brushes

After you have finished using your Artisan brush simply clean it with plenty of soap and water or Winsor & Newton Artgel. Soap and water is also the best way to remove Artisan varnishes. As with oil brushes, remove any water that is left over, dry the ferrule and handle, re-shape the head and rest it with the bristles facing upwards in a pot to dry off.

Care and Cleaning of Water Color Brushes

Having a good point at the end of your brush when working in water color is immensely important and caring for your water color brushes will help your art as well as your pocket. Usually a brush loses its point from a build-up of pigment particles in the base of the brush which push the hairs apart and stop that all important point from forming.

At the end of your painting session wipe the brush clean with a lint-free rag and rinse it under running water. Then, using mild soap and cool water, swirl the soapy brush in the palm of your hand then rinse, and repeat this washing and rinsing process until the soap and water runs clear. If you were to use strong soap this may damage the bristles by removing natural oils and hot water may cause any remaining paint to clot.

Then, as with all brushes, it is time to remove excess water, dry the ferrule and handle, reshape the head and rest it with the bristles facing upwards to dry off. 

Fear not if some of the pigments in the water color have stained your brush slightly - this will not affect the performance or the life of the bristles.

Care and cleaning of Acrylic Brushes

Looking after your acrylic brush is very similar to looking after your water color brush. However, there are a few differences, for example if you are using solvent-based varnishes these should be removed using Artists’ White Spirit, whereas water-based varnishes can be removed with soap and water.

Cleaning your acrylic brush with mild soap and cool water still applies. You can also soak the brush overnight in Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner which will remove any dried acrylic color. Repeat the washing and rinsing process until the soap and water runs clear. Finally, as with all brushes, remove excess water, dry the ferrule and handle, reshape the head and rest it with the bristles facing upwards to dry off.

This article is courtesy of Winsor & Newton.