One Simple Step To Save Your Brush Tips
The tips of your watercolor brushes should be cared for as if they are sacred. After all, your brush tip is the contact point between the internal and external worlds.
A quality round brush - no matter the size - should gradually taper down to a fine point of only a few hairs. Those few hairs are responsible for all of the fine lines and details in your paintings. If they become damaged, that brush loses a portion of its range or expression, and you will find it much less useful and maybe need to replace it.
Think of a brush with a damaged tip as working with a blunt instrument - a dull knife, a needle with a bent or blunted tip, or glasses of the wrong prescription so that the world is blurred.
An excellent brush - whether natural or synthetic - is not cheap, and should not be treated disposably.
However, while there are many care steps you can take for your brushes, there is one that is seldom-mentioned and often overlooked:
Pre-Wet Your Palette
A watercolor palette that has been lightly misted with water.
Pre-wetting your palette is one of the best things you can do to preserve your fine brush tips. If you work from watercolor pans or hardened watercolor paint, simply mist your palette with water and let it soak for a few minutes before you begin painting.
How Does Pre-Wetting Your Palette Save Your Brush Tips?
Your brush tip is the leading end of your brush. When you dip into your colors, the tip is what touches down first, and what gets dragged around most as you swirl your brush on the surface of the pan.
Some watercolors dry harder than others, while others are comprised of pigments with larger particle sizes. Harder-drying watercolors and colors with larger pigment particles are roughest on your brushes. It is these especially that are best to pre-wet and let soak.
The act of swishing your brush back and forth over the surface of your paint acts as a kind of abrasive action, gradually wearing your brush tips over time. Think of how a sponge wears out with use at the kitchen sink, or how a toothbrush becomes flared, or the tips of your hairs split at the ends if you go a while between haircuts.
Try to reserve the miles your brush travels for paper, rather than the palette. This will preserve your beautiful brush tips - and it is a great time saver too!
How To Pre-Wet Your Palette: Use A Mister With A Fine Mist, Moderate Range, & Low Pressure
A fine spray will wet your colors evenly and effortlessly. You don't want to flood them or spend too much time tediously spritzing.
You don't want the spray to be too wide, as it will unnecessarily wet colors you aren't using, your palette mixing surface, or even surrounding work surfaces or supplies. However, you don't want the spray to be too narrow either, as this usually comes with pressure that is too intense, as well as requiring too many pumps of the sprayer head.
This one is important. Some misters can operate like mini power washers. Using these can send colors splashing into one another and splatter your entire palette with different colors. Having even a droplet or two of a darker, higher tinting strength color in a white or a yellow can contaminate a color or give you a real surprise on your paper if it goes unnoticed!
If wetting your entire palette, hold the sprayer back around a foot from the surface of you colors and give your mister a few pumps to evenly wet the surface with a fine mist.
If only wetting a few colors, hold the mister a bit closer to your palette so that you can focus the spray.
Let Colors Soak For A Few Minutes
After you spray down your colors, wait a few minutes. When I sit down to paint, misting my colors is one of the first things I do so that they can soak while I lay out the rest of my supplies and prepare my work area. In this way, I rarely sit around waiting for my paints to be ready - I can just dive right in. (A little like remembering to mince your garlic first thing so that it can rest.)
Avoid Wetting Colors You Are Not Planning To Use
Wetting and re-wetting seldom-used colors over and over again can cause them to get over-dry and crack over time. This is because the binder is slowly drawn out by the wetting action, leaving behind an improper binder to pigment ratio. This isn't something to worry a lot about, and developing a good habit around generally spraying down colors you know you will use, rather than every single one every single time, will allow you to side-step the issue entirely.
Some Colors Don't Need Pre-Wetting
Some colors really don't need to be wet ahead of time, and you will quickly learn to recognize which those are. If you have colors in your palette from companies that use lots of honey in their binder, they will usually remain soft always. Other colors simply re-wet with greater ease than others. For example: our American Violet Hematite re-wets very quickly while our Italian Green Earth really benefits from a few minutes to soak.
My Favorite Misters
I have tested and used a variety of different sprayers/misters/atomizers over the years, and decided to carry my favorite ones:
Watercolor Mister With Clip
Cap features clip and prevents rolling. Plastic, lightweight.
Comes in a variety of fun colors. Plastic, lightweight.
I hope this little tip proves useful in helping extend the life of your brushes and preserve the quality of their beautiful points!
As always, wishing you happy painting,