Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Artsy Goodness that Makes Me Thankful and Much Praise for Cheap Paintbrushes

Before I start getting everything ready for the face-stuffing extravaganza that is Thanksgiving, I want to take the time to give praise to my favorite art things. I know, the traditional formula is to honor my loving family and devoted friends first,  but those are sentiments I would rather express in person to the people I appreciate most, even though it usually makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable.

There are certain items in my disorganized arts and crafts hoard that never end up under my bed or stashed away in the back of the closet. Any artist would know their worth by their paint stained, duct taped and aged appearance.

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My Beloved Drawing Boards


image of a large, paint spattered drawing board

 A drawing board is as essential as paper and charcoal for artists who work in any type of medium. As you can see by my photo above, I use mine for more than drawing. This board is at least twelve years old, and it is my largest one. Its size is better suited for use on an easel or desk, but it has the clips and handle common to these lightweight portable boards. I also came with a giant rubber band, which was lost a while back. I made a new one using some wide fabric-covered elastic like that found in waistbands of old lady pants. If you want to buy a new one, Dick Blick and Jerry's Artarama have them for reasonable prices. I have a 23" X 26" (the one above) and a 19" X 19" version, which I have abused even more than the larger one.

These boards are perfect for art classes, field sketching or plein air sessions because they are extremely lightweight and sturdy. They are not perfectly square, so I do not advise using them for drafting. Studio drawing boards are heavier and often come with a parallel ruler attachment and a "kick stand" to adjust the slant. I do not have room for a nice studio board, so I use my portable boards all the time. They have withstood a lot, to include a few sanding sessions to remove heavy layers of gesso or paint.

Painter's Tape 

Watercolor artists understand the importance of tape because unless you use at least 300 lb watercolor paper for your paintings, you are going to need to stabilize your ground to keep the paper from buckling when you add water. Lighter weight papers must be stretched or, at the very least, taped to a board on all four sides. This way, your paper will be flat while you are painting, and it will stay flat once the work is completely dry.

 I tape my paper to my drawing board regardless of the medium I use, however. I love the pristine "frame" that emerges after I remove the tape, and the clear space makes matting and framing easier. I also use bits of tape in place of masking fluid when I want to preserve the paper in parts of my work. It is better than frisket when I need to mask off a larger area or need to preserve angular shapes like window panes, buildings, and fence posts.  

I use the low-tack masking tape from the home improvement section at Walmart, but there are several kinds of artist's tape, like stencil tape and the wide, gummed watercolor tape that many use when stretching paper. Just be aware that really thin scholastic grade watercolor paper will not hold up to the tape like the better quality papers. Same with masking fluid- you will probably rub some paper surface away with the mask if you use it on the low-grade stuff.  

Cheap Paintbrushes

I was always told to use the best brushes I could afford, so my penchant for very cheap paintbrushes has often gotten me "brush shamed" by other artists.  I have grown out of my shame, however, and I am not one to tell other artists to forgo food, meds, or a kidney in order to buy paint brushes. I tend to buy modest brands like Plaid, Daler Rowney, Royal & Langnickel, or Lowe Cornell that come in sets for $3-5 at discount stores like Walmart or Target. I have a bunch of these in various sizes and shapes. Most of them have synthetic (Taklon or nylon) or hog hair, except for my one goat hair hake brush from Langnickel. My most expensive brushes are a Royal  Majestic #12 round watercolor brush ($12),  and a #4 bristle fan blender with an extra long handle from the Simply Simmons line ($7).

Why Cheap Brushes Really are Okay

 Most of the brushes I have mentioned will last at least a couple of years if you treat them well, and by that, I mean: 
Clean them after every use
Do not leave them in the rinse water while you paint
Do not use them for stuff like applying glue or masking fluid (that is what old raggedy brushes are for.)
 If you leave wooden handle brushes in water, it will ruin the handles very quickly, especially on cheapo brushes. The first thing that will happen is that the paint will peel off each time you use the brush, getting all over you work. Then the ferrule will come loose, or the wood will just disintegrate. 

Keep the handles away from water! ( can't say this enough)

If you need to change brushes, swish the dirty one in your water, immersing only the tip below the end of the ferrule where it meets the handle, then wipe it with a cloth. At the end of the session, wash all of the brushes by hand with soap and water. Never submerse them entirely in water!  Store them horizontally in a case or drawer or vertically (jar, can, vase) with the brush end up, handle down. You My "Majestic" came apart at the ferrule in less than a week, but it is fine now that I have Gorilla glued it together. Even nicer brushes will fall apart faster if you are not careful with them.

Cheapies are not too "dear" for experiments. 

Cheaper brushes are perfect for DIY modified specialty brushes. Art shops sell specialty brushes like "rakes" for ridiculous prices, but you can make your own by chopping bits out of a bargain brush. Below is a picture of a set sold at Amazon. Royal calls these "wisp" brushes but most companies label them as "rakes" or "feather" brushes due to their appearance.
image of Royal Paintbrush set from
This is a set of R&L Aqualon short handle "wisp" flat brushes.
If you would rather buy them, Amazon sells these sets for about $7 for the angular wisps and $23 for the flat or filbert wisps. "What is up with that?" you ask. Good question, but I don't know why there is such a huge price gap on Amazon. Honestly, many artists would not bat an eye at $23 for five brushes, and the Royal Brush website lists all of these sets for about $35 each. Additionally, Aqualon Wisps are listed in the "best quality" category on the R&L site, so I would consider these sets to be bargains for the Amazon price. 

image of Plaid feather rake brush from
You can see that this rake has a more blended, uneven edge compared to Royal's wisp brushes

Why would you want a weird brush like this? 

Really, these are great for making realistic feathers, fur, hair, grass, foliage and other textures. Plaid Folkart "single stroke" feather rake brushes run from $11 to over $20 for single brushes, and I have seen some for more than $30. The "one stroke"  label seems to add some dollars to the price, but other Plaid products, like the gold taklon "Folk Art" brush sets, are very affordable. 

So Happy Thanksgiving everyone! What artsy things earned your gratitude this year?

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