Caring for your watercolor brushes is an important step in keeping your investment in good condition for years to come.
Good quality brushes can be expensive, so it’s incredibly important to be mindful of watercolor brush care. When properly taken care of, watercolor brushes can last longer, keeping the bristles soft and avoiding pigment build-up. By creating a few good habits, you’ll extend the life of your investment and get better brush strokes.
First, get a good-quality brush holder. It’s great to have two - one for studio use and one for travel. Look for the following in a brush holder:
A brush case with pockets or elastic loops to keep each brush separated and will keep them in place so they don’t fall out and get lost or damaged. This also allows them to lay flat and keep the bristles in place. With each brush separated out, you’ll also be able to quickly glance at your holder to ensure you haven’t dropped or lost any brushes.
A bamboo mat style brush case is an inexpensive choice. It lays flat and rolls up into a small rigid holder. This brush case is particularly good for great plein-air painting because the bamboo allows are to circulate around the brushes to let them dry after cleaning.
For in-studio holders, a stiff base that allows the brush holder to stand upright is very convenient. Clean dry brushes can also be in a glass or vase with the bristles up.
Cleaning is imperative when caring for watercolor brushes. While you paint, make sure your water container is shallow enough that you aren’t dunking your brush above the ferrule (the metal barrel that holds the fibres to the handle) into the water. Overexposure to water can cause the glue holding the brush together to break down and the wooden handle to swell, which can eventually result in the brush head falling off.
The water itself should be room temperature - avoid very cold or hot water. Hot water will stiffen the soft bristles, giving you less control when you paint. You should only use your watercolor brushes with watercolor and gouache - no other mediums. Lastly, be gentle when placing the brush on paper or in your water dish, avoiding pushing on the brush head. This will help keep the bristles soft and in their original shape.
Apart from rinsing your brushes after each painting session, you should clean your brushes once a week. For weekly deep cleans, use a mild dishwashing soap or commercial cleaner (like this one.) Mix the soap or cleaner with water, then dip the brush head into the water - carefully avoiding getting the metal barrel wet. Then, gently rub the brush head around on the palm of your hand - you should see any built-up paint coming off. Rinse the brush head and dry the brush with a clean rag. Then gently run the brush head through your fingers to reshape it. Lay your brushes flat on a towel or hang them in a brush rack with the bristles down to let them dry thoroughly. This will allow moisture to wick away from the ferrule to prevent swelling or cracking.
Learning proper care for watercolor brushes is just as important as any other technique or skill you learn along your watercolor journey. Good watercolor brush care means better paintings and more longevity for your tools. Develop a daily and weekly practice for cleaning your brushes, and you’ll be rewarded.
Read "16 simple things to know to begin with watercolors and create successful paintings" by clicking here.
Check out the Arts of Course YouTube Channel for everything you need to know when you get started with watercolors.