Monday, July 30, 2012

On the care and feeding of brushes

Our fearless leader Muggins has been bugging me to write this article since, well, this blog got started. Better late than never, I say. After the jump I talk about my favorite brushes and how I keep them in great shape.

Favored Brands

First off, I should note that we are definitely not getting any kickbacks or percentage off any of the brush manufacturers or websites I'll be mentioning. These are just the best brands and sources I can identify.

Traditionally, I've preferred Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes. These brushes are great quality kolinsky sable fur material. They hold a point very well, and with proper care (see below) will keep that point for years. Note that I linked the regular Series 7 round brushes. W&N also make Series 7 miniature brushes. These generally have a shorter length and finer point than the comparable size brush in the regular round line. I find I prefer the regular style as the longer brush length gives me more ability to reach hard to reach areas, etc, and the points are bit too fine to work with. But I say try both types and see which you prefer. I should note I have read a grumpy report or two about W&Ns not holding up as well as they used to. I have had one brush lose its ability to keep a point much sooner than normal, but I haven't given up on W&N yet.

Lately, I've also been hearing good things about the Raphael 8404 series. This is another high quality brand, pretty similar to the W&N series. These are also made from kolinsky sable fur. I've picked some up in expectation of some of my W&Ns starting to kick the bucket. As it turns out they're mostly still holding together pretty well so I haven't used the Raphaels much yet. So far I'm happy with them though.

What sizes should you get? I recommend getting at minimum a Size 1 and Size 0. The high quality of these brushes means I can use a Size 1 for almost anything, including fine detail work. But if you want smaller, I would not go past size 3/0 (sometimes referred to as Size 000). Even that size is small enough I rarely use it. Anything larger is not really necessary most of the time, except maybe a Size 2 for doing basecoating.

Now I'll readily admit these brushes are expensive, but as is often the case, you get what you pay for. If you take care of these brushes, they will last you a very long time.

Other brushes

If I need a large brush, to do something like terrain for example, I'll just pick up a few cheap square brushes from the local art supply store. Generally I don't need precision for such a job so anything cheap will do. 

One other, perhaps surprising, recommendation I have is for the GW drybrushes. These do a fantastic job, especially for a GW product. I've linked to the medium size, but own and am quite happy with all three sizes. 
Yeah it's a GW product. But I don't buy brands, I buy what works.

Caring for brushes

First off, if you take care of your brushes they will last much longer. Higher quality brushes like those I've suggested will last longer as well. So here's how I take care of mine.

First off- a tip for comfort and ease of use: get some duct tape or masking tape. Take a decent length of it and wrap it all around the handle of the brush towards the tip.

This will help keep your hand from cramping while holding brushes for long periods of time. The next tip can also be seen in the picture above. Keep those brush covers! These help prevent accidental bending or other damage to the bristles.

Next tip: thin your paint! Not only will this improve your painting, but thin paint is less likely to gum up your bristles. A wet palette will do the trick, but as I'm lazy I just use a regular dimple palette and add water to my paint as needed.

Relatedly, avoid overloading your brush with paint, and rinse often. Excess paint will dry and cause the bristles to stick. If you get it up into the ferrule (where the bristles meet the cap) you can probably kiss the brush goodbye. Best way to avoid this is to rinse your brush often. I rinse mine in my water cup every minute or so typically. After I do so, I wipe off excess water and sort of 'roll' the bristles back to a point if needed. Rinse and repeat until you are done painting.

After painting

After painting, I absolutely cannot recommend enough you use the following product:

This stuff is amazing! A 2.5oz tub will last me at least two years. Use it to clean your brushes after each use, and they will last far longer. I use it by adding a drop or two of water directly in the container. Swirl and lather the brush bristles, then work in with my fingers. Rinse in clean water, roll to a point, add the brush cap, and store bristles up. Which reminds me, never store brushes bristles down! Great way to ruin them in hurry. Similarly, don't store them in a water cup. The water can damage the handle or ferrule over time. Also note, please don't use hot water on your brushes- the heat can damage glue in the ferrule, causing it to lose its point.

Will buying more expensive brushes make you a better painter? No, of course not. But what I always like to say is that, properly cared for, they won't hold you back like a cheap brush would, either. I can attribute a lot of my growth in painting to learning how to properly use and care for a good quality paintbrush. Hope you all find this article enlightening!


  1. You're going to hate me for saying this, but I use brushes I buy in bulk at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart or wherever, and am routinely lazy about cleaning them thoroughly. Sometimes I leave my drybrushes bristles down in paint water overnight. Sometimes. The GW brushes are OK, but knowing how hard I am on brushes, I won't spend more that a couple bucks on a single brush.

    That's not to say you should do any of that, My stuff would probably look like Golden Demon entries if I took better care of my brushes. Or..maybe not. I'm no Jen Haley or that Russian girl. Good article.

  2. Excellent article, thanks for the write-up. I broke just about every rule of thumb you had in there, probably why my first brush lasted 2 days. I have to say thinning the paint and avoiding getting paint up to the ferrule have definitely prolonged the next brushes I purchased. You do have to be a little careful when buying the bulk brushes, one set I bought wouldn't hold a tip straight out of the package...

  3. Yeah ultimately you should do whatever works for you. I was just making the argument for moving past cheap brushes, etc.

  4. Great tips for me, thanks. Especially as I roll back into painting with a DE battleforce, after a many monthy hiatus from modeling.