Give your brushes some TLC

I’m forever salvaging distressed brushes in my classes. Sad, flayed and bloated from the murky container that once contained clear water or left to dry on the table, forlorn and caked with paint.


But it really doesn’t take a whole lot to keep your brushes happy (and extend their life). Just give them a little TLC and they’ll be forever grateful. Promise.

Note: I don’t use oils in my classes (or for my own art), so this applies to water-based mediums (watercolour, gouache, acrylic paint and ink).

Acrylic (and other water-based stuff) Brush Care Tips:

1. Quick clean to reuse:

  • Don’t drown your brush! Leaving your brushes to soak up water while you’re continuing to paint is possibly the worst thing you can do to them.
  • If you want to clean and use your brush again right away, remove excess paint with a paper towel first (sometimes a dry clean is all you need to do).
  • For a more thorough clean, swirl your brush in a container filled with water to get rid of the remaining paint.
  • This bears repeating: do NOT stand your brush in the water container.
  • Blot gently on a lint-free towel (or paper towel) and carry on.

2. Clean and store:

  • Once your painting session is done, always take the time to clean your brushes thoroughly, right away, and dry them carefully. You don’t want to end up with crusty, sad brushes that need CPR to come back to life (more on that below).
  • No need to run out and buy expensive brush cleaning potions – these do a nice job but all you really need is a gentle liquid dish soap to adequately clean your brushes. Organic bar soaps work fine too but I prefer liquid soap.
  • Add a few drops of liquid soap to a small container filled with lukewarm or cold water and swish to mix. Never hot water though, that’s really bad for the brush.
  • Blot away any remaining paint on your brush then dip in the soapy water. Clean the brush by running it back and forth on the sides and bottom of the container.
  • If extra help is needed to get every bit of paint out, I find that a spiky plastic brush cleaner disk like the one below left gets all the paint out (art store find for around $1). A silicone make-up brush sponges (middle pic) works well too. In my home studio, my favourite is a round silicone dish brush (right).


3. Brush CPR:

Sometimes brushes end up laminated with dried paint (or heaven forbid, dry medium). It happens. Even to me… more often than I care to admit. No need to panic, I have the perfect remedy and a secret weapon – guaranteed to work every time, without too much effort or toxic chemicals (or not very toxic at least).

My secret weapon is … plain old hand sanitizer.

I have to admit, once I figured out how well this works on dried up acrylic paint, I stopped using it to clean my hands – I mean, can you imagine what it does to your skin if it can slough that gunk right off your brush? Shudder…

Anyway, here’s how it works:

  • Place a dollop of sanitizer (plain, unscented, no beads) on a small plate (or a folded paper towel or the sink).
  • Rub the brush on the plate so the sanitizer really gets into the bristles and starts to break down the dried-up paint.
  • Keep rubbing the brush with the sanitizer until you feel that there aren’t any stiffened bristles.
  • For really bad cases (e.g. dried up medium, sigh), the plastic cleaning disk pictured above works wonders in combination with the hand sanitizer.
  • Rinse well. Clean with soap and water as outlined in No. 2.

4. Drying and shaping:

  • Air dry brushes by laying them flat on a lint-free towel (paper or cloth).
  • You may need to reshape your round brushes (the ones that taper off) by gently squeezing the bristles to form a point.
  • Do not stand them up when they’re still wet – the moisture will seep into the ferrule (the metal doohicky that holds the bristles tight) and the handle and ruin them. You may have seen brushes where the lacquer on the wooden handle is cracked and flaking – that’s because it stood in the water for too long. Brushes with wooden handles suffer the most by standing them upright while still wet, but this is true for brushes with human-made materials as well.

That’s it for today – I hope you find these tips helpful. Let me know if there’s an art-related topic you’d like to know more about, I always love to hear from you.

Canadian Icon

Iconic Canadian Painter Alex Colville would have been 96 today. The extensive exhibition of his works at the AGO two years ago was both exhilarating and oppressive. His work is at once unbelievably controlled, yet teeming with deeply unsettling emotional undercurrents. It could just be me though.


Enter a caption

Dog and Priest, 1978 © Alex Colville

I love this painting. So deceptively static and so smooth. The man and the dog almost meld into one, the cloth and the fur so alike at a distance but so detailed up close. The man, anonymous (except for being a priest), maybe lost in thought, maybe gazing at the horizon,  while his companion stays alert and protective. Every hair bristles on that dog, and the suit is impeccable, velvety, rich. You can almost feel the wind, smell this shore, touch that beautiful dog. Amazing.

Yikes! It’s almost back to school time. Woohoo!

You know this commercial with the dad gleefully skipping through the aisles of an office supply store to the tune of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, while the kids mournfully drag their feet behind him?

That’s how I feel!

Gleeful, that is – but not because I’m happy to get rid of my kids like the commercial implies (I actually love being with my girls, they’re adorable), but because YAY! new pens and markers for less! I’m stocking up! Fresh, pristine erasers and pencils, new packaging smell, stacks of paper … I love this stuff, always have.

Of course, this wonderful time of the year also means actually going BACK TO school. Which may or may not have been one of my most favourite ways to pass the time as a child.


Fall Trees, Acrylic, Tween/Teen Workshops. © Art just for me, 2016

Fall Trees, Acrylic, Tween/Teen Workshops. © Art just for me, 2016

I do have another favourite, lifelong pastime though … or occupation, or obsession – whatever… I love trying out new art materials and techniques. These new creations with black gesso from my tween and teen mixed media classes are a good example of time well spent this summer 🙂

Another reason to love back-to-school time:
it’s also back-to-regular-schedule workshop time!
You can now register for my September workshops online here.
The registration process is now much more streamlined and a lot easier to use. As usual, you can also contact me directly if you’re having any trouble doing it through the website.

Andy Warhol would have loved 2016

Andy Warhol, Pop Art’s enfant terrible, would have loved today’s celebrity-obsessed, selfie-driven, gnat’s-attention-span North American culture – and he would have celebrated its profoundly consumerist heart with twinkling relish. His birthday is on August 6.

By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0,

By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0,

Mural at the lesser-known Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia

Everyone knows what this is, right? Fair use,

Everyone knows what this is, right? Fair use,

A Little Arts & Crafts at VAB

Copy of papiers colles 2

I don’t know who’s been having having more fun this spring at Visual Arts Brampton, me or my adorable 6-9 year olds. So far, we’ve played with watercolours, rubbings and textures, paper weaving and zendoodles. Check out the kiddos’ work:

If you’d like to book some really fun workshops for your group of 6-9 year olds in English or French, check out my school page here or contact me. For my in-studio workshops for this age group, follow this link to Little Hands/ Mon petit atelier.

A Doodle By Any Other Name Is Still Fun

Have you tried art doodles yet?

They’ve been called (and trademarked…) Zendoodles, meditation art, Zentangles®, and Yoga for Your Brain ™. Whatever you want to call them, they are really cool to get into.

Patterns with simple shapes

Patterns with simple shapes

Patterns on coloured art paper

Patterns on coloured art paper

Hand of Fatima pattern (Y., age 14)

Hand of Fatima pattern (Y., age 14)

It’s not really all that complicated: You’re essentially using repeating patterns with varying degrees of complexity to create some wonderful designs.

They are a great exercise to add to your practice, even if you’re not a “drawer” – you can use simple shapes like lines and dots, and still achieve something you’ll be proud of.

The upside is that you’ll also be practicing pen or pencil control. You’ll also be surprised at what your hand-left brain connection can come up with. The bigger upside is that – probably because the human brain really likes patterns – you’ll find this kind of drawing blissfully relaxing (hence the meditation, zen and yoga part).

Art doodles are great for relaxation and flexing that creativity muscle. If you’d love to give it a shot but don’t know where to start, or if you want to try out some new ideas, sign up for one of our doodly-do workshops.