“I Get By with a Little Help From My Friends”

joe-cockerI miss Joe Cocker. I loved his creative spirit, his gravelly voice, his spasmodic performances. Joe was unique, a definite “one-of-a-kind” musician. I can’t think of any song he did that wasn’t quickly added to my all-time favorites list.

One of his most popular songs, of course, is “With a Little Help From My Friends“. That’s something we can all use from time to time.

When I first started this art blog, I worried what “real artists” would think of my childish scribbles and awful attempts at drawing. What I soon learned was that the online art community has room for each of us — no matter what our skill level might be. I learned, too, that the community is strong and supportive. I’m grateful for all the inspiration and encouragement I’ve received.

So many times, I’ve had questions about different media or different techniques. All I’ve had to do is ask and a wealth of information, suggestions, and recommendations have come my way.

Today, I’m once again asking for help. Fritz from Fruitful Dark and Dawn Marie from Brush of Dawn have already answered a lot of my questions. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

care-of-brushes-oil-painting-essential-materials-and-techniquesStill, I’m struggling with one particular aspect of oil painting, so I’m turning to the community for advice. Brush cleaning has become my bugaboo. I’ve done a bit of browsing and reading on the web, and I know how very important it is to properly care for our paint brushes. I know, too, that I’m not doing a good job of it, so I’ll be grateful for any words of wisdom.

First, I suppose “brush-cleaning” can actually refer to two different processes.

  • I often need to clean a particular brush while I’m working on a painting
  • I definitely want to clean all of my brushes at the end of my painting session

I’ve read one suggestion from Web Art Academy saying to thoroughly clean all oil painting brushes once a week with soap and water. I think I can handle that, but that alone doesn’t answer my questions or help me with my day-to-day dilemma.

Maybe I just need to buy more brushes, but for me, the biggest problem in oil painting is cleaning my brushes in-between colors. If I use one brush, for instance, to paint in a grassy knoll and then want to use the same brush to put in different highlights with another color, I need to get the dark paint off and the lighter paint loaded onto the brush. It sounds simple enough, but I haven’t yet found the way to successfully clean my brush and re-use it with a different color.

Maybe I’m using the wrong type of thinner/cleaner. Actually, I’ve tried several. So far, Turpenoid seems to be the best choice. Daler-Rowney’s low-odour thinner has also done better than the original “Safe Thinner” I purchased.

I’ve also seen “brush-cleaning systems” with buckets, screens, and handy little places to stand up your brushes. The one below is shown at the Web Art Academy website.

Here’s what the site has to say:

bcsThis is a tin box with a false bottom of perforated tin or of wire netting about half-way down, which allows the liquid to stand a half-inch or so above it; so that when you put your brush in and rub it around, the paint is rinsed from it, and settles through the perforations to the bottom, leaving the liquid clear again above it. If you use this carefully, cleaning one brush at a time, not rubbing it too hard, and pulling the hairs straight by wiping them on a clean rag, you may keep your brushes in good condition quite easily. But they will need a careful soap-and-water washing every little while, besides.

The liquid best for use in this cleaner is the common kerosene or coal oil. Never use turpentine to rinse your brushes. It will make them brittle and harsh; but the kerosene will remove all the paint, and will not affect the brush.

simple-flourish-divider-clipart-1So, should I buy one of these “cleaning systems”? Would this be a good solution to my “while I’m painting” problem? Do any of you use a “system” similar to this?

And, of course, I want to know what type of thinner/cleaner/solvent you use. I can’t imagine using kerosene or coal oil as suggested above, but maybe that is what works best?

I did a little price-comparing yesterday while out buying a few new oils. (Right now, I’m trying out several different brands. I’m using the M. Graham oil paints I previously bought by mistake. You might remember my tale of woe: Oil and Water Do Not Mix. I also have an inexpensive set of Daler-Rowney oil paints, a few tubes of “Winton Oil” from Winsor-Newton, and another tube that’s marked “Winsor-Newton Oil”. I’m guessing the difference is in the grade. More of that to come in another post. For now, back to brushes and cleaners.

The prices on all the cleaners I looked at seemed high. Do I really need one of these “artist-quality” cleaners, or can I do just as well buying cheap paint thinner/cleaner at Wal-Mart?

Of course, maybe the problem is in my brush-cleaning technique. What I’ve been trying in-between colors is swishing my brush around in the cleaner I have, then wiping it off on a rag. That doesn’t seem to be doing much.

I know I’m asking a lot, but could someone give me a quick step-by-step “how to” on what I really need and how to successfully clean my brushes while I’m working on a painting?

And, at the end of my painting session, should I go ahead and do a soap-and-water wash? Or should I clean my brushes again with thinner/cleaner/solvent and save the soap-and-water for another time?

My brushes and I will be forever grateful for any advice you have to share. Thank you!





  1. Cleaning bushes is the absolute worst part of painting. I sometimes don’t paint because the idea of having to clean them after is too much. As a result, I’ve been looking into ways to avoid washing without damage to my brushes. I suggest using artist grade solvents because I’ve read in numerous places that they’re more refined and less damaging. You shouldn’t be using so much that cost is a major issue anyway. A fancy cleaning gadget isn’t necessary either. I have a glass jar with a small tin can inside with holes poked in it to wipe the brush on. I frequently clean brushes while painting, but usually try keep my light brushes light and the darks dark. To clean them off, I just dip them in my medium and wipe them off on a paper towel. One or two dip/wipes is usually all it takes to remove most of the paint. If I’m using pure white after a color I’ll sometimes rinse with turp, but I try to avoid using it until I’m done painting to avoid breathing the fumes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for all the suggestions. One thing I’m doing now is reserving one brush for white only! I’m also going to buy a few extras so that I can have brushes for light colors and brushes for dark. I saw a “cleaning system” at Hobby Lobby earlier this week, and I think I might go pick it up, just to make brush cleaning as easy for myself as possible. I will definitely be sure to use the artist grade solvents. I’m learning more about using the right amount of medium, and that’s helping me a lot, too. I was using way too much and way too thick paint when I first started. I’m making progress, I think. My brushes and I weren’t paint-covered messes after painting today. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think using medium during painting makes it more difficult to change colors cuz the medium inside the bristles makes all the paint colors mix together. I don’t use medium at all to paint and usually use 3 to 4 brushes, maybe 5 at most usually while painting. One for yellows and lights, one for reds and purples and one for blues and greens. In between mixing colors, I pinch and squeeze with a napkin. I think because of the amount of paint I use and the way I lay paint on the canvas with as little pressure as I can also keeps me from having color change problems.

    I wash my brushes with dish soap every night which I hate, but solvent was giving me some weird taste changes so I decided I just wasn’t going to use it which works for the style of painting I have. If I need to dilute for details or whatever I use a little linseed oil. I am probably doing it all wrong, but it is what works for me. I don’t have to worry about fat over lean because I complete in one setting.

    I have lots of brushes though Judith. Probably over 100 easily that I have collected over time and it is nice to just grab another brush. I keep a good 5 or six each in good shape of my favorite sizes and shapes. Usually flats and filberts 4,5 and 6. I have less smaller and bigger brushes.

    When I quit using turp/turpenoid and other solvents, I quit making mud and was able to use less paint brushes which meant less cleaning of paintbrushes. But, you have to get used to working with thicker paint which IMO is awesome once you get the hang of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and if I will be painting the next day, I just put my dirty brushes in a zip lock bag and use them the next day without washing. I just pinch and squeeze the paint from the bristles out on a napkin.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks so much for the information, Dawn. I definitely like the way you have different brushes for different colors, and that’s something I’m going to start doing. I’m also going to buy a lot more brushes 🙂 I guess part of the fun of oil painting (especially for beginners) is in experimenting to see what works for us and what doesn’t. The more I learn, the more “picky” I’m becoming, so I’m starting to “fuss” more with my paintings. So far this morning I’ve re-wiped the same canvas “clean” — as clean as I can — three times and started over on the painting I had in mind. Regretfully, I had to wipe away the most beautiful sky I’ve ever painted! It was truly a work of art, but then I totally messed up by using a different color of blue and there was no choice to it. I had to wipe away and start over. The sky I have at the moment is good, too, I think, but who knows…it might get wiped away, too LOL. The good thing is I’m still having fun. Cleaning brushes is just so frustrating for me, though. I have found a thinner that’s working better than the first one I bought, or maybe I’m just getting the hang of it a little more. I think I’m doing better. 🙂 I do want to get a bucket with a screen in it. I think that will help a lot, too. And I’m keeping my rags handy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ya. Sometimes you just gotta get rid of what is there and keep trying. Some days, things just seem to come together with no scraping. It is a crap shoot!

        I am glad you found a cleaner.

        Brushes. Oh my gosh. I love to shop for brushes. I get the same kind all the time but I still love it.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Be careful with the amazon ones. I have a cheap set from there and they are fine for,scraping, but bad for painting because the angle of the handle is too flat so you hit your knuckles on the painting. Also, sharp triangular edges on the blade on the side where the handle meets can be a problem for blending. I will post a picture on my blog of the handle and shape so you can see what I mean.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. The online art community is incredible! I would never have progressed as far as I have without the support and encouragement I’ve received from my friends.


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