You Can’t Beat a Good Brush

Give me a few moments to restore a bit of balance!

Give me a few moments to restore a bit of balance!

Yes, I feel bad about what I said a while back.

And my point was … ?

Well, it was a good point.

It was that you definitely need a good brush.

But a good brush can’t turn anyone into a good painter.

And I do reckon that a good painter – I mean, someone who knows how to mix good glass paint, how to get it to the right consistency, how to load and shape a brush – yes, I reckon how a good painter doesn’t need a perfect brush to paint well: in most cases, she or he will do a beautiful job even with an ordinary brush, because they know about paint and how it flows.

So my point was this. Don’t ever let anything distract you from focusing on the paint and learning how it lives and dries.

Like I say, it’s a good point. I hope you take it to heart. By all means get yourself the best brush you can afford. All the same, if your tracing isn’t as you want it, it’s more likely the paint’s fault, not the brush’s.

But of course there are exceptions. Important exceptions. (I mean, even with the best paint on your palette, you couldn’t use a tracing brush to lay an undercoat!)

And that’s why I’m feeling a little bad.

You see, even with tracing brushes, it’s important to be sensitive to the different capabilities of different sizes (small, medium etc.), different tips (pointed, chisel etc.), different lengths (short, long etc.), different material (sable, hog, acrylic etc.).

So I want to restore a bit of balance to my discussion.

Here are two examples, both of them to do with the tycoon’s skylights.

In the first case, we had to paint 48 of these:

The tycoon's swirl

The tycoon's swirls

Now see those curves … Well, our everyday preference is for a brush with short-length sable hair. But in this instance, we found a medium-length acrylic gave our strokes the necessary grace:

The brush for the tycoon's swirls

The brush for the tycoon's swirls

What still surprises me is the size of this brush. In our terms, it’s massive: size 8 (out of 10). Yet it was just what we needed. With the right brush, these swirls were – I won’t say “easy, but they came more easily than they would have with the wrong brush:

The swirls on the tycoon's glass

The swirls on the tycoon's glass

There you are, appearances can be deceptive. And habit – blind force of habit – could easily have meant we used the wrong brush, which would have cost us time and money.

In the second case, we had to paint some decorative shapes to separate Latin words from one another:

The tycoon's decorations

The tycoon's decorations

And of course it would be possible to cut and use a stencil. But actually it was far easier to find and use an appropriate brush:

The right brush for the tycoon's decorations

The right brush for the tycoon's decorations

Once again, an acrylic brush – but this time with a chisel head.

There you are, a bit of balance. I know I tend to rant. It’s what comes from working out in the wilderness of Stanton Lacy … So I hope I’ve put the record straight and – who knows? – maybe even given you a timely reminder to watch your paint and also watch your brush.

All the best,

All the best

P.S. Next time I’ll make a quick video so you see the second brush in action. You’ll see how shapes come easily … when you have the right brush.

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10 thoughts on “You Can’t Beat a Good Brush

  1. You might remember I am painting 24 large (21″ diameter) color (Reusche) scenes from the bible. I am on the 10th scene and I have been using all my brushes to get a variety of effects once the tracery is accomplished. So each day I have to clean these dozens of brushes (I started to say hundreds, ’cause it feels like that while I’m doing it …).

    As I perform this task I think of ways to save time and soap and mainly the brushes lives …

    What I have landed on is an old glass wash board. It has textured ribs and alternate recessed plain rows (like fluted glass). After removing excess tracing paint with a swirl in the water jar, or a squeegee on the pallet and a wipe on a rag (for oil medium), the ups and downs of the wash board (covered with the lather from the artist soap bar) works so well I wanted to share.

    I also use the water from rinsing the tracing paint after it has settled the next day, by pouring off the clear-ish water, which leaves the most creamy smooth paint ready for tracing.

    If you know of a technique for cleaning your brushes without wearing out the palm of your hand I would love to hear about it too.

    Thanks for all your help and encouragement!

    • Hi Joan,

      That’s a useful tip which I’ll try, thank you! (I don’t have any particular approach myself except usually remembering too late how I ought to keep things tidy as I go along.)

      All the best,

  2. Hello Stephen,

    Its always pleasure to read your posts; they are very useful and show us as glass painters all the thing we need in a good way.

    I used to buy many brushes thinking this will make tracing more easy and perfect. But after the 5 days I spent in my painting course with you and David I am more sure that knowing the paint and getting the mix is much important than the brush itself, so I do spend more time mixing my paint and shaping my brush now, and I have had much nicer tracing results now.

    So thanks again for keeping us informed with all this useful reminder.

    All the best,

    • Hi Hassan,

      Thanks! Always our pleasure. And I reckon you’ll enjoy the short video clip we’ll prepare for the next time.

      I hope all’s well for you and yours.

      Best wishes,

      • Hello Stephen,

        I am sure I will like the coming video. All the videos that you’ve post so far are more than great, I still enjoy watching them and reading your e.books, they are like a magnet 🙂

        Regards to every one.

  3. I share your pain of being a brush addict. I have far more brushes than one painter can possibly use. Some I have had since high school, over 38 years ago now. Most of what I end up collecting are scrubs, rather than brushes for wet work. I tend to gravitate to perhaps 4 or 5 scrubs over the course of a single project, and maybe 2 or 3 tracing/matting brushes. Somehow, though, I do manage to use nearly all of the others at some point during the year, sometimes in ways I hadn’t expected. While I have shaped a few brushes in my life, part of me cringes at mutilating a perfectly decent brush. I would much prefer to find something “nearly right” to begin with, but that isn’t always possible. It’s far more satisfying to gradually wear a new scrub down, like a comfortable shirt that eventually self-destructs from loving use. The hairless handles can evolve into stick-lighting tools. When my oldest badger blender lost a clump of hair, I re-set the clump in an old ferrule and handle, and it became a miniature blender that I still make good use of. I must admit, I am a serious addict.

    • Indeed, Terry, I am sure that the spirit of self-reliance is important to all practitioners of a craft like glass painting. (I like your comparison with a comfortable shirt.)

      All the best,

  4. Hi Stephen,

    By “acrylic brush”, do you mean synthetic (like Taklon, for instance)?

    Thanks for your great tips!

    Any tips for those of us with shaky hands (besides “cool it on the coffee!”)?

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Patrice,

      Thanks – yes, I meant to say “synthetic” … instead I wrote “acrylic”: the hair isn’t natural.

      Shaky hands: yes, we’ll prepare something on that topic. Good idea.

      All the best,

  5. Stephen,
    You rant all you want! I’ll read every one! And there is a wealth of info in every one! THX for sharing that knowledge too! You guys are the best!!!! (Tell David I said Hi and keep up the fantastic work!)