Guest Editorial from Hobby Sensei: Brushes and Their Maintenance

hobby tools

Here’s a simple article on a subject that I often get asked about. What makes a good brush?  And how do I take care of it?  The Hobby Sensei has the answers!

Lets start off by addressing the first question, what does a good brush look like?

Well for starters, when choosing a good brush the first thing to look for is a natural hair brush. Natural hair has scales, which gives you better control of how you deposit your paint whereas synthetic brushes are smooth plastic, and lack the same level of control.

I always use the fountain pen analogy: a natural hair brush is like a working fountain pen. When you apply pressure it lets out its ink (paint).  Synthetic brushes are like a broken fountain pen, as soon as you place the tip on a surface it releases its entire load, and you are forced to push around a puddle of paint.

Not all natural hair brushes are equal though.

The best brushes are:

1) red sable hair

2) not cut to a point.

Kosinski red sable brushes are my personal favorite. Longevity and elasticity is achieved by only using the male, tail hair of the Kolinsky red sable (Mustela Sibirica), grown in the extreme cold of Siberian and Manchurian winters. Their fur is very fine and soft, yet very durable, all of which are desirable qualities in a brush. Even the largest brushes come to the finest points.

The best of these brushes are assembled in a way that utilizes the natural curvature of the hair to make a point, and are never cut to a point. The difference is the hair has a “memory” to it. Cut bushes tend to “split” after usage, as the hair reverts to its natural shape.  Another misnomer is that smaller brushes make finer points. This is not true, large KRS brushes make just as fine a point as any small brush, but are superior in the fact that they have larger reservoirs and hold much more paint. This means that you can work for longer periods without the paint drying out in your brush.

The amount of pressure you use when painting is what dictates how fine the line you paint is. A light touch, and you achieve the finest detail. Press harder and you can base coat large areas. Another benefit of a good KRS brush is that it “tells” you when it’s properly loaded to paint. After loading you brush, blot slightly on some tissue, and you know you have just the right amount of paint when the brush has returned to its fine tip.

My hair makes great brushes!

My hair makes great brushes!

Some of the best KSR brushes on the market are Winsor & Newton, Raphaël, and DaVinici (which we sell here at Frontline! -ed). All of these factors result in a brush that tends to be much more expensive, but if properly maintained a $25 brush will last easily as long as 7, $5 brushes would. This brings us to the second point of this article: Brush  Maintenance.

Brush maintenance is extremely important if you want to consistently get good results. One does not simply treat their cars like crap and expect them to continue working like new, so why would you do the same for brushes?
Here are three simple steps to maintaining the life of your brush:
1) always clean your brush after every use.
2) never let your brush sit in water, and
3) monthly brush maintenance.
When you clean your brush after each use, you need to be careful that after you have rinsed it in water, when you drag it across the paper to dry it that there is no color coming off. If there is, repeat the process.  Soaking a brush in water for too long is bad for the hair. It will cause the hair to become overly dry and brittle, thus ruining your brush.
The last step is a “monthly” maintenance which consists of a rubbing alcohol or shampoo wash, and then a conditioning afterwards.  I use rubbing alcohol for the dirtier brushes because it eats the binders in most of the acrylic paint we use, but you have to be careful because it will dry out the hair as well.  I start by pouring a small amount of rubbing alcohol in to a shallow dish, I then put the brush into the dish at about a 45 degree angel, making sure that it is the ferrule (the metal band under the bristles) that contacts the dish. I will then begin to slowly spin the brush.  You know it’s working when you see color and chunks appear in the alcohol. If the alcohol gets too dirty, and the brush isn’t fully clean repeat the processes until no more color comes off your brush. Then rinse in warm water.
For brushes that are cleaner than that (you can’t actually see any paint) washing them with warm water and shampoo will suffice. Remember that this is real hair here, so treating it right will ensure that it lasts longer. After washing and drying your brushes  its important to condition the brush, using some sort of hair product. I personally like using axe pomade as its waxy consistency means that I can form the brush to a nice point and leave it that way (washing it out before using it next), but any type of conditioner/hair tonic works fine.
These products will help keep your brush elastic and supple, and prevent split ends and breakage, thus improving the life span of your brush. Remember, these brushes are natural hair, and should be treated them same. Would you go months without washing or conditioning your own? It is not uncommon for a good brush, with proper maintenance to last well over a year or longer.
I have a Sable brush I’ve had since high-school and with proper maintenance, it is still my most used brush! -Reece


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!
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9 years ago

I started using Kolinsky brushes around a year ago and they are light years ahead of the synthetic GW brushes I was using up until then, both in terms of control and lifespan.
I personally think changeing to Kolinsky brushes along with thinning my paint were the two simplist steps I took to improve my painting and if your haven’t already tried you should give it a go.

Something I’d add is that you don’t have to dish out for the really expensive brushes, I started with the Coat D Arms ones which I could nearly get three of for the price of one WN Series 7. Conversly I have also found other brands that I’m assuming were machine cut because as the article points out the hairs simply wouldn’t maintain a point.

I had read about using special brush conditioner to increase the life of the Kolinsky but would have never thought of using regular conditioner. Makes sense when you think about it, thanks for the great tip I’ll be trying that one!

9 years ago

After washing brush. Suck on it. Ur spit left on it will preserve it. Still using 10 year old brushes here. And i suck on em after every use 😉

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