Brush Care and Other Life Lessons

At some point in the last two years, I gave up on my brushes.  Perhaps it was my grueling new public studio schedule, perhaps it was the fact that I had begun to use nylon brushes almost exclusively, perhaps it was some of the textured surfaces I was painting on (brick, paperboard, coroplast), but my brushes were wearing out at an alarming rate.  I began to buy cheap ones in bulk and threw them away within weeks.  The faster they wore out, the less inclined I was to take care of them in general.  I indiscriminately scrubbed on vast acrylic underpaintings with tiny, delicate nylon flat brushes.  I left paint-choked brushes drowning in water overnight because I was eager to go home at the end of the day.  Sometimes, I would save the chipped and battered handles of my casualties in the vain hope that I might take up macramé in the future; they did have quite an interesting patina by the time I was through with them.  The way I figured it, having to buy more brushes seemed an acceptable loss given the artwork I was making. . .

However, at my first meeting with my new art teacher, we talked about brush care, and something clicked in my mind.  Why was I entrusting my work to inferior, damaged, poorly-maintained tools?  Since when did I accept unnecessary waste as a natural by-product of my work?  While a skilled musician can usually make even a poor instrument sing, would it not be preposterous to simply allow that instrument to deteriorate out of carelessness?  Since when did carelessness become a part of my method?

I have been carefully cleaning and drying my brushes lately, contemplating which ones to use for various tasks, reintroducing bristle brushes and even sturdy utility brushes, and in the process, I am learning that I can get far more mileage and variety out of my tools, that I had been limiting their myriad possibilities, that they can sing for me in ways that I had forgotten or fully ignored.  The task that I had begun to think of as futile or tedious has become meditative instead, and this simple change already seems to be influencing my work, my wallet, and my life.

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