Brushes in the wind

17 January 2009

In the wake of yesterday’s news of the death of Andrew Wyeth it has been somber in the studio. The view outside my window, of a weathered Pennsylvania stone barn and raw umber fields of stubbled winter cornshalks, echoes his own corner of farm land not far from here … and it settles my soul.

Many of you know our tradition of hanging wind chimes in the gardens in honor of loved ones who have died…and you won’t be surprised that this one will need to be special. I’ve decided to make it out of my old brushes.

In my studio, brushes live their lives in stages. I buy in bulk and on sale and only when I’m desparate and the new ones live in a state of reverence in the best of the old jars and mugs until I absolutely have to have that pristine spring and flow. The “working new” then get prime real estate on the table alongside my easel. Separated carefully from the grunts and wiped with the softest rags before being put up at night.

Try as I might, it doesn’t take long before they blend into the rest of the crew and their sabled edges begin to fray and the glossy sheen of their nickel plated ferrules no longer brags. I wean them out every other day or so …the hardest worn, stiffest bristled get tossed into an empty liquin box. When that is full, and the pile has spilled over onto the table, and Gully’s tail has knocked four or five of them on the floor and under the air purifier…then I gather them all up for a serious cleaning.

Last night I threw this bunch into a coffee can with about half an inch of Windsor Newton Brush Restorer  in the bottom. I learned the hard way that this stuff will melt the finish off of the wood, seeing as it is paint !, so I try to make sure it stays only on the bristles. They hang about in that overnight and then I settle in for the tedious second stage which is to scrub them in the tub of Masters Brush Cleaner. Then the big rinse and they’re laid out to dry.

Clean Up

The best of that batch are returned to their staging areas …

Ready to Go

 and the stragglers who refused to come clean are relegated to the graveyard…a box under my workbench…


which, until today, had been the final resting place.

But now I’ve got a better use for them. I’ll let you know when I’ve got Andy’s windchime up.

In the meantime… I’m curious … where do your old brushes go ?

6 thoughts on “Brushes in the wind

  1. Well, my brushes do not get old. When they are finished dipping and brushing the current project (the only things I paint are walls) they go to their final resting place in the trash bag.
    I know. I’m a sorry soul.
    Never cleaned a brush.
    Oh well.
    Such is life.

  2. Well sort of Cindy, they get a good rinse in turp after each use and most are good for several days, sometimes weeks. Every couple days I sort out the ones that are not quite fresh enough and they go into a container. When that’s full I do a mass cleaning. I don’t love that part so delay as long as possible. I find that the big cleaning…using WN brush cleaner and then the brush soap…takes a lot out of them. I have mountains of “almost” good as new brushes, staged down to nubs that get tossed into the barrel of no return. They might make good firestarters though.
    The best days are when I can’t stand it any more and break out a brand new brush ! I swear that choirs of angels start singing just over my shoulder.

  3. That winsor newton cleaner is nasty. I think you’d get more life out of the brushes if you used Brush Flush. It’s made by Weber. It’s biodegradable and will clean brushes overnight. I used to use brush flush and then ivory bar soap. You can tell if the brush is clean against the white soap bar. I’ve recently discovered another earth friendly cleaner Marvelous Mariannes Savvy Soap. You can get it in bulk at Blick.

    Do you use Winsor Newton series 7 for your incredible brush work?

  4. Thanks Cindy, I will check out those other cleaners. It’s a goal of mine to be greener here in the studio.
    And yes, I go through those beautiful series 7 like…well brushes. Came down to the end of my supply just as I finished the last of the paintings before the Granary show next week. They are magnificant but really not made for oils. I push them well past their limits but it’s worth it. Back to work for me now…take care, Heather