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How Sustainable is your paintbrush?

Continuing the conversation begun last week, let’s take a look at the topic of

brushes and the issues around them.

Traditionally all artist's brushes were made using animal hairs. And in fact until the end of the 17th century, each artist had to make their own painting tools. This made it essential for artists to also be excellent brush makers. The better you were at being a brush maker, the better you could handle your paint.

However, the practice of using animal hair is rapidly giving way to various types of synthetic brushes. In the past I found this to be a problem, not so much for acrylic painting, but more so for oils and water colours because the synthetic brushes did not stand up to the rigors of oil painting. Unfortunately the animal hair had certain qualities that seemed to be difficult to replicate synthetically.

Using animal hairs for paint brushes has become problematic in recent years for a couple of reasons. One of these is the sheer demand for paint brushes as the number of artists in the world has grown. This of course has placed a stress on brush suppliers and obtaining the necessary animal hairs for the brushes. There are simply not enough animal hair suppliers, which then causes new problems as suppliers turned to factory farming or aggressive slaughtering of wild animals in an effort to keep up with the demand.

Even though I have used the hogs hairbrushes for years, I have realized the need to be more conscious around how those hairs are obtained. Are they coming from those horrific pig factory farms, where the pigs are kept in tiny cages where they can’t even turn around? I can’t answer that, all I can really do if I want to be sure, is to find a viable synthetic brush. What my research has found is that the majority, if not all hog bristles for brushes originate in China, even if the brushes are manufactured else where. Many of the good brushes are manufactured in Germany these days, although it seems the pig bristles still come from China which doesn't have a very good track record in terms of ethical treatment of animals.

Until quite recently, the favoured brushes for watercolours were made from mongoose, sable, squirrel or badger hairs. If you want to know more...

I bought a new brush recently - from Parkers at The Rocks in Sydney. It is a Parker's brand name brush with bristles made from a synthetic called Brislon. This is a replacement for hog bristles and I am happy to say it performs very well. So far it seems to have about the same brush spring and feel as a hog hair brush - which is encouraging. As yet, I cannot say how long it will last, but will keep you updated on that. The biggest problem so far with the synthetic brushes and oil painting is that they don’t like the solvents, and fairly quickly curl up their toes or bristles in this case and become useless. This can become quite an expensive option then.

Many people have the impression that synthetic brush fibers are a cheap nylon mono-filament (like fishing line) cut bluntly and glued together. However, the truth is quite the opposite.  Synthetic brush development has become a highly competitive industry, with companies racing to develop the best synthetic brushes at the best prices.  Artist quality synthetics are engineered to exactly mimic the structure of the animals natural hair, even on a microscopic level!  For example, synthetic squirrel hairs have a wavy, undulating form with a naturally tapered tip just like real squirrel hairs. 

brush and paints

Of course there is no simple solution to finding sustainable, good quality brushes, because even though the synthetic brushes don't involve animal cruelty, they are still a resulting byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

The synthetic filament used in paintbrushes are produced by a process called extrusion, in which liquid synthetic is pushed through a mold and formed into bristles. This liquid may be acrylic, polyester, nylon or amalon which is a very inexpensive petroleum-based synthetic. Different synthetics perform better with different kinds of paint so if you know the filament material when choosing your brushes, this can be helpful. The synthetic filament may be one of three types construction: solid extrusion, "x-shaped," or hollow. Solid extrusion synthetic filaments, lasts the longest and clean up more easily. X-shaped filaments give good performance and are a bit cheaper than solid filaments. The hollow filament wears out quickly and is difficult to clean but is quite inexpensive.

The information on synthetics was sourced from the link below. To find out more detail ...

Do you have any ethically sourced non-planet or animal harming brushes you would like to share with the rest of us?

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