- Know what your brush is made of. Knowing the material your brush is made of will help you understand how it will feel and what kind of strokes you can achieve with different types of paints. Watercolor brushes are usually made from sable, synthetic sable or nylon and have soft, more flimsy hairs. Oil paint brushes are usually made from sable or bristle, and have more of a sturdy, stiff feel. Acrylic paint brushes are usually made from synthetic or nylon and are both soft and sturdy. If you want to experiment with different types of paint but don't want to buy brushes of every material, I would suggest getting nylon. I like nylon brushes because they are soft and absorbent enough for watercolors while staying strong and sturdy enough for acrylics or oils.
- Experiment! Different brushes attract different artists and the only way to really know what kind of brush you will love is through experimentation. If you want to experiment but don't want to get every kind of brush right away I would suggest getting a couple different sizes of the round and flat brush. I use these two brushes the most and they are very versatile, making them the perfect brushes to begin with. If you've tried them all and still not satisfied, try making your own!
- Take care of your brushes. When you get your brushes, be sure you know how to handle them so they will last as long as possible. Here are a few things to remember when handling/cleaning/storing your brushes:
- Don't leave them in your water cup for too long. Leaving brushes in your water cup for long periods of time may warp the hairs and change your once straight brush to a warped, curved brush. (When I say long periods of time, I mean more than a few hours.) Leaving brushes in water for 3 hours wont do much harm, but if you leave them overnight or all day you risk warping the hairs, especially to the more delicate brushes like the fan or rigger brush.
- Wash your brushes and never let your paint dry on them. When using any type of paint, it is important to properly wash your brushes so you don't have to buy new ones every painting. When using watercolors or acrylics, gently rinse your brush with water. I like to swirl the brush around in my hand with a little soap until the water and soap turns clear. With acrylics, the water may look clear but when you use soap to clean the brush hairs, the suds will pick up the paint and you will be able to tell if it is truly clean or not. It's always better to over wash than under wash. This is especially true for oil paints. Cleaning your brushes after painting with oils is a bit more messy than cleaning acrylics or watercolors. Since oil paint does not wash with soap and water you will need to get some extra supplies. There are multiple cleaners you can purchase to clean oil paints off your brushes. The most popular cleaners to use are paint thinner, mineral spirits and safflower oil. Always wipe off your access paint on a rag or paper towel first, before cleaning your brush. Pour your choice of cleaner in a container and swirl your brush around in the container, making sure there is enough cleaning product to cover the entire brush. Wipe your brush on your rag and repeat multiple times. Some artists use multiple containers so each time they swirl their brush in the cleaner they aren't using the same "dirty" container. After doing this a few times, your brush may still be stained with paint, this is normal. Once you have gotten most of the paint off, take your brush to the sink and rub it around your palm with soap first (no water). The soap will pick up any remaining paint that didn't get washed off by your paint thinner, mineral spirits or whatever else you may be using. Rinse with water and repeat until you cannot see any paint color in your soap. You can re-use your cleaning product many times before having to dispose of it. Contact your local government to find out where you should dispose of hazardous material (aka your cleaning product) and remember to NEVER POUR IT DOWN THE DRAIN! After cleaning any type of paint from your brush, gently squeeze a clean rag or paper towel around the brush to absorb the leftover water in your brush and lay it flat to dry.
- Properly store your brushes. When you are done painting and have cleaned your brushes be sure to store them in a place where they will stay dry and not be damaged. Keep them in a large enough space so the brush bristles or hairs are not pressed or bent up against anything. If your brushes dry bristle down in a cup, they will then forever be warped and deformed. I usually let my brushes dry upright in a cup or flat on a clean surface. Once they're dry I store them in a large box or my brush bag:
I hope this has helped you understand the different types of brushes and how to properly clean and store them.