Who enjoys cleaning paint brushes? Not me for sure. Yes I know it has to be done and brushes are expensive. I do clean them everyday, but I am always on the lookout for a quicker more effective way to do these chores. It is time I would rather be devoting to painting or creating of some sort.
A few months back I publisheda video showing how I have been cleaning brushes using an eco friendly product made by Maimeri. It is water based yet cleans oil paint off your brushes. It can then be safely disposed of in the drain. Very nice! It works well too. On the downside it is a bit expensive with all the import duties and whatnot. If you paint everyday it can be a pain in the wallet.
Then there are the artists who use the olive oil in the hand approach. Works if you are travelling overseas and cannot take solvents on the plane. Otherwise it is a waste of olive oil!
Recently I can across a tip from New Zealand artist John Crump who uses kerosene. Kero, as he calls it, cleans the oil paint off the brush and leaves a fine oily layer to preserve the brushes. Mmmm ... interesting!
Kerosene, for those who speak proper English, is also called paraffin. I had to give it a go because a litre of paraffin costs practically nothing. Only trouble is what are the health and environmental issues using this stuff? Well I use surgical gloves when painting these days just to be safe from solvents. Also when using solvents keep the room ventilated. However I would try the paraffin outdoors as it is fairly strong smelling.
Paraffin is also flammable so use common sense about flames, sparks or hot surfaces. Also work on a stable surface. I used the lawn for my little demo video for practical video reasons, but use a table or other hard and flat surface outside.
As you can see from the video paraffin cleans that brush off in two-ticks. I cleaned the ferrule and handle off too. The brush was perfectly clean. I can also confirm that the brush's bristles remain supple and springy. There is no stiff drying of the bristles. Excellent result!
You can reuse the paraffin many times too so one litre is going to go a long way indeed.
So how to dispose of the old paraffin? There are plenty of suggestions online. If you cannot deposit it with a waste disposal facility it seems a popular way is to pour the little remaining waste into a bucket of sand or cat litter and let it evaporate in a safe spot outdoors. Remember we are talking about very small quantities.
So try paraffin if you like and judge for yourself provided you are comfortable with the extra care required.
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I am sure that you love to paint. But when you stand in front of the paint display at your art shop what goes through your mind when you reach for those new tubes? I am pretty sure that you are doing some quick multiplication. Maybe you don’t need so many tubes after all. Not if you want to pay the bills this month.
With import duties and currency troubles we South African artists continue to see big jumps in paint prices. So is the answer is to eke out paint and use it sparingly? Not at all. One of the biggest reasons for paintings that disappoint us is skinny paint. You know what I mean?
When your painting has such thin paint application you cannot see a ripple of texture. It is flat, blended and weak. Like bad instant coffee. No thanks. I truly believe that when we use skinny paint we get insipid results and we also feel like we are cheating ourselves. When you hold back on the paint are you really expressing your feelings?
Many new artists are also seduced by the large canvas. It is so tempting when we see that large canvas at the shop. One metre wide – Wow! It will look great. Maybe it will, but that is a lot of painting real estate to cover and it takes up a lot of paint. So we paint skinny and feel disappointed with the result.
I would like to suggest that you paint with emotion and with a generous spirit. Paint with bravura as the critics say. Lay the paint on thick where the painting calls for it. Use layers in the light passages. Texture the foreground with that large bristle brush. Use impasto to contrast against thinner passages in the shadows. You get the idea?
This approach will bring you joy and save you paint too. How so?
First off try painting on smaller panels such as 6 x 8” or 10 x 12” at first. Use a relatively large brush like a size 4 and 6 and lay on the paint. Butter it on where necessary. Because you have a small panel to cover you are not using tubes of paint. But your painting will still be rich with thick juicy paint. Gem-like colours glowing and resplendent!
That one small painting will make a bigger statement than a large canvas with skinny paint. Painting this way will also build your confidence. It forces you to make the shapes simpler. More emphasis on big shapes with less detail. This often means stronger value contrasts too. This adds impact. Your compositions will be stronger too. More cropped with only the strong important shapes.
For inspiration look at artists like Kevin Macpherson and Ken Auster. Artists who work outdoors often will have adopted this approach, because it helps them paint quickly and boldly.
Another tip is to use fewer tube colours. This saves money and reduces the risk of muddy colour mixes. Try working with the primary colours and white. There will be more colour harmony in your mixes plus less wastage. If you have to scrape back then use that scraped off paint for warm or cool grey colour. These greys can set-off your pure colours to great effect.
It is a shame that many artists may feel inhibited by costs. This kind of thinking can spoil the joy of painting. But in truth not painting or holding back is more costly. When you hold back you pay with your spirit and that is too high a price. So the challenge is to make the most of your paint. Go small, but go bold!