Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Requiem for a paint brush

Yesterday, while working on the eagle, I became distracted and set down a brush loaded with paint onto my wet palette and left the room to talk to my daughter, then took a phone call, left the house on a quick errand that turned into a 4 hour absence, returned home just in time to prepare dinner, have a glass of wine, watch a little television, settle into a hot lavender-scented bath, climbed into bed ... this afternoon I returned to the studio - uh-oh, the brush. I'm hard on my brushes, usually replacing several every couple of years. But this one was different. It was a favourite, inherited from an artist who willed his art supplies to my uncle who then passed this brush and others along to me - it must have been 25 or 30 years old when I received it, and I've been using it for about 12 years. A lovely thin sable liner brush, made in England, the perfect brush for incredibly thin lines that flowed off it's tip with amazing grace ... used so often and so intently the paint has worn off the handle.

I picked up the brush, aghast - the entire length of it's once supple hairs had hardened to the point where it could now be used as a toothpick. I rinsed it in tepid water, tried peeling the acrylic off with my finger nails - oops, a few hairs came off on my first attempt ... I tried rinsing the bristles in warm and then hot water (not too close to the ferrule, though, as I didn't want to melt the glue holding the bristles together - an artist only makes that mistake once!) and rubbed a little soap onto it, worked off the acrylic as best I could, losing a few more hairs along the way ... unable to get all the dried paint off near the ferrule ... oh dear, it's not the same brush anymore - won't hold nearly as much paint as it did, doesn't let the paint flow off the tip in lovely straight flowing lines of seemingly endless lengths ...

I've attempted to prepare for this situation for some time, knowing that with the loss of a hair here and there over the years this favoured brush would one day need to be replaced. Whenever I'm in an art supply store I look through the liner brushes, but can't find anything close to it - I suspect the decades of use enhanced the brush's extremely subtle graduated taper-point.


I have several seldom used liner brushes, and now I shall begin using them to facilitate their 30 year evolution to becoming THE perfect liner - I'll be 80 years old by then, probably just hitting my prime as a painter. Then watch out!


andrea said...

I feel for you. All my liner brushes have been too cheap to stand up to the abuse I dish out. If you ever find another great small brush let me know. It'll be worth the investment.

Curious Art said...

Oh the pain! There is something out there that's supposed to dissolve dried acrylic... I can't remember what it's called but as I recall it was a gel. I'm not sure if such a delicate brush would survive intact, but it might be worth trying.

Sadly, it's usually the quality of the brush itself that allows that wonderful flow... "breaking in" a lesser brush often just makes it worse. I think you really have to shell out to get the brushes that are beautifully hand formed with tapering hairs expertly arranged... I haven't had a really brilliant one in years, so I completely understand your state of mourning. Best of luck!