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cleaning ink out of my watercolor brushes?

Home Forums General Discussion cleaning ink out of my watercolor brushes?

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Sophie Brown 4 years, 9 months ago.

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  • March 31, 2009 at 2:41 am #34864


    Hey You Avid Inkers (Bob McD?, Marty H?)

    No matter how long or diligently I wash my good watercolor brushes after using india ink, I cannot get all the ink out . There is always some crammed up into the ferrules, even after the water is washing clear. When I press the base of the bristles with a towel, black ink appears on the towel. Any suggestions? Does this happen to you?



    March 31, 2009 at 7:01 am #35700

    Uncle Bob

    Hi Margie. When I read this I immeadiately looked at the brushes I use for ink and, yes, it looks as if there is some near the ferrules. Its never been a problem as I’ve never had “old ink” running out of the brush. I use a few “older” brushes for ink but also have a fair range of pens with different nib widths for ink studies. I did have a problem once when trying to remove some acrylic paint from a brush. This required a long soak in a solvent but you must be careful not to stand the brush on its tip as the shape will go. If the bristles get out of shape, let the brush dry then immerse the bristles in very hot water for a couple of minutes then re-shape the point and, again, allow to dry. You might want to try this with your “inked-up” brushes using very strong washing up liquid as a solvent (but only try it on one brush at a time). I have some very good watercolours brushes which I keep for my large watercolour paintings only. These are off limits to anything else: ink, gauache etc.

    Cheers, Bob

    March 31, 2009 at 8:24 am #35701


    Well, for one, if you’re using black ink, you never submerge the entire brush in the ink. Only dip it about half way. On top of that I use specific brushes for ink and only ink. That way I never have muddy ink in my watercolor.

    But, it’s just a brush, you know? It’s not going to last forever, so I don’t worry about it too much myself.

    March 31, 2009 at 9:25 pm #35702


    Thank you Bob & R_Sail for taking the time to answer.

    I probably should separate the ink brushes from watercolor…. good idea.

    R_sail, I never dip all the way into the ink. I have noticed the brushes suck up ink like they’ve never had a drink in their life. Watercolors don’t absorb into the bristles nearly as fast as the ink. I wonder what chemical properties in ink make it do that.

    My biggest concern is ruining the brushes, as I buy high quality brushes rather than cheap garbage I will have to throw away in 2 months. I want to try to make the good ones last forever! But you are right… they won’t.

    I am really enjoying the properties of ink these days and learning alot.

    Thanks again for your time.

    April 1, 2009 at 9:12 am #35703


    And it shows that you are learning and enjoying, Margie! Really nice work. I know how you feel, a good tool is sacred, you want to care for and protect it.

    April 1, 2009 at 11:35 am #35704

    Ed Buziak

    Susan said, “…a good tool is sacred, you want to care for and protect it.”

    Agreed… I use brushes previously used by my wife’s late uncle when he painted with Stanhope-Forbes and The Newlyn Group back in the 1920/30s. Of course, that doesn’t make me a better painter, nor does using his equally aged but oh-so wonderful Rembrandt pastels (his pre-war box of 150 different colored sticks complement my 100-odd Rembrandt’s bought at college in the ’60s), but they sure feel “cooler” waggling about between my fingers and thumb than Woollies’ brushes and teacher’s blackboard chalks. 8~/

    April 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm #35705

    Uncle Bob

    To continue this, in philosophical mode, It’s interesting that Margie wants to use the best quality of brushes. I don’t think this is false economy. I ALWAYS buy the best I can afford. I’ve tried so many times, in the past, to get people involved in watercolours and watched, frustratingly, as they try to paint with some of those “cheapies” available -you know the sort of thing, “20 brushes for £2.50″. (Also goes for paper and paint – I was once told, by the shop owner, in an art shop to forget about “Student Quality Paint”. “We artists owe it to our public to use “Artists’ Quality Paint”. The first time someone described me as an artist – it made my day/year). Maybe, as you get more and more into the use of ink you will establish a system for relegating your “used” watercolours brushes to the ink pot when you purchase new ones for watercolours. This, though, begs the question, “When are brushes used and past it?” Maybe, if they are really well looked after, never! Susan is spot on when she says good tools need protecting and Ed’s comments, regarding his late uncle’s stuff really rings a bell. I’ve just finished a fair amount of re-decorating/renovation and used some of my late grandfather’s tools to help me. I really try to take care of these and appreciate that I am able to continue to make use of them. Granddad died in 1971 and, in fact, retired in the early 1960′s so his tools are quite old. Unlike Ed, I DO believe they help me do a better job but maybe that’s all in the mind and, who knows, maybe makes the difference between a fair result and a good one. Maybe Ed’s old pastels are no better than modern ones but I’m willing to bet he gets a thrill out of using them. Whatever you use, care for your stuff and this will invoke a sense of pride which will surely spill over into you artistic adventures.

    April 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm #35714

    Nick Powell

    Being a painter and decorator by trade Brushes are very important to me for that as well as the art work.I tend to clean out the work brushes and then believe it or not use a bit of hair conditioner on them! The use of chemicals and hot water, sugar soap and the rest, dry them right out,It makes em all nice and soft again!!

    Has any one tried it on a sable?

    Thinking about it sugar soap may clean up acrylic brushes try it on an old one first though.

    What ever you do do not use caustic soda like I did years ago, my brush just turned into a slimey mush on a stick!!!

    Another thought is has anyone tried a brush keep for keeping oil brushes wet for long periods between use. We use them all the time for brushes used with solvent based paints.

    Take a look in your decorators merchants for round brushes for BIG pictures, French Franpins are great and half the price of anything similar in an art shop.They go from half inch up to about inch and a half. Good for big oils or acrylics.

    April 17, 2009 at 11:22 am #35743


    Over the years of using and retiring old brushes, I’ve incorporated them into art. They are sort of a 3 dimensional ‘Ode to the Paint Brush’. I just cannot throw them away that easily, so they are recycled into what they were created for…art!

    April 17, 2009 at 9:35 pm #35744

    Nick Powell

    Any way of posting a picture of one of these 3D odes to paint?

    May 2, 2009 at 11:31 pm #35768


    Try soaking the brush in vinegar overnite. It will soften a hardened brush and might get the ink out too.

    June 29, 2009 at 1:25 pm #35877

    Sophie Brown

    I would say to just keep the 2 separate, just have watercolor brushes and ink brushes. I never had a problem with gouche though. Technically they are watercolors as well and I found that it was easy enough to mix them up with the watercolors on the same project. Somehow ink is a different matter.

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