How to save your brushes

Many oil painters keep their brushes upside down in turpentine or thinner. This practice is horrible; it’s the worst thing you can do to your brushes. In defense of painters who do this, I used to do the same thing because it’s what I was taught. I was taught that concern for my kit was bad form; an impediment to the pure flow of genius (no, I am not joking).

Keeping brushes upside down can deform them, causing the heads to flair out. Once this happens, the brush’s utility is permanently diminished. That’s a bad thing but worse is keeping brushes upside down in solvent. Solvents make bristles brittle and loosen them from the handle. You’ve seen such bristles deposited on the paint surface, right? Yeech.

You can see why I say that keeping brushes upside down in solvent is the worst thing you can do to your precious brushes. Oil painting is tough on brushes. How can we help our brushes?

At the end of the day, I wash my brushes in linseed oil soap and then store them brush-side up until the next morning. On those occasions when I can’t properly clean my brushes, I soak them in linseed oil and lay them on their side in a special tray I keep for these occasions.

What do you do when a single session lasts all day? Solvents are fast-acting; even a few hours can cause damage. What I do is dunk brushes in linseed oil whenever I put them aside. When I pick up an oil-soaked brush, I quickly squeeze out the excess oil before loading the paint. I keep a rag in my hand for this reason.

I keep a pot of oil for brush dunking. It’s the rightmost pot in this photo. The other pot contains turpentine. The key takeaway is to keep your brushes well-oiled during sessions. Traditionally Dutch artists suspended their brushes in pots of oil by threading a string through the handles. Some artists cleaned their brushes with oil and kept them fresh by suspending them this way.

Oil is good for your brushes; it keeps them supple and prevents drying.

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