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  • Brush Washing Soap

    Every time I am talking with a new group of students, maintenance of materials comes up, and invariably everyone will ask what soap is best for brush washing.  I have avoided writing this blog post for about two years.  That said, as this question keeps coming up over and over again in workshops (it did last week in the Gottlieb class) and finally I figured I should just put it here so it’s searchable.

    In the US here are the winners for brush maintenance…. these are the two I keep at the sink:

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    Fels Naptha was the historic choice of brush washing soap of the Boston School painters- as Tom Dunlay recounted on Facebook, Ives Gammell used it, as did his teachers, teacher’s teachers and so on.  It’s a laundry soap, not in with the hand soap in the supermarket.  What’s unique about Fels-Naptha is that unlike many other major soap brands, they have not changed formula and become a detergent product, it’s still glycerin soap.  It is hard to find glycerin soap these days in America.  John Carlson recommends in his guide to landscape painting to wash brushes after cleaning in kerosene, and clean the surface of dirty paintings with Ivory Soap.  Ivory of course still exists, but I would strongly recommend not cleaning your brushes or painting with it, it’s a detergent/lotion blend product now and will leave crazy residue in your brushes- and I shudder to think what it would do to the surface of a painting.

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    The other brush washing soap I use in the studio is Lava.  Lava is a heavy duty cleaning soap with pumice blended into it, so if there’s old paint in the ferrule, or the brush really needs a good cleaning, Lava is what I’ll use.  That said, sink washing is the most aggressive thing you ever do to a brush, so I try to use Lava on a brush infrequently.  It’s great for cleaning but will probably wear down the hairs with time if you use it daily.

     

    Honorable Mentions:

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    The Masters Brush Cleaner-  this is wicked nice brush washing soap, it’s what it’s designed to do, and also has pumice for tough-to-wash brushes.  That said, like all art materials, it comes at an added premium.   If you have a trust fund, or if you like literally pouring money down the sink, I would recommend that you use this stuff.  In my experience though, there is nothing that this soap does that the above two can’t do.  I haven’t bought it for years, and like other ‘branded’ artist materials (cough cough GAMSOL cough cough cough) it is essentially exactly the same product you buy in the hardware store or supermarket, just 5-10 times more expensive.

     

     

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    Murphy’s Oil Soap is an amazing product, it has many uses (I often clean my wood floors at home with it, but also my friend Rob Bodem uses it when he’s making casts of his sculptures), I know some love it for washing brushes.  It’s never worked for me for washing brushes, and it’s also terribly expensive.  Some folks like it though- maybe I just can’t get used to a liquid soap for cleaning brushes.  Still, deserves a mention here.

     

     

    Come to think of it, there is one other soap worth mentioning:

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    This is the soap I used for years in Italy, SOLE (yellow type only, the white one has some lotion or something which remains in your brushes).  It is probably the Italian version of Fels-Naptha, another bar laundry soap (though I do not think it has the addition of naphtha, or like Fels is recommended for treating poison ivy, especially since they don’t have poison ivy in the mediterranean).  Like Fels Naptha, it’s dirt cheap and in the supermarket, not the art store.  I only now, writing this post realized that they are probably analogues.

     

     

    Feel free to argue with me in the comments about what brush soap you like, but be forewarned, you are probably wrong.

     

    *whew* silly blog post on brush washing over with

  • Old, Dirty, Worn Out and Misshapen (Brushes)

    This blog post’s title is not self-referential, it’s about brushes.  I am getting older, but more than dirty, worn out, or misshapen, I am cheap and very particular about my materials.  I know other painters that use their new brushes only a few times before retiring them, preferring the clear square/round shape, and everyone from time to time wishes they could just throw their brushes out rather than cleaning them.

    So here’s a simple studio trick I have been using for the past couple of years to squeeze a little life out of an old brush, I was showing my group of students this morning and thought I should share them here as well.

     

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    Personally, I like my brushstrokes to have an irregular shape; I don’t like the same touch to repeat itself everywhere in my painting.  Typically, these days I paint with mostly flats, filberts and a few rounds, and once in a blue moon a rigger or egbert.  Mostly hog bristles with an occasional kolinsky sable or mongoose hair brush.  I don’t much like synthetics and use them rarely.

    Although I keep my brushes for a long time and don’t mind as they wear down, they have to keep a distinct calligraphic shape.  the brush you see above and below was one I typically would retire- throw in with all the other old brushes for scrubbing in the background or mixing colors.  You can see the belly of the brush has become swollen, and errant hairs have started to take over, and paint in the ferrule has fossilized the bottom of the hairs.

     

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    I grab a sharp knife, and basically sharpen the brush as you would a wooden pencil with a knife- slowing cutting from the front and back before sharpening the sides.  I only cut forward, away from my hand, and work slowly to not cut off more than necessary.

     

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    Just like sharpening a pencil with a knife, it takes a bit of practice, but I really like the end result, it definitely brings some clarity back to the shape of the brush.  Believe it or not, I had the gall to show this trick to Symi from Rosemary Brushes last time she was here in the studio.  I’m sure she found it slightly offensive, but did remark its a much better way of rejuvenating a brush than cutting the tips down to attempt to make a ‘flat’ out of an old brush.

     

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    Also, starting today Keith Linwood-Stover is featuring my work on his website, The Cyber Art Show.  First gallery of 12 pictures went up today, other 12 will be featured tomorrow.  The way it works is he picks all the paintings he likes and puts them up with an artists’ bio, straightforward.  Though I only just discovered his website he’s featured tons of artists and many impressive painters in his archives.  Check it out.

     

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