Cleaning watercolour brushes Cleaning watercolour brushes
handmade hand painted watercolour greetings cards with a hand cut pattern edged internal page and your very own verse or message printed inside.
After a painting session it can be easy to blow off proper care of your brushes.
It is a necessity with other permanent binder paints like oils and acrylics. If you
don't clean the brush after your painting session, you lose it.
is more forgiving, but over time pigment, dirt,
and binder can become embedded where the hair
meets the ferrule. This can cause the hairs to
spread a bit and your brush point or edge will
become less and less useful over time.
If your brushes are dirty but still damp you can
clean them very easily using soap. You can use
any soap that seems mild and organic in nature. You're working with hair here so don't
condition the hair with lotion laced soaps. Special artist's brush cleaner soaps are
available. Don't use any soap with abrasives like pumice.
Cleaning your watercolour brush step-by-step
Gather your used brushes by a sink, start some warm water running.
With open palm in the running water, gently dab and swirl the brush in your palm until the water runs clean.
Moisten bar of soap. Take your wet brush and in a gentle circular motion work some soap into the hair.
Wet your palm again and repeat the dabbing and swirling motion with the soap charged brush.
Rinse and repeat until suds stay white and brush is clean.
Do a final rinse to remove all the residual soap.
Gently shake, squeeze or dab water out of brush using towels.
Reform damp brush hairs to their original shape with your fingers and let them dry on a flat surface such as a dry
paper hand towel.
New watercolour brushes
Brand new sable watercolour brushes have their hair sized with a gum
Arabic solution and shaped to a point. The sizing fixes the final shape
of the brush and protects the brush hairs during shipping and on the shelf until you buy it.
To properly break in a new brush you must dip it in your water container and swirl it around until the sizing softens up and washes away.
Don't bend the hairs while they are stiff, breakage can occur if they've been sized too heavily.
After thoroughly rinsing, daub off excess water on a paper towel and reshape hairs. Store on flat towel until dry.
Using watercolour brushes with
Do yourself a favour and keep separate brushes for each medium you use as an artist.
Acrylic paint dries permanent and insoluble. Even one use with acrylics can alter a brush's effectiveness for watercolour if it starts to dry at the base of the ferrule while you're painting. Because you have to be a bit more aggressive in cleaning, your brush can become damaged in the process.
Many inks contain lacquers or high strength dyes. Some can discolour your brush's hair, like hair dye. Most lacquer based inks will build up quickly within a ferrule and destroy the brushes shape and point.
Liquid masking fluid contain latex rubber. Washing liquid
masking fluid out of your brush without annoying the heck
out of the hairs is extremely difficult at best. If it has
dried in your brush, write that brush off as a learning experience.
Always wet a brush with mildly soapy water before starting to apply
masking fluid. Dedicated masking fluid
applicators are now available and make a
Water Bucket Do's and Don'ts
Don't let your brushes sit tip
down in your water bucket for extended periods. If left soaking too long the bend gets "set" and the
hairs of your brushes can begin to look like a bad case of bed head. Over time this can permanently
damage the shape and functionality of your brush.
Water will find its way to the dry wood at the core of the brush handle
if left in water too long, which then soaks in
to the wood. The pressure of the expanding wet
wood can force the metal ferrule to loosen from
the handle of your brush. Over time this leads
to cracks and chipping and loose, wobbly
You Test These At Home, Use Cheap Brushes!
Please do not
indulge in conspicuous consumption by
purchasing a beautiful Kolinsky Sable
brush that could last you a
lifetime, particularly in those large
sizes that run over $100 for a single
brush, and then do any of these horrible
things to it. Test whether these
mistakes will really ruin good
brushes with the kind of
cheap sable, pony, synthetic and unknown
fiber brushes you get at Hobby Lobby or
a Dollar Store for a dollar for twenty.
I'm serious. You would make serious
artists all over the Internet cry in
frustration if you did this to a good
Kolinsky Sable when they have to make do
But keep some
cheap ones around to take the
punishment, because some of these
horrible things have to be done anyway
to some brush... just not your best!
Many of these are good reasons to put $4
or $5 into one of those mixed bag packs
of Seconds and Irregulars that Loew-Cornell
and some other companies produce at very
and Don'ts for watercolour brushes
1. Don't put it
hair end down in a cup of water. Ever.
For Any Reason.
It can be a good
idea to soak a Watercolour
in water to keep it wet so that paint
doesn't dry in it -- especially if
you're using diluted acrylics, since
they dry to stiff plastic and can glue
the hairs together permanently. But
don't put it upside down in a cup of
water to rest on the hairs. It will curl
up into a "J" shape and you'll never be
able to paint with it again. Period.
If you really want to keep the hairs
immersed, Loew-Cornell makes a really
cool plastic water container with ridges
on the bottom of one of its two
compartments to run the hairs over to
loosen globs of paint, and the other
side has angled clips of varying widths
so you can clamp the brush at an angle
with the hairs suspended in water.
If you buy this
and use it, try to keep the water depth
just below the metal part that holds the
hairs onto the handle -- the ferrule.
The hairs are glued into the ferrule.
Repeated soaking in water up above the
end of the ferrule can soften the glue
and make the brush lose hairs. Usually
in the middle of a smooth wash in the
middle of your best painting where
tweezing them out would ruin it. Leaving
it to dry there and tweezing it
afterward will leave a tiny light
coloured mark going exactly where you
don't want it -- there is no fix usually
for those lost hairs things except to
catch them really fast, tweeze them out,
slosh the paint back over it and hope it
spreads out to cover the blotch again.
much longer if you just rinse them clean
in the cup and prop them with just the
hair parts in the water, or lay them
sideways after pointing them with your
fingers. It doesn't take much more
work to swish and rinse and then set it
hairs up in one of the holes around the
edge of that water container either. And
don't leave it in the water overnight if
you're just keeping it wet while working
-- don't let it soak long if you do
decide to soak it.
goes for oil brushes and thinner too
with one obvious exception.
2. Do Not Apply Masking Fluid To
Your Paper With Your Best Brush -- Use A
Cheap One Even If You Need A Fine Line.
Masking fluid is
very hard on brushes. It's liquid
rubber. You put it on Watercolour
so that you can paint over it fast and
then peel it up later to reveal clean,
perfect white paper or the light color
you painted earlier. It's very useful
stuff. Use something else to apply it.
This is what the Hobby Lobby cheapo pack
and the Seconds and Irregulars are great
for. Find the best shaped cheap one
you've got and test it with the masking
fluid, try different ones till you get
the control you need to paint with
masking fluid and still get super fine
cat whiskers or that tiny dot in the
iris and pupil of someone's eye. Clean
that cheap brush immediately after
Get it wet
before you dip it in the masking fluid.
Rinse immediately after masking. Use a
good brush cleaner/conditioner to soften
and recondition the hairs. Then dip the
butt end of the handle into the masking
fluid and let it dry so that you'll
always know that one is the Good Cheap
Brush For Masking Whiskers. Use it till
it dies, which even with good care will
be much faster than your good Watercolour
brushes, and replace with another cheap
one. You may want to use scissors to
trim a larger cheap brush to shape for
applying masking fluid. Or test things
like The Incredible NIb for applying it
that aren't damaged by masking fluid at
I got good
results on a cat painting applying
masking fluid with toothpicks. I had to
re-dip it for each whisker to get the
fine lines from the point, but it worked
and the whiskers were adequately masked.
Experiment with anything disposable but
never do this with your good brushes.
You can sometimes get very tiny cheap
brushes for hobby use, like painting
miniature pewter or metal or plastic
fantasy or military figures -- these are
great for masking, but be aware you'll
need to replace them often.
3. Don't Scrub The Brush
Hairs Down To Get Stains Out! Some Colors Stain!
Do not go
nuts and splay out a good Watercolour
round or flat trying to scrub it
clean on regular soap in order to
get stains out, or clip off the
stained parts. Some colors are
Staining Colors. You probably got
Alizarin Crimson in your first
set -- it's one
of the worst, it's like berry
juice. Rinse until the water coming
out of the brush is clean and
swiping it on clean paper shows no
more color on the paper. It's clean.
reduce the stains to a great extent
by using The Masters Brush Cleaner &
Conditioner or other brush
cleaner/conditioner products. That's the
one I bought at Blick though, and it
really does the job. It's dissolved some
stain out of even brushes I thought
would never be anything but Phthalo Blue
again, and it restores a lot of the
elasticity and texture. So do use a good
brush cleaner and conditioner to wash
your brushes out -- and don't expect
staining colours not to stain the hairs.
White nylon is especially prone to it or
any white hair brushes, this is why
"golden taklon" is dyed a warm golden
color to reduce the obviousness of the
Don't Suck The Brush
To Point It, Or Ever Chew On Watercolour
Brushes or Any Art Brushes. Ever, Ever,
Ever, Even If It Seems To Work So Well.
this one because it's a bad habit I
had to force myself to break. Spit
seems to hold the shape of a
round better than
anything and sucking it pulls it
right into shape like it was new, it
even dries like that. The problem
with this isn't a risk to the brush.
It's the risk to you, the human
being poisoning yourself with toxic
pigments when you get tired of cheap
nontoxic edible children's paints
and start buying good artist grade
adult paint. If you never get into
the habit on student grade nontoxic
s, you will not find
yourself unconsciously sucking
cadmium salts and cobalt compounds.
kill you over time and cause brain
damage along the way and do all
sorts of horrible things. It's not
dangerous to use them in Watercolour
if you never get them in your mouth
and mucous membranes. So break that
habit while you're still using
Cotman colours and you can trust
yourself to use the good pigments
like Cadmium Red without fear.
It takes a
little skill to do it. I didn't
learn this for real till I bought a
good set of Winsor & Newton Artist
Watercolours and had a tiny
genuine micro Kolinsky brush in the
set, but you really can point a
round with your fingers
if you hold it while it's damp and
tenderly stroke it toward the tip
while turning it after every stroke.
It takes a long time to get it right
the first time, with practice it
gets easier and faster till it's as
routine and unconscious as brush
It may also
make the brushes last longer -- your
spit has digestive juices in it that
aren't exactly formulated to keep
from dissolving animal hair. If
anything, exactly the opposite.
5. Do Not Let
Your Cat Lick Your Brush Clean, Or
Your Puppy Chew It.
reasons of toxicity apply in terms
of protecting your beloved pet, but
on top of that, even if it was clean
to start with, they will chew off
all the hairs trying to groom it.
Your puppy will also splinter the
handle and get it into its gums and
stomach. Bad for the animals and the
brush is a lost cause. Cats who
paint in Watercolour
s (there are
some) use nontoxic finger paints or
children's paints and do so with
their paws. Their hair grows back
in. Your paint brush won't. Cats
should never ever be trusted with
cadmiums or other toxic pigments.
Acrylic Paint Dry In Watercolour
You may want
to use good synthetic brushes for
acrylics, when you're using those
"thin it to ink consistency and
They're bold and beautiful. Rinse
often. Use Watercolour
can afford to lose even if the worst
happens and it dries in them.
The Masters Brush Cleaner &
Conditioner may actually
get it out and save your brush, but
it might not, depends on how bad it
got stuck. If you need good brushes
for a serious painting, don't use
the Kolinsky Sables unless you get
paid so much per painting that an
accident would still allow you to
make a profit after replacing the
brush you used.
experience, soft synthetic hairs are
just as good with acrylics even
thin. There's something about the
acrylic texture that synthetic hairs
seem to handle it better -- so get
high quality synthetic brushes for
use with acrylics and save your pure
good sables and good Chinese brushes
for things that re-dissolve in water.
Do Not Let Any Ink Dry In Watercolour
Brushes, Ever. Even Chinese Brushes
Don't Survive That.
sticks are made by combining various
pigments or soot with fish glue.
They dry waterproof. They cannot be
reactivated. Let it dry in a brush
and the brush is gone, unless
The Masters Brush Cleaner &
Conditioner cake and
repeated gentle washing can separate
the stained hairs again. You took
forty minutes to meditate and grind
the ink for your masterful
painting. Surely you can take a few
seconds to wash the brush and point
it with your fingers and hang it
from its loop point down to dry.
Incidentally, that treatment is very
good for Western brushes too. If you
do get one of those beautiful wood
or ox horn brush racks with a pillar
and spokes so that all your Chinese
brushes can dry dangling point down
-- try attaching loops to your good
Kolinsky Sable Watercolour
and letting them hang next to their
Asian neighbours. They too are more
likely to dry into perfect shape
after being pointed, gravity helps
and draws all the water out the
thinking of getting one for years.
But if you don't have one, point it
and lay it on its side to dry or
standing on its butt end rather than
putting it hairs down anywhere.
Do Not Use Oil Paints In Watercolour
Brushes Unless You Permanently Mean
To Keep That An Oil Brush From Now
includes Griffin Alkyd oil paints. I
don't know about the Water Mixable
Oils since I don't own any, but I
won't be trying it with a good
brush. After you've used any brush
with oil paints of any kind, the oil
gets into the hairs and will ruin
s or water media you do
with that brush again. Oil and water
don't mix. Mark any Kolinsky Sable
brushes you use with oils -- some
artists do love them for some oils
effects -- and don't get them mixed
up with the ones you're going to use
for doing actual Watercolour
If you can
afford to do oils with the best, go
for it. They make long handled ones
specifically for use with oils in
exactly the same shapes and sizes.
This is a good way to tell them
apart because Watercolour
usually have short handles. Oil
paintings sell for a lot of money
though, so if you do use your best
brush for it by
mistake, re-label it and buy a new
one for use with Watercolour
Don't Cut The Brush Hairs Unless You
I know this
sounds like a no-brainer, but it
really is true. If you clip off a
stray hair out of a brush that has
gotten one bent off to the side, the
stub may well flick out or come
loose at an inconvenient moment and
more hairs may come out. There is
one exception to not cutting up or
trimming brush ends.
you really do need a specialty brush
and bought it for that reason, and
keep your trimming to the lower half
of the hairs. One cool trick is to
make a "grass texture" brush for
acrylics or Watercolour
s or oils by
buying a fan brush and then giving
it a random punk cut, leaving short
and long hairs jagged and irregular
all the way around the curve. This
can do Instant Grass like you
wouldn't believe. But get another
fan brush to do fan brush tricks
with because you'll never get it to
not be that again.
I think that
some of the deer's hoof and other
odd shapes came about by artist
trimming small flats into specialty
shapes like a double line or
something, they can be very useful.
Just be sure to have a spare in the
original shape and if you don't get
it right the first time, keep
Don't Use Watercolour
Apply Glue Or Varnish Or Gesso Or
Sanded Pastel Primers Or Anything
reason Hobby Lobby has those cheap
foam end brushes that look like
kiddie toys. They rock for priming
paper with sanded pastel
grounds or varnishing oil paintings
or a thousand other uses where you
need a smooth flat application. Do
not use your one and only good
flat for it and if you
do, always keep it wet and rinse it
immediately before it dries. Glue
can include things like wood glue, superglue, epoxy, or the
weird hide glues and mediums needed
for gold leafing.
right tool for the job. Those cheap
little children's blunt brushes that
come a dime each or get left over
from used-up kid Watercolour
fine for Elmer's and the gold
leafing kit will probably explain
what kind of brush to use for
applying the ground. When in doubt,
purchase some good synthetic
brushes at a discount
do use a good quality Polar Flo 3/4"
flat brush to apply my Colour fix
primer to Watercolour
paper. I got it
on a Buy 1 Get 1 Free offer and it
wasn't that expensive even for the
one I paid for -- and it has
survived because I get
it thoroughly wet before going into
the primer, rinse immediately, wash
immediately with The Masters
Brush Cleaner & Conditioner
and shape it again with my fingers.
It still works well for Watercolours.
So there are exceptions -- the
Colour fix primer is essentially
acrylic with little acrylic beads of
grit in it. Still, I know this brush
will wear out faster than its twin
from the abuse, and am prepared to
replace it with another good
synthetic 3/4" flat. I'd never try
that with natural hairs, synthetics
work better with acrylic in my