Thursday, September 12, 2013


"Child's Play"  acrylic on canvas    36"x48"
One of the most useful pieces of advice I can give an artist is to buy good brushes, the best you can find. Cost is irrelevant. In fact, if you find a brush that ‘obeys’ you, does what you tell it to do, goes where you tell it to go, please buy it by the boxful, regardless of price. Most brushes manufactured today may look o.k., but they are junk, cheaply made of inferior materials and wear out quickly. Artists used to have brushes that lasted a lifetime, not three or four paintings.

I judge a brush by whether or not it reads my mind, takes orders without being forced. A brush I have to force to go to the right or to the left, thick or thin, is not a good brush. It must be capable of subtle gradations and allow you to control it without pushing the paint into place.  Like any craftsman, you can’t do good work without good tools.

The brushes I buy today do not do the quality work I did thirty or forty years ago. I used to think that I was losing my skill, but now I know, it’s the equipment. I usually buy the same brand of brushes: Windsor Newton’s Lexington Brights. They look the same, but they are not the same. They wear out quickly, and, worst of all, they are not able to read my mind.

"Hang-ups" acrylic on canvas  34"x46"
I learned a lesson about brushes many years ago when I taught painting at the University of Connecticut here in Stamford. One of the older women in the class had been married to a famous “Society” portrait painter who had died a few years earlier (he was best known for his portrait of Dwight Eisenhower).  She came in one day with a gift for me: a couple of his unused bristle brushes (she couldn’t bear to part with anything he had touched.) He bought them by the case from a source in Belgium. I had never experienced anything like them, before or since. They anticipated my every wish, executed every line to perfection. Unfortunately, I lent them to one of my children who promptly dipped them in acrylic and allowed the paint to dry. Goodbye dream brushes!

Since then, I have been on a fruitless search to find something of similar quality. Price is immaterial. Sometimes, I think I have succeeded, only to discover that after one or two uses, the bristles start falling out, or the hairs spread unequally and I have to use brute force to get them to do the job. A while ago, I won a large, pointed sable brush reportedly worth $100 at a raffle. When I got it home, I tried it out, hoping to get a perfect line. Unfortunately, I got two perfect lines. If I had actually spent $100 on it, I would have immediately gotten my money back.

Artists aren’t the only ones who struggle with their equipment. I had a bassoonist friend who spent half his life searching for the perfect reed, a fiddler who struggled to find the right bow, athletes, carpenters, anyone dependent on quality tools knows what I am talking about.

At any rate, if you find a great brush that does what you want it to, buy it by the gross and make sure to let me know. I don’t care how much it costs.

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