Notebook, 1993-



It pays to buy the best brushes, and to take good care of them. Fine English-made brushes of red Russian sable are very costly, but extremely good. Some American makes are now equally satisfactory. One pays a good deal for the nicely finished handles and nickel ferrules of good water-color brushes, however, and it is a great economy to buy the brushes in quills. Beautifully made sables in quills, used in America chiefly by sign painters, cost much less than the finished artists' brushes, and are every bit as good. One must, of course, take the trouble to soak the quills for a while in warm water, to soften them, so that they will not split and break when the handles are pressed into them; but that is a small matter.

Anyone who does much tempera painting will want to keep on hand a good supply of these brushes. It is good practice to use a fresh brush for each mixture as you paint ; and if this is to be done, two or three dozen brushes will often be in use together. It is not necessary: you can do the whole job with one brush. But it is a much better plan to use many brushes, so that the tones are kept separate, and you do not need to be washing out your brush constantly as you work. And the brushes will wear down more slowly and evenly. Three dozen brushes bought at once will outlast three dozens bought separately, and give better service. If possible, build up a good stock of brushes quickly, and add a few every once in a while so that your supply gets a little better all the time. When not in use sable brushes should be kept in a tin box with a few flakes of naphthalene.

Brushes should ordinarily be round. Flat brushes are not so useful as one might expect. They make a broad stroke, it is true; and it might seem as if they would be quicker for laying in a tone. Actually, they are not. They do not hold so much color as round brushes; and though the stroke is broad, it is often not even. The size of brushes, too, is apt to be a little deceptive in this matter of speed. Large sable brushes tend to lay a coat thicker, but not necessarily faster. So much depends on neat manipulation that a skillful painter can lay in a tone with a small sharp pointed sable faster than a careless painter with a much larger and apparently more suitable tool. [pp. 92-93]

[Thompson, Daniel V., Jr., Research and Technical Adviser, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The Practice of Tempera Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1936. Fourth Printing, 1946.]



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