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Signs It's Time to Replace a Brush

A worn-out paint brush won't produce the mark making it once did.

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If you look after your paint brushes well -- and that includes cleaning them properly, however tedious as this can be -- they will last. However surface friction does take its toll over time and brushes do wear out, not producing the type of mark making they once did. Watch out for these signs that it's time to replace it. That said, never throw away an old brush, it still has its uses!

When It Starts Missing the Point

Replacing art brushes
Photos © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
A top-quality round brush with soft hairs (such as sable) and rigger brush will come to a very fine point. The hairs of the brush are carefully selected and arranged to create the tip (that's what you're paying for and what's missing in cheaper brushes).

With the wear and tear of brush against paper and/or canvas, the hair ends are slowly worn away and the brush eventually won't produce the thin, even lines it once did. So if you've been blaming a trembling hand on an uneven brushmark, check the point of the brush!

Keep the brush to produce broader and uneven lines where you want them, such as tree branches, grasses, hair. Or set it aside to use with masking fluid without the risk of clogging up a 'good' brush. Another option is to chop off the pointed end and use the remaining brush for stippling and dry brushing.

Feeling Worn Out

Photo of Filbert Brush for Painting
Stiffer-hair brushes, such as hog, wear down the fastest, especially when used on coarse surfaces such as unsanded gesso. What starts as a long-haired brush full of spring ends up as a stubby, unresponsive brush.

Keep the brush for scumbling and scrubbing then, when it's extremely worn down, use it to push paint around on the surface like you would a Colour Shaper (and don't fuss particularly trying to clean it, just give it a wipe!).

Going Bald

Time to change a brush
Some brushes shed hairs when they're new (they shouldn't, but it happens), some when they're showing signs of age and from the strain in the ferrule from dried-in paint. Stray hairs in paint are especially annoying if you're creating detailed realism, and while you can pick them out with your fingernails (or tweezers), it's an irritation you can avoid.

Keep the brush for expressive, textured work where hairs simply become part of the piece.

Midlife Spreading

Time to change a brush
Wear-and-tear, poor quality hairs, and dried-in paint all encourage brush hairs to spread out, to have a bad-hair day. No matter how you put down a stroke, stray hairs create a jagged edge or seem to reach out to other areas to dab unwanted bits of color. It's tough when it's a favorite brush that's no longer what it was, but try to think of it not so much as replacing a best friend but heading on new adventures.

Keep the brush and trim it with scissors or give a haircut to create a narrower, neat brush. Alternatively, deliberately use the brush as a means to painting more loosely, with less control over where the paint goes and thus more expressive mark making. Think of it as alternative to those premium-priced 'designer' brushes advertised for creating trees etc in a single stroke.

Get a Handle on It

Change a worn out brush
Even if all the hair is missing from a brush it has its uses:, including stirring a jar of varnish (shaking it creates air bubbles in it), mixing up paint when you can't find a palette knife, for stick and ink techniques, and sgraffitto. Or give it a final resting place as an element of a collage.
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