How to Get Dried and Hardened Paint Out of Your Treasured Brushes

Assuming you take excellent care of your brushes – wiping them carefully, washing them in warm soapy water after each use, it’s still common for paint residue to build up around the ferrule* over time. I find many beginning acrylic painters rinse their brushes in water without using soap. The paint comes out but the clear acrylic polymer stays in the brush so they look clean but the bristles dry stiff and the brush is unusable.

I used to think when oil or acrylic paint dried in a brush and it became hardened that it was a lost cause. I tried lots of things – soaking them overnight in soap or solvent, depending on whether the paint was oil or acrylc. I experimented with all kinds of specialized brush cleaning products such as Kiss-Off, the Masters, EZ-Air cleaner with limited success. The bristles were still stiff and some of the paint would come out but not all of it. I also tried to get dried acrylic out with the soaps many artists recommended such as Fels-Naptha, Murphy’s Oil Soap without success. Once a brush became hardened, I had to throw it out.

It wasn’t until Winsor and Newton came out with their Brush Cleaner and Restorer that I found the perfect solution for reviving old brushes. What I really love about it is that it is environmentally friendly as it is both non-toxic and biodegradable. (But remember the paint and pigments you remove from the brush might not be, so once it is used, please dispose of it in your local Household Hazardous Waste facility.) I reuse the brush cleaner over and over by allowing it to stand in a clear glass jar. The pigment particles settle to the bottom of the jar and the liquid at the top can be poured off and reused for the next cleaning.

Here is the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for Winsor & Newton’s Brush Cleaner and Restorer.

* Watch the video to find out what a ferrule is!

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Keeping an Open Heart in the Face of Disappointments

Part of being an artist is riding the natural ups and the down cycles. There will be high times (we are getting published, in shows, having sales, or accolades and inevitable lower times (we didn’t accepted into a show or get the grant, or residency or what have you).

A while back, I watched a documentary called “How To Cook Your Life”, a film about Edward Espe Brown, a zen priest who was the head tenzo, or cook, at the Zen Buddhist retreat, Tassahara.

There were many pearls in this film, but one that struck me was when he spoke of life’s disappointments. I will paraphrase, but basically he said, that we hold in our hearts our dearest, most precious wishes for ourselves – for our happiness.

And then in life, we encounter inevitable heartbreaks and pain. When things don’t turn out the way we want we try to control or defend ourselves from the disappointment we feel.

So we begin to separate ourselves from our heart’s desires. And in doing so, we actually separate ourselves from our heart.

And while we may succeed in insulating ourselves from future disappointments, we create a much deeper chasm. We begin to feel an ache inside; a longing. And no matter how many material trophies we acquire it doesn’t go away. Because we have separated from our heart.

We all guard our hearts so zealously. We are so careful about whom we open them to. We are so afraid of breaking them.

This is an exercise in futility. In this life, the heart will break.

It will break open and grow bigger.

It will break like the sunrise. It will break like a wave. It will not be destroyed.

What destroys us is keeping our hearts locked up in armor of fear. This fear of being open and vulnerable doesn’t allow our hearts to grow.

The irony is this. We are not meant to protect out hearts. Our hearts are meant to protect us. When the heart is open and loving it is free of fear.

There is no stronger “protection” than a fearless heart.

Yearn (detail) © 2004 watercolor, acrylic, gouache on panel

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