I have a lot of paintbrushes. I’ve had the four in the featured photo since I was in grad school. Two of them were payment for work I did for the YWCA of Denver. I was paid in art supplies, and I still think that was a good deal. I did silk-screened posters, illustrations for brochures and even some watercolor art posters. I bought the other two during the time I was painting with gouache (1980/81), which led to a one person show at Cafe Nepenthes (RIP), a coffee house on Market Street in Denver.
I bought six beautiful brushes in Switzerland in 1997. In the process of cleaning the art room, I took them out of their wooden box and put them in this coffee can for active duty because, as I told them, “Someday is here.” I used one on my most recent oil painting. I am sure there are brushes in my collection I will never use.
Some of my brushes were given to me by artists who couldn’t paint any more. My friend Michael lost his sight to macular degeneration and gave me some of his brushes for a Christmas present. Sally, a short time from the end of her life’s journey, knew in her soul she was done painting. When she handed her brushes to me, I remembered her retirement party more than twenty years earlier when those brushes had been a gift to her from our school.
Paintbrushes represent potential. When they gave me their brushes, I felt as if my friends were deeding to me their potential.
My friends’ brushes are not always responsive to me. Maybe they’re waiting for their REAL master or they’ve been worn in the direction in which their previous owners painted.
One of my brushes wears the traces of my brother. Once, in the mid-1990s, I was visiting him and his ex-wife. I was in my painted tables phase at the time. My brother picked up one of my brushes and lectured me on brush care. He then trimmed the bristles so the brush would work better.
My brother could be pretty strident giving an art lecture (he thought he knew everything and he really did know a lot) but brush care is critical and, probably, also, kind of personal. It depends mostly on what medium an artist works in. A thin water-based medium, like water color or gouache, is a soap and water thing. But acrylic — which washes out with soap and water — can cling to the base of the bristles near the ferule and wreck the brush. That’s what my brother’s lecture was about. Oil paints are (obviously) not water soluble so a dip in solvent (I use Gamblin’s odor free mineral spirits, Gamsol) followed by a soap and water wash works well for me. I use The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. I then let my brushes air dry upside down so nothing clings to the base of the bristles before I put them back in the bouquet.
I have brushes with which to paint fresco. I went to fresco school in LA some fifteen years ago, and I hope that sometime down the road — maybe this summer — I’ll paint some small frescoes on the backs of the porcelain tiles in my garage, left over from the remodel they did before I moved in. I just takes a lot of space to paint fresco — it’s messy.
Some women get their hair done, or get a mani-pedi or a massage when they’re down. I guess I buy new paintbrushes. Last March, before my hip surgery, I bought a beautiful brush made of mongoose hair. Still, I use those four old brushes the most.