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What do you do with your old brushes?

I use the brushes that Carol Marine uses and I love them, a synthetic flat with a nice sharp edge and they lay down a beautiful stroke, but they don’t last forever. After a few months the edge starts to curl and flair out making a fuzzy edge. So what do you do with these? Save for a time when you need to scrub an area? Toss them? Donate them to a youth art group?

I paint in acrylics and wash them after each use with The Master’s Brush Cleaner and I know its not paint build up. Its actual curling of the ends.

Hello Andrea, I use synthetic flats and short angled for my oils and as you say…they lay down a lovely stroke when new. Mine have to put up with loads of abuse as I scrub them about so the ends curl and wear down quite quickly. I do save the worn ones for quick blocking in and when they get too bad I dispose of them in the bin (trash). I clean them on paper towel and dip them in white spirit to clean. I imagine if they were under a microscope they would show split ends when worn.

I used to pay a lot for brushes but I found they wear as quickly as my work is mostly gestural and expressive. Now, for general use I buy cheaper Daler Rowney Graduate synthetic brushes…about £2.50 - £5 each ($ 4 - 8). I do try to keep a new one for doing my ‘twirls and scooped bits’ and any parts I want to keep crisp or sharp.

You might try putting them in curlers, so to speak. You do this after washing the brush, but while it’s still wet.

This is as simple as folding a stiff bit of card, such as a business card, tucking the bristles toward the fold, then clamping the card. The clamp is a bit tricky - too stiff a spring and you splay the bristles quite a bit, though that doesn’t always make for a bad tool once it’s dry. When I do this, I tend to use cheap Chinese spring clothespins. Larger brushes require 2 or more of the clothespins, as the bearing surface is pretty narrow.

I’ve also experimented successfully with (to carry on the hairdresser analogy) a bit of perm liquid… very dilute water-mixable linseed oil. Too much linseed in the solution and you just get a stiff and mostly unworkable brush.* Thinned out adequately, the dry-ish linseed makes for a firm, knife edge.

*Savable with a cleaning with Master’s Brush Cleaner or, if you’re cheap like me, Murphy’s Oil Soap.

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Hi Andrea,

The card trick Dave is describing is a very good one.It’s mentioned by Richard Schmid in his book Alla Prima and I think (if I remember well) in one of his DVD’s. When you clean your brushes with an oil based soap it will you can “educate” them by shaping them the way you want them while they are full of soap. Then leave them for a day or so before cleaning them.
The cardboard trick is then used to let them dry. You will have less curled hairs that way and your brushes will last longer.

Also, to save your brushes, be sure to always lightly sand your canvas/panel before painting on it, especially if you gesso them yourself. That’s because the structure of the gesso is quite edgy and it dries up with tiny but sharp edges if you add multiple layers of gesso. I use Claessens linen nr70 for my large figure work, which is a medium thread linen, and you can feel the difference with your hand after having sanded it. It’s surface is still quite rough compared to the panels I prep myself, but it saves my brushes bigtime.

The old brushes that I don’t clean anymore (apart from rinsing them with mineral spirits) I use for special effects like tree leaves, bushes etc.

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I use Ampersand Gessobord for my smaller paintings and they are pretty smooth, but, yes, on larger work when I use canvas I agree that sanding, (I just tried this) and even another coat of gesso and sanding helps a lot to smooth out the texture. Special effects—good idea. Thanks.

Worth a try. Thanks.

With pleasure Andrea :slight_smile: