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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

4: Cleaning My Brushes

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Howdy! I totally get that I couldn’t have written about a boring-er topic but cleaning my brushes is undramatically the bane of my existence and I assume other painters feel likewise. As in, it is my personal history-head-cannon that the reason medieval and renaissance artists took on apprentices wasn’t to pass on their craft—but to have someone else clean their brushes(& ditto for tattoo artists with tubes but I digress).

Anywho, here’s what works best for me(and bear in mind I work with oils):

1) First, soak the bristles in turpenoid after their use(face down, stick-ass up), until the end of the painting session.

2) Then bring them to the sink where there should be a second jar of dish soap and water(more dish soap than water). With very hot water running over a sponge in the sink, I take the brush from the turpenoid and dip the bristles in the soap-water jar. I dab the inner bottom of the jar so the bristles are oversaturated with soap.

3) Then I run the brush under the hot water, while rubbing the bristles across the sponge under the water current.

4)Then I take the brush and run the bristles across a paper tower. If it leaves pigment, I wash the brush again. If it doesn't leave pigment, I lay it on the paper towel to dry. I repeat this process for every dirty brush.

When the brushes are clean, I put the soap-water jar back. The soap-water mixture should be good for several washes as long as the liquid is above the bristles when they’re being cleaned. Then I have two other jars. One will have held the turpenoid throughout this process. The other is where that turpenoid is going. See, the liquid may look murky-grey, but that’s a temporary issue. I take the empty jar and place 2 or 3 coffee filters over the top, wrapping them in a rubber band. Then I pour the turpenoid from its jar into the coffee filters of the empty one. I could wash the original turpenoid jar at this point, but generally won’t to minimize how many chemicals are going down the drain. The turpenoid won’t take long to filter into the new jar. I’ll swap the turpenoid from jar to jar (between the two) for months, using coffee filters every time. The filters go in the trash. When the filtered turpenoid is low, I pour new turpenoid into whichever jar is in use that day.

I’ve been meaning to try linseed or lavender oil for cleaning my brushes but have 2 massive jugs of turpenoid to get through first.

Side Tip: If you get oil paint on your phone screen, rubbing alcohol on a rag/paper-towel takes the wet paint right off with no scrubbing. Sadly, this is not true for carpets. Do not get oil paint on your carpet. My solution was shaving dried oil paint off the topmost part of the bristles. It wasn't noticeable afterwards but you can only shave bristles so many times before the carpet is shorter in that spot.

Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully this was helpful! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

TL;DR. Advice?: After oil painting, soak brush bristles in turpenoid. Then move them to soap-water jar. Beat bristles against the bottom of jar(but not so hard as to damage them). Run very hot water on sponge in sink. Rinse brushes in hot water while rubbing them against the sponge. Then wipe them on a paper towel. If they leave pigment, wash them again. To preserve the turpenoid, filter it into another jar through 2 or 3 coffee filters.

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