As any artist knows, the quality of your art materials can add or take away from the quality of your work. Once you’ve chosen the art materials that meet your needs, it is also important to keep them in good shape. This not only helps with your art but also saves you a lot of money in the long-run.
Paint brushes do not require a lot of effort to maintain them. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to clean them immediately after use, and store them in such a manner that the bristles do not lose their shape.
Cleaning them immediately prevents the paint from drying on the bristles. This is especially the case with acrylic paints. While oil paints do not dry as quickly, it is best to follow this step regardless of the kind of paint you have been using.
I usually use soapy water to clean my brushes. It is best to use lukewarm water (not hot water). While washing the bristles, make sure the paint at the base of the bristles, near the ferrule, is washed out completely. Paint tends to build up here and can often cause the bristles to spread apart and lose their shape.
You can use other materials to clean your brushes, such as shampoo or brush cleaners. Some of the cleaners available online are DaVinci All Natural Brush Soap and Pink Soap Artist Brush Cleaner. Be warned: I haven’t used these myself so I cannot attest to their quality.
Warm soapy water is good for water-based paints. Varnish and paint would require mineral spirits or paint thinner, and shellac would require denatured alcohol. Strong soaps can harm your watercolour brushes, as can hot water. It is also best to avoid detergents or paint stripper, especially with oil colour brushes.
Once you have cleaned out the paint, squeeze the bristles gently to get out the excess water/cleaner. You can use a paper towel here. Follow this up by reshaping the bristles. You must make sure not to be rough or the bristles can get pulled out.
To ensure your brushes have a long life, we would suggest using different sets of brushes for different types of paint. It is also important that you don’t let a brush sit head down in water or any other cleaning liquid for too long. Apart from making the bristles lose shape, it can also cause the handle to swell and crack. Once the handle cracks, the ferrule will no longer hold the bristles together. Prolonged exposure to water also causes the glue in the ferrule to wear away.
Store your brushes vertically with the head up, or store them horizontally. You can use brush stands/ holders or simply store them away neatly in a box or tray. The stand or holder will come in handy especially when you are using multiple brushes at the same time.