Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cleaner Brushes Faster

Warm Tones
16 x 12
I hate cleaning paint brushes, and yet I never manage to complete a painting with less than 20 brushes.  Mostly it's because I don't want to have my solvent open and evaporating beside me for hours, so I keep it closed until the end of the painting session.  In between, I just wipe the brushes briefly in a rag, or, unfortunately for me, grab another brush from my overly-large supply.  You really can't have too many brushes!
But clean your brushes you must if you're going to produce nice work.  I've looked at some of my students' brushes, and found them to be little more than sticks because of all of the old, dried up paint crusted in between the bristles.  There is no hope that those brushes will produce the sensitive, painterly layering that these painters are yearning for.
The good news is that even my 20-brush sessions don't take all that long to clean up.  I follow a simple order that minimizes open solvent time and keeps the brushes soft.
First I wipe as much paint off of the brush as I can using a rag.  Paper towels are not as effective.  A 15" scrap of an old t-shirt will clean all of the paint off of all 20 brushes and it would take 10 or 15 paper towels to do the same thing.  This has also encouraged me to clean out my closet with an eye to making paint rags, and that's not a bad thing.
Next I put them in a coffee can of odorless mineral spirits with a grid at the bottom.  Scrubbing the brushes against this a couple of times will get almost all of the paint out. 
It's important to change the solvent regularly to keep it working effectively.  I decant the cleanish liquid off the top and discard the sludge at the bottom of the can into a lidded bucket which, when full, I take to the firehall as hazardous waste.
After this, I wipe the brushes again to remove most of the solvent, and then I put them in a small bucket with a generous squirt of castile soap in the bottom.  I fill this up to mid-ferrule with hot water and let the brushes sit in it.  They can stay for hours if they're bristle brushes, or just for a few swishes and then a rinse if they're soft synthetic brushes which will permanently bend in hot water.  Dishwash soap is a bad choice as it is so powerfully degreasing that it leaves the brushes splayed and dried out.  Castile is a vegetable oil soap which is very mild.  A gentle shampoo would also work.
And that's it.  I don't squish my fingers between the bristles at any point, because it would take me hours, and I don't need to.  I never have paint trapped in there after this cleaning routine.  If cleaning brushes has been a grind, I hope you'll try this method and get on with the good things in life.
Happy painting!


Dean H. said...

Love this painting, Ingrid! Great example of "less is more". Excellent implied detail.

I have been following this method of cleaning brushes for years now...except I have been using dish soap as the last step...often wondered if it stripped too much natural oil from the hairs. Gonna have to get some castile soap.

Ingrid Christensen said...

Thanks Dean! I don't know how you find the time to be such a prolific painter and read other people's blogs at the same time. You must have more hours in the day than the rest of us!
I think you'll like castile soap.

Chris O. said...

Hi Ingrid. I took the plunge a year ago to try painting in oils and I love it, but it's a big learning curve, so I'm re-reading your blog to pick up some tips. Thanks for this tip on castile soap. I've been using washing-up liquid (i.e. UK name for dishwash soap) but I was already concerned about how it may be too drying for hog hair.
Chris. IG chrisopen

Ingrid Christensen said...

Hey, Chris! Thanks for reading back into the archives. I'm glad the advice has been useful for you.
Happy painting!