How to Repair Your Artist Quality Hog’s Hair Brushes (or how to recover those brushes you just can’t throw away)

If you’re like me, you have a lot of hog’s hair brushes. I have a problem throwing out oil painting brushes, even when my mistreatment of those brushes have quarantined them to a life in the “Dead Brush” jar. Sometimes these brushes are recoverable and sometimes not, depending on the severity of my neglect. In the early days, I was a bad boy.

These days I’ve gotten much better at maintaining and protecting my brushes. They are now lasting far longer than when I first began to paint. So with that in mind, here are a seven steps to help maintain your brushes. You may even find these steps will help you recover some brushes with hardened paint, but there are no guarantees here. I have managed to successfully recover most of mine, but it took some work to get good separation of the bristles with my fingernails to get the brush to even approach flexibility. Your brushes may not be so bad. Here’s what to do… as always click these images for a larger view.

Tip: If you take any hog’s hair brush and flick your thumb over the top of the bristles, and can see tiny bits of bristle flicking off in the light, or if you have rock-hard brushes that you don’t use anymore; this post is for you.

You will need:
3 rectangular containers to hold brushes (I use metal loaf pans)
2 smallish bowls or saucers
Hair conditioner (liquid is better than gel)
Dish soap
A neutral oil (safflower, canola, grape-seed or peanut)
Paper towel or clean dish towel
Slip-joint pliers

01 setup edit-01
The setup
This image shows how to compose your work area and the order in which to process your brushes. Use liquid conditioner and you only need a small amount, about a the size of a quarter. Dissolve it in about 2 cups of water.

02 old dirty brush
A Dead Brush from the Dead Brush Jar
I’m using this brush as an example. I’ve forgotten how old it is and it’s almost solid with paint and no flexibility. You can even see dried paint down in the roots of the bristles.

03 brush sits in conditioner
1. Soak in conditioner solution
The conditioner will start to seep down into the bristles and in between the blobs of hardened paint. Let it sit for no more than two minutes. Any longer and the wood will begin to suck up (and hold) the solution.

Important: The longer it sits, the more you run the risk of the conditioner breaking down the glue holding the base of the bristles together. This is also why it’s important to process your brushes one at a time, so no brush sits in the conditioner for more than two minutes. If the ferrule of your brush is already loose, re-crimp it with the pliers before you soak it.

04 scrub in palm
Scrub in the palm of your hand
Scrubbing the bristles in your palm helps work the solution throughout the bristles and loosen old paint.

05 rinse

2. Rinse
Rinse as much of the conditioner out of the brush as possible. If you watch the water carefully, you will see the conditioner leaving the brush as you work it in the water. I keep doing this until I can no longer see the foggy solution coming out of the brush. Change the water as necessary.

06 dip in dish soap

3. Dish soap for serious cases only
It’s all about how bad your brush is. This step is for extreme cases. For brushes that still have no flexibility, dip your brush in the dish soap. The conditioner will have begun to separate the old paint from the bristles. If your brush is not so bad, skip this step.

07 scrub in palm

Scrub in the palm of your hand
Generate suds by scrubbing the brush in your palm. The suds may have a slight colour. That’s the pigment being released from the brush. Generate suds until they appear white (clean).

08 rinse

4. Rinse, rinse, rinse
Rinsing is very important to stop the soap from soaking into the handle and dissolving the glue. If you run the bristles between your fingers, you can feel the soap still on the bristles. Rinse until you can no longer feel the presence of soap.

09 dry

5. Dry your brush
This step is also very important because the next step is oiling your brush and the oil won’t soak into the bristles if the core of the bristle mass is still damp. Using a clean cloth or paper towel, squeeze out as much moisture as your can. Running your fingers through the bristles will tell you if it’s still holding moisture.

I will put wet brushes together in a jar and in front of a vertical heater to help speed the drying. I turn the jar every 5 minutes. You can also simply let them sit and air-dry for a few days.

10 dip in neutral oil

6. Oiling your brush
Oiling your brush puts oil back into the hairs that they’ve lost over time. This will protect your brush and prevent the bristles from breaking off, and increase flexibility, durability and longevity. Do this again when the bristles begin to feel dry. I’m using canola here.

11 scrb in hand to spread

Scrub the oil in the palm of your hand
This will help work the oil deep into the bristles. Using a paper towel, squeeze out the excess oil. You only need enough to lightly coat the brush.

12 re-crimp at heel of ferrule

7. Re-crimp the heel
Old brushes in particular can become loose over time. Using the pliers, tighten the crimp at the heel of the brush. The heel holds the bristles in place with the ferrule. Test all your brushes at this point for looseness. If you can turn the ferrule, it’s loose.

parts of a bristle brush

13 re-crimp at base of ferrule

Re-crimp the crimp
The crimp holds the ferrule to the handle. This too can become loosened over time.

15 new brushh

The finished brush
From a rock-hard throw-away, to a completely revitalized brush. Even it’s flexibility has returned! In the inset, you can see how much of the old paint has been cleaned away at the base of the bristles.

So there you have it. Try this process with just one brush and I guarantee it, you will see a difference.

Because life is colourful.

My beef with the colour Magenta

Actually, it’s with the people who categorize colours or teach colour theory. According to Wiki, Magenta isn’t really considered a colour because “It is an extra-spectral color, meaning it cannot be generated by a single wavelength of light, being a mixture of red and blue wavelengths.” For this reason, Magenta has been put on the same shelf as the now non-planet Pluto. Magenta, according to this definition, is a non-colour. I strongly disagree and I’m going to tell you why.

As a painter and illustrator, I like colour charts. I’m fascinated by them, strange but true. Most people know of the basic 6-colour chart. Inaccurate if anything. In my world, I use 2 “blues” and 2 “reds”… cyan, blue, red and magenta. I use cyan because blue and yellow won’t make a green, but cyan and yellow will. I use magenta because red and blue wont make violet, but magenta and blue will.

This is the basic 6-colour chart that most people are familiar with. I’m here to tell you this is completely wrong.


Below is what you would actually get if you mixed these primaries (yellow and red, red and blue, blue and yellow) together. Tell me there isn’t something horrifyingly off here. Why do we teach this wheel to our kids when it clearly is so wrong in the first place? No wonder so many people grow up afraid of colour in North America.


How do you get a cyan, a hot pink or a bright green? You can’t. As you can see, they don’t look like anything like they’re supposed to look. It’s also the reason why if you google “color wheel” in the image section of Google, the resulting hits have colours that are all over the place. The greens are either too electric or too dull, most colour wheels don’t even have magenta or cyan in them and the blues are so out off-base, there’s no way you could mix a violet from them. In most cases, the colours have actually been “fudged”. And it’s not just on the net. It’s everywhere people are teaching colour theory.

3pocket_colour_chartaHere’s one sold as a “guide to mixing color”. Many creative people are familiar with this one as are most art students. The first thing I notice is its actually a 6-colour wheel (3 primaries, 3 secondaries) with tertiaries.  The second thing is if you were to point to all the major colours not including tertiaries, you should see a logical pattern… like skipping over every other colour all the way around the wheel. But you don’t. Starting at yellow, you skip over yellow-green to get to green, skip over blue-green to get to blue, skip over blue-violet to get to violet and then from there it falls apart. The next colour red-violet. If you skip it, then you’re omitting a purple from your collection of major colours… but you’ve been skipping over every other colour when you started. Do you leave it out? This discrepancy is because there is no magenta in this wheel.

If you take an even closer look, you’ll also notice that some of the major colours are wrong… primaries and secondaries. Violet is actually blue, blue is almost cyan but contains too much magenta. There is no way you could make this particular red violet using this red and violet. Even the yellow contains too much magenta in it to mix these oranges. The primary green appears too blue which puts all its mixes into question as well. Let me show you what I mean.


The small circles outside the wheel are the actual colour mixtures you’d get if you were to use this colour wheel. The mixtures that this chart claims to make are clearly wrong. In some cases (red-violet, blue-green, red-orange) very wrong. These colours have been inaccurately stated here. The bars running around the rim are the corrected colours showing how far off the samples are. The blue has too much red in it to work as a primary colour. (The whole idea of a primary colour is that it is pure, with no other colour in it… a colour that cannot be mixed from other colours.) Their blue is more of a mixed colour, than a primary. Same is true for violet, red, yellow and green.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is no magenta in this wheel. Without magenta, how is their violet plus their red supposed to produce that red-violet? It’s impossible. The small circle shows you what you would really get instead. But wait a second, we’re not talking about the six basic colour wheel that they teach to kids here. This is sold to art students! And it’s clearly wrong! Again, these colours have been fudged. They are not in any way accurate colour mixtures.


This is my colour wheel. Designers and artists know it as the artist’s colour wheel. You can easily see how blending one colour with another two doors down would result in the colour shown. It makes perfect sense and each colour can clearly be imagined blending into to one another to create the appropriate hue it should.

Now this colour wheel should make (visual) sense. You can clearly see how you can now move through this colour wheel to reach the next (logical) hue.

This is what we should be teaching our kids. The 6-colour basic wheel is nothing more than bunk and nonsense. I say if you’re going to teach anyone colour, teach it properly and include magenta (and cyan) in the lesson. Magenta and cyan occur in nature so we know the colours exist naturally. Having said that, I realize that what the Wiki definition is really saying; is that when we split white light using a prism, magenta doesn’t show up as a separated colour. In fact, it doesn’t show up at all. That’s because magenta doesn’t have a wavelength attributed to it. I get that. I also get that some people refer magenta as an imaginary colour because of it. But I don’t buy it.


That’s like saying that we’re all imagining the same colour at the same time. It cannot be imaginary if other people are seeing the same thing as you are. That sentence simply does not make sense to me. It’s also possible that its just poorly labeled. I think its because magenta’s wavelength is possibly too low to register like the other colours in the spectrum or that we simply haven’t come up with the best reason why this is. To call it imaginary or that it doesn’t exist as a colour is simply, in my mind, misleading in an already misled, misinformed and misunderstood subject.

In my world, magenta is a clear member of my colour spectrum. It exists because I can see it in nature. I can even paint with it and I’m pretty certain the tube said “Magenta” and not “Warning: This is not a real colour. Please use your imagination.”

All I know is without it, I can’t create certain colours which  makes me believe these colours couldn’t exist without it (take that Wiki!) So I refuse to call it imaginary, wavelength or not. I say teach everyone the same colour wheel, the same colour theory. Don’t fudge the colours in printing just because you don’t believe enough in your own product. Colour theory is easy. It’s not complicated. Understanding it is easy as long as you are being taught what really happens in nature. It should make sense and not be polluted with someone’s (incorrect) idea of what he or she thinks we’ll be able to grasp. People are smart… and colour is easy.

Because life is colourful.

3 things I love about colour

When it comes to colour (theory), there are three things that I have always found intriguing in both design and painting: colour influence, the after-image effect and partitive colour.

Colour influence occurs when one colour spectrally changes or alters another. Most commonly, highly saturated colours can do this. In painting, strongly pigmented hues like Ultramarine for example, lying next door to an orange like Cadmium, can change the intensity to either dull it down to a light brown, or shift it more towards the magenta, creating an optical salmon. This is an effect that Mark Rothko used in his famous paintings such as this one…


Note: Even though Rothko was classified as an abstract expressionist, he hated the term and classified himself as an “abstract painter”. I personally place him squarely in the realm of colour field painting.

In the sample above, you can clearly see how Rothko took great care in choosing each hue. Even the background is selected with great care and to great affect. The purple cast plays a primary role here and makes the Burnt Sienna tones “pop” due to the yellow in the sienna reacting with the background. The dark Prussian blue which is mixed with just enough green to give the colour a greenish cast, making it pop as well, because it’s also reacting to it’s dark plum background. The top bar, painted in muted reds, browns and violets has bits of red, making it link to the red in the background analogously and stabilizing the two lower bars because optically, it appears just slightly larger than the other two bars below it. The overall effect is that of enhancing and punching up color hues a notch or five.

The after-image effect is related to colour influence but on a more physical side. The after-image effect is something that happens to everyone on a bright sunny day. When you look at the sun and then go indoors, you are momentarily blinded. The rods and cones in your eyes are fully saturated with so much colour, you can’t focus for the first few seconds. Coming in from the brightly lit outdoors, the inside of your house will appear in shades of blurry grays and blacks. A few seconds later your eyes clear and you can see again. What you were seeing is actually the opposite colour to the brilliant colours from outside.



You can make it happen too. Above are two images. If you block the other images and stare at the first blue image with the green chair for 30 seconds and then do the same to the red image, you’ll see the effect. The result is actually quite predictable.

You should see a pink glow around the blue chair as you stare at the second image. That is the after-image effect. Your eyes are trying to adjust to seeing more saturated colour than they can handle by creating the effect. The pink is exactly halfway between these two colours so you see a pink or magenta glow around the green chair.


This colour wheel matches the RGB gamut used in the images above it.

Partitive colour is something we’ve all seen before. We see it in printing when printers use coarse screens and it’s the basis behind the short-lived pointillism movement in painting from the 1880’s. Also known as retinal mixing, it’s what happens when you look at small points of pure colour blended with other points of pure colour. Your eyes create the intended colour by optically mixing. It’s a remarkable effect when you think about it. Interestingly, you can’t stand close to these images to see the effect, but far away. (Think comic books of the 60s or Roy Lichtenstein).

Here is what you’re actually seeing. The first image is a close-up, the second is from viewing at a distance and the third image is what your eyes “think” they are seeing.


In printing, this is an example of a typical application of partitive colour. To see this image clearly, take three steps back.


Because life is colourful.

107 Artist Pigment Colour Swatches

Okay. Here is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Here is 107 swatch colours sampled from high rez scans of Winsor and Newton oil colours. They were sampled in Adobe Photoshop and exported in Adobe Swatch Exchange format. This means you can import them into any graphic Adobe product inluding Flash and Illustrator. Open the swatches window and using the info panel in the swatch window, choose Load Swatches. You can download the file here.

The file is in a zip format, unpack, install and enjoy. Don’t say I never gave you anything. <smirk> Below is a screen cap from Photoshop.


Things to remember: Designers know about CMYK. They also know that as a colour gamut, it’s very small. CMYK is the colour sphere that offset and laser printers work in.  On the other hand, painters work in rgb. In fact everything in the natural world works in rgb and it’s colour gamut is immense. Web designers work in rgb and they know that not all colours in rgb can be made in CMYK. Usually you loose the intensity and brightness when you convert and in some cases, there are significant colour shifts.

So how does this apply to the 107 pigment colours in this exchange file? Well, these colours were sampled in RGB and should really remain in RGB to maintain their integrity. There are hues within this swatch collection that cannot be created in CMYK, so convert at your own risk.

Because life is colourful.