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When I began painting, I acquired lots of cheap synthetic brushes -- mainly on sale from Hobby Lobby.   Except for very specific uses, they are waste of money and an impediment to improving my painting.  Then I moved on to "sable" brushes.  Somewhat better, but, because I got several cheaper ones, also a waste of money.  Recently I decided, "Enough!"  So I got some Rosemary brushes and some Blick house label Kolinskies. And I got some Raphaels and Windsor-Newtons.

 

To test them out, I used one each of the Rosemary and the Blick during this last Expo.  They were supposed to be a step up.  I did not use the best brushes -- not wanting to break them in during classes where I was rushed and could not take my time in learning to use them.

 

My Rosemary 2/0 would not hold a point; from the very beginning it took on the appearance of a feather duster.  My Blick 1 had stray bristles extending the point and the belly immediately thinned out.  It would hold a point, but not for long and not much of a point.  The synthetics did a better job.  I tossed the Rosemary and will give the Blick one more chance, but I doubt it will make any difference.

 

I personally have a tough time throwing out things I've bought without enough use to see if they are beneficial.  But, I have been tossing synthetics left and right.  If they are problematic in any way, into the trash.  I will go through my remaining Rosemary and my Blick brushes to see if any are worth keeping and using.  My hopes are not high.

 

I will also break out a Raphael and a Windsor-Newton to see if the hype is justified.

 

I am beginning to decide that anything other than the most expensive brushes you can buy are going to be frustrating and, in the end, a waste.  I could have gotten top of the line brushes to begin with -- and paid about the same amount -- but I didn't know any better.  And I wonder if, as my painting has improved, my demands on my brushes have increased; I need them to do more.

 

For the knowledgeable --- do you believe that going all in, with the absolutely best brushes you can afford, is the way to go?  And, do you have any tips on breaking in brushes -- so expensive brushes are not damaged during initial use?

 

 

 

 

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I'm sorry you've been having issues with brushes.  I use Rosemary & Co Series 33 brushes for my "nice" brushes and they hold a great tip.  It's possible you got a bum brush.  Their customer service is pretty good.  I E-mailed them about a problem with a brush and they send out a replacement for free no questions asked, no need to send back the bad brush.

 

When it comes to Kolinsky sable brushes keep in mind these are hand made with natural hair, so having stray hairs out of the box is not out of the ordinary.  The way to deal with those is to very carefully separate the single strand and snip it off close to the ferrule.  I had to clean up my Rosemary & Co brushes a bit when I got them.  I also had the same issue with Blick Red Sable and the Rosemary & Co Series 101 Red Sables I have too.

 

After snipping off the stray hairs I made them wet and worked in a bit of hair conditioner.  Just whatever you have in the bathroom, the stuff we use when we shower.  Let it sit a minute or two and rinse well.  Then I give them a good cleaning with Masters brush soap.  Rinse them and rub a little bit of the soap in the bristles, form a nice point, and let them sit to dry.  The masters soap is also a conditioner.

 

It almost seems like if you store them with some brush soap sticking the tip into place that is almost trains it.  I had some Rosemary & Co Series 101s that would not hold a point.  The moment they got a little wet they would splay out.  I formed a tip with Masters and didn't touch them for a long time out of frustration.  Now I find that they hold a much better point.

 

Natural hair brushes do take more work to maintain but with care they typically last WAY longer than a synthetic.  Just cuz I like Rosemary & Co doesn't mean they work for you.  Keep experimenting until you find what you like.  Just keep in mind the issues you've been seeing can be present on any handmade brush from any manufacturer.

Edited by Rignes
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I had similar issues on the cheap synthetics.  However, i gained so much knowledge learning on them to really appreciate a better brush.  Kind of like learning to drive on a bum clutch Ford Ranger '84 that could just make it been point A to B.  The value in having to baby a clutch, drive carefully, mind my distance on hills, or in most cases know how to gear down when needed - all the things.  Switching brushes, in comparison to the cars, synthetic crap to professional hair is Ford Ranger to Audi A8 (or pick your luxury high-end car). Yes, it's more maintenance, you can't go off-roading, but for driving...ooooooweeeee is it nice.  

 

I agree with @Rigneson conditioning and soaping the brush.  It makes a big difference.  Even if not just how well it holds a point, there's many aspects to a particular brush that can be utilized : how it spreads paint, stippling, adding texture, how big the belly is.  I see them as tools.  Not every hammer will feel or hit the same.  There's also the differences we all have in our painting techniques.  I'm 100% certain i would make certain folks cringe if they saw how i paint.  But it works for me.  Doesn't mean i can't try another way, but to be fair i can't do a lot of what people who rave about a paint, brush,palette, airbrush, you pick the item - i can't do what they do.  But I'm always grateful to learn and try, even at cost to my pocket and my patience.  It makes finding THAT thing you're looking for so much more rewarding when you do.  

 

Brushes are tough to find what works for you and they are personal to our style.  

 

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In the end just because it’s a Kolinsky sable doesn’t mean it’s a good one. I personally prefer DaVinci and Raphael myself. I avoid Winsor Newton like the plague even though there are plenty of painters out there that rave about them, I have never had a good one. I shy away from “store” brands just because the quality seems to always be lower than the main brands. 
 

I do believe that money spent on a quality brush is well worth it and with proper care it will last a long time. However, I don’t break out the good brushes till I’m painting detail. Just about anything will work to apply base coats or blocking in colors. You just have to find the brush that works for you. 

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I do appreciate your replies ... and tips.

 

I am religious about cleaning my brushes, with Masters Brush Cleaner, then shaping them with the Masters before putting them up.  I don't think that has been the issue.  But I'm going to try the more extensive regimen recommended above.

 

I wasn't so much surprised with the Blick brush; the Rosemary brush was a real disappointment.  Since blending is always a challenge for me, I had hoped to see better results with better brushes.  I am now motivated to break out the big guns and see how they work.

 

I also appreciate the observation that the usefulness of a line of brushes is a personal match.

 

And I do like the truck analogy.

 

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The best you can do is, if possible, to buy your expensive brushed from the art store, where you may try it out (usually they offer you a cup of water and a sheet to do that).
Buying online is a gamble; I got once 2 Raphael and 2 out of 2 split. There is nothing I can do about it, but I found than using Masters brush conditioner helps.
Never had any issue using W&N series 7.
Even the cheap synthetics have various uses: metals, oils, enamel, dry brushing, weathering and so on.
Also not every synthetics it's the same: there are some very good ones like W&N Cotman series 111.

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I have been trying to fill out my W&N and Raphael brushes -- for mini painting sizes.  Most of those sizes are out of stock ... everywhere.  I'm not asking for a source; I think it is interesting, while we are all locked down, that so many items related to indoor activities are now unavailable.

 

Reaper 1's, as I recall are also out of stock.  A query resulted in a response that the suppliers just can't get the materials to meet demand.

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Oh!  And another thing.   Finding the size that works for your style is tough too!  I like using a size 4 or even 6 for covering most of the mini.  I then go down to a 2 for smaller work, then down to a 1. I still haven't gotten into 0 territory, but I'm also not super fine at edge and spot detail.  Although in thinking about it maybe it's because my brush is too big? 

 

There's so many factors on what does and doesn't work.  What i think is a great test is painting the same type mini over and over. Like get 5 of the same.  Then rather than using crappy brush first, go from using nicest to crappiest on each model.  Doing it in reverse order means you can't lean on the fact each time it gets easier and by the time you're on the nicest brush and have more time on a model, you'd be better anyway.  Going in reverse from best to worse brush may show you how it might not be the brush, but your technique and approach.  

 

What also gets me is sometimes you're just on fire and making great progress on a particular model and you think it's the brush you're using.  Then from then on that brush is your favorite.  Like it's Excalibur of brushes.  Do tests.  Do them consistently.  Aim for something you're wanting to do with it and do that across a few brushes.  Like i said in the truck analogy, some can off road, some can't.   Some are meant for holding paint,some are meant for sweeping strokes. Some might have a terrible tip, but do really really good wet blends.  Don't give up on them.  Just find the task they are good at.  With mini painting one thing is certain - we are all guilty of having too many minis,brushes, tools. Etc.  Time is on your side and testing is the fun part. 

 

Even if the brush sucks, I'm sure you can repurose it for something else.  I have this one brush that i accidently over dotted an eye that I'd been fussing over.  I was so pissed off i nearly broke it in half.  But, being the more sound mind and spiteful painter i am, i put a flag on it and downgraded it to painting on glue and washes on terrain.  I want it to be an example to the rest of the bad brushes who are even thinking about messing up another eye on my work that I'll force them to a life of servitude and doing crap tasks for their remaining years or until their hair falls out.  Let that be a lesson to all of you bad brushes...

 

I'm a good person though, i swear.

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I don't have much to add about brush selection, but Wren wrote a pretty great post about downtime hobby activities that has a section on brush maintenance/recycling that you might find useful. Personally, I've found myself using my crappy starter synthetic brushes for basecoating, priming, and basing needs, and using my newer fancier Raphaels and Da Vincis for layering, glazing, and detailing. I've also snipped off bristles to make dry brushes out of a couple of my older synthetic brushes. 

 

PS, as someone who often puts her dice in dice jail when they behave badly, I'm lol'ing pretty hard at @R2ED's description of brush jail. 

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I'll add my voice to the "It Seems to be Personal Preference" crowd.

 

I tried SO HARD to like W&N. But I never had one that didn't start to "scorpion tail" after just a couple uses. I come and go with Davinci -- sometimes it seems like the larger 1 or 2 works well for me, sometimes it seems like I can't keep a point no matter what I do. In the end, I've been really happy with my Rosemary & Co brushes, and they tend to be my go-to "good" brushes. 

 

I know, it's frustrating to not be able to just learn, "This is a good brush for everyone!" And I honestly have no idea why different people have such different experiences. It feels like a well-constructes brush just ought to work the same for everyone! But it doesn't. The goods news is that this means there likely IS some brush brand out there that will suit you. But, yeah, even I wish there was a way to find out what brand that is rather than through random testing.  :)

Edited by Painting Dog
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