View Full Version : Bristle Brushes wearing out

07-18-2001, 09:14 AM
How long do bristle brushes last using acrylics on canvas/canvas boards. I like flat and bright bristle brushes, and the ones I use are not very expensive, but the art store I go to says they are a decent quality. When I got them new, they had nice edges. Now after about 13 paintings the tips are rounded as the outer bristles are worn away. I tend to use my brushes quite roughly, sometimes almost scrubbing the paint into the canvas. Is this wear natural? Do more expensive brushes last longer? The first 5 paintings I did were in oil, and I did not notice any wear in the brushes, but began to notice in when I started using acrylics.
Any suggestions would be very helpful.

07-18-2001, 10:31 AM
I use acrylic and tear up brushes so bad I have to buy new ones ( the ones I use most often that is) about once a month.

I have one bristle brush, though, that's my favorite because it never gets beat up ... someone gave it to me, and the label was already worn off when I got it :(

I'd appreciate anyone else's thoughts on expensive vs. inexpensive brushes-

and also, sable for acrylics? Will the sables get ruined like the cheapies?


07-18-2001, 12:01 PM
Oil paint has a naturally lubricant quality that acrylic lacks, which may protect the brush bristles. If you're painting on an abrasive surface, like primed canvas, your bristles will wear faster than if you were painting on smooth hardboard. Fortunately, hog bristle brushes are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced. Sable brushes are also prone to such wear and will have a shorter life used with acrylics than with most other media, but will last longer if kept meticulously clean: rinse the brush in rubbing alcohol until no color at all releases from the ferrule, then treat the hairs with a hair conditioner, allow to set a few minutes, and rinse again in clear water. For general purposes, synthetic immitation sable is better with acrylics unless you need the specific performance characteristics.

07-18-2001, 09:42 PM
Ivan, if you have a brisk painting style bristle brushes won't last forever and while the wear you describe does sound fairly typical, with the shoulder (right term?) taking the brunt of the abrasive force, but after only a dozen canvases does sound a bit fast - depends on the size of the canvas I suppose! I've read that hog-hair does vary in quality, in much the same way as sable: the best supposedly comes from China. I have a number of bristle fitches and flats that I have always considered to be only medium quality (they are all Chinese) but despite that they are still going strong and they are all 20 years old. Now I must be honest they have seen only very occasional use but it's some indication.

You will often read two reasons for acrylics being hard on bristle brushes: 1, there is ammonia in some acrylic paint (which has a very damaging effect on natural fibres, particularly porous hair like hog) and 2, water swells the hair (in a way that oil and spirits do not) and the constant swelling/shrinking has a significant ageing effect. These are the oft-quoted reasons for the development of synthetic brushes for acrylics. I personally think the fact that water makes natural bristle 'slack' had a great deal to do with their development, it certainly annoyed me when my brushes lost most of their spring after rinsing! Give a couple of the better synthetics a try, you should be pleasantly surprised with their consistent spring and their wear characteristics. Sorry I canít help with specifics but I'm not sure about US/Canadian brands that you might have access to.

Jeanette, as far as expensive v. inexpensive for bristle brushes goes, this might be a good question for the oil painting thread: they probably use a lot more bristles than we do. With regard to sables, I think you really get what you pay for both in handling and longevity. I paint very thin almost all the time now and use Kolinsky sables almost exclusively (with some synthetics for larger areas and textural effects) and they really work well. I use Winsor &Newton Series 7s mostly (some of the best brushes in the world) with a couple of cheaper sables for comparison, and the S7s keep their points better over time, retain spring and generally out-perform anything else I have ever tried. If I'm careful to rinse them scrupulously during use to prevent pigment buildup near the ferrule I typically get a year or more from them before they are retired to second-string duty like scumbling. There are any number of good synthetic rounds out there but every one I have used turns over at the tip (sometimes almost immediately!) which effectively ruins the brush for detail work of the kind I need them for. The tips can be straightened by dipping in boiling water but still... If your requirements aren't so exact they are certainly a lot more affordable so they are worth trying at least.

I have read many times that oil paint has a conditioning effect on brushes as cuttlefish mentions, but my sables typically last waaaay longer than all my oil-painting buddies' for whatever that's worth :)

I clean all my brushes with isopropyl alcohol occasionally but I wouldn't recommend doing it every time you paint, I have definitely noticed it has a drying effect on sables. The conditioner trick is one I highly recommend too: it makes a big difference in a brush's long-term health but I only do this after a scrub with alcohol. Incidentally, you don't have to rinse the conditioner out immediately, if you leave it on until the next time you use the brush just rinse it out in your mixing water, I promise it won't have any detrimental effects on your paint adhesion and in fact it works as a bit of a flow-improver!


P.S. If anyone paints thinly where colour-contamination is more of an issue, a double-bath system is invaluable. A large container for the main wash and a second for a final rinse and as your mixing water really helps to keep your brushes and colours clean.