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Hair brushes are dead

July 27, 2010

I’m here to let everyone know that animal hair brushes are dead.  I shelled out the money for three genuine sable paint brushes, one flat that is barely a half inch wide hit me for $25.00 USD for just the one brush.  I want my paintings to be good, so I agonize over the quality of my supplies versus the cost; names for these brushes lure artists with tag lines like “finest red sable”.

A red sable [Mustela sibirica]

I was never impressed by the performance of the sable brushes.  They are soft, but to a fault; they do not hold up well over time and lose their shape and sharpness rapidly.  I think the real clue to the unnecessary origin of the sable brushes is that there are lines of brushes for sale now that blend sable and synthetic hairs to strengthen the brush bristles.

Synthetic has caught up to the natural fibers of the past.  YAY for chemistry!  Traditional materials hang around for a long time because knowledge of using these materials is embedded in the greater body of knowledge of how to make art.  Artists of the past had to find natural solutions to supplies and tools; historically, synthetic materials are very new, and the transition to using some of the new synthetics have been slow and cautious.  This is understandable, because artists want their creations to be well crafted and stand the test of time.

One exception may be hog bristle brushes.  These are stiff, a pale yellowish white or cream color, and you can often buy hog bristles brushes in a cheap package of multiple brushes, a tube with several or sometimes they come with a handy canvas roll.  These are a bit on the rough side, they can be handled with skill but are often desired for making stria (the fine lines of the brush’s texture in the paint).  They handle very well with oil paints and are acceptable for acrylics.  They are not recommended for watercolor or gouache.

I love animals but I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  I have this philosophy: if an animal is killed for human use, it should have lived as well as possible, be killed as humanely as possible and we should use as much of the animal as possible, hopefully even use nearly the entire animal.  I eat the burger, so I’ll wear the leather shoes; I eat the ham and bacon, so I don’t get riled up over the few hog bristle brushes I have.  I hate fur coats and other wasteful use of animals.  I find it particularly cruel if these creatures are jammed into little cages just to be killed and skinned, like minks and silver foxes are; these are not domesticated animals and are being misused for vanity, not for needs like food and clothing.  People have a very hard time telling the difference between want and need; the richer they are, the more the two words are mistaken for synonyms.

I regret buying the sable brushes.  I made a minimal investment in them and will use them until they utterly fall apart; I will not buy another one again.  I similarly have no inerest in brushes made from squirrels or other wild animals.  I was lulled by the advertisements of quality and authenticity attached to the sable brushes which combined with a dash of insecurity over whether or not I was using the best of all possible tools.

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