Brush Care & Repair by Gary Cole

One of the most expensive components of a professional face painting kit is your artists brushes. A professional face painter can easily have $200 in brushes. If you have a low end brush or one that is worn out you it will have a dramatic effect on your painting. This FAQ is to give you some hints on buying, using, storing and even repairing your artist brushes. A good artist brush will cost in the range of $5 to $25. Synthetic brushes are generally less expensive and tend to be more durable. Sable or natural hair brushes can cost 50% to 100% more and have less durability but they offer some flexibility and you can do some artistic trick with a sable that you cannot do as well with a synthetic. A synthetic brush is easier to clean and is less susceptible to bacteria growth than a natural hair brush. A sable brush will hold more paint and water so you can paint longer without having to go back and load your brush. Make sure any brush you buy has a little rigity with it. In other words a little stiffness. A soft brush like that of a pony hair brush used for water colors is too soft for use with face paints. A bore bristled brush like that used in oil painting can scratch the skin. NEVER use your artist brushes for face painting. It is highly likely, even with good cleaning, that you will leave some residue from your art materials. Art materials should not be used on the skin. See for more on this.


Most art suppliers have occasional sales on brushes. For example a Michaels or Hobby Lobby will often give out coupons for 40% off on a single item. Ruby Red Paints several times a year offers a buy one, get one free sale. During those times you should load up. Ruby Red Paints offers discounts for volume at almost every trade show so that is a good time to get up to 50% off your brushes. You always want to try out a brush if you can before you buy. It is common to have people ask "which brush should I buy". If you ask five different professional face painters this question it is almost guaranteed that you will get five different answers. I tell you the top five brushes sold at Ruby Red Paints are those shown below...

Fine Round Brush fine round detail brush .3" long, fine tip, diameter .05 inches
total overall length about 7 inches
Large Round Brush (USA)
Medium Round Brush (UK)
rounded tapered tip, .6" long, .2 inches diameter
total overall length about 7-1/2 inches
Fine Flat Brush flat tip .33" long and .15" wide
total overall length about 7 inches
Large Flat Brush large flat tip .65" long and .5" wide
total overall length about 7-1/2 inches
Small Filbert Brush (USA)
Medium Flat Brush (UK)
rounded tip, .55" long, .2" at widest point
total overall length about 6-1/8 inches

Once you find a particular brush you like, buy more of them. On occasion and as the budget allows experiment with new brushes. You will find some brushes can perform just the right "trick" to add to your design or increase your speed. I suggest you read my "no coffee water" FAQ at It talks about using a specific brush for each color or color range. Also read the brush section in front of the Ruby Red Paints book "3 Minute Cheek Art" as there is instruction on what brush to buy for which stroke.


Never leave your brushes sitting in the water cup. This is damaging to the bristles, the paint on the handle and the metal ferrule. Brushes are too expensive to ruin them in your water cup. It is best to keep the brushes in a brush holder when you are not painting with them. Avoid pounding your brushes in your water cup.


Store your brushes bristle up if at all possible. Store them upside down and they could be ruined beyond repair. The cheapest storage method is to go down to your big box store and purchase the cheapest container of three tennis balls you can find. This can be done for only a couple of dollars. Dump the balls and using your standard hole punch put some holes in the side of the container to allow the brushes to breathe. Never store them in a totally air tight container as this can breed bacteria if there is moisture still in the bristles. Art supply stores also carry a range of appropriate brush storage devices.


Here is a great brush trick. It works better with a sable or natural hair brush but it can also work with a synthetic brush. Get all of your problematic brushes together. Get out your spray starch you use to iron your shirts. Spray a dob out onto something and brush your brush into the mixture until the brushes are saturated. With your fingers, work in towards the tip but form a point as what they should look like. It should be fairly easy as the starch is a little sticky. Put the brushes into some sort of holder to allow them to dry overnight. The next time you grab them they will be sort of hard (kind of like when you first bought them as this is what they do in the brush factory). When you use them next, add water and in most cases you have fixed your problem. You will also find over time that the handles get a little ragged looking from paint getting on the handle. Every once in a while, take your SOS scrubby or similar product and lightly wash off the paint that might have adhered to your handle or metal ferrule. Anytime you wash your brushes make sure you totally wash out any soap you might have used. If you leave any soap in the bristle it could sting a child's eyes. Always rinse thoroughly. Use a paper towel to get the majority of the water off of the brush. Try to wipe the brush in the direction of the bristles.


If you are at a face painting convention, face painting jam or any other event where there are suppliers or other face painters that is an excellent time for you to try out some new brushes. When you see someone else using a particular brush you will see that a specific brush makes your job as a face painter easier. Ask to borrow a brush and who knows, you might meet a new friend and find the perfect brush.

See Ruby Red Paints's line of 40+ brushes at

Gary Cole





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