A bit about how I make the brushes.
I don’t disclose most of what i do to make the brushes. I admit i’m a little paranoid about someone stealing the techniques i use. I’ve spent countless hours of research combined with many trials and a share of errors. If you are interested in making paintbrushes, there is no substitute for good materials and lots of practice.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to use good tools. You’d be amazed at all the tools that are used to make the brushes.
By the way, I’m a one man production facility and am proud to write in this era of robotic automation that do everything that goes into making the brushes with my own hands. That is a rare thing in America and why i show my works mostly in Art shows.
Here are a few words about the materials i use…
I get most of my bamboo from around Seattle. I put ads in Craigslist and offer to clean out people’s bamboo groves. Sometimes people at shows offer to let me wack their bamboo. No, that’s not a metaphor. My favorite bamboo groves haven’t been trimmed in years. When i clean up this kind of bamboo stand, the grove owner gets a beautiful stand of bamboo that looks like a work of living art, and i get a sore back and trailer full of older bamboo. It is a win-win thing.
Some of the bamboo root materials I use are imported, mostly from Jakarta. It’s the only place i’ve found to offer the dense rhizome materials i use. The people that dig up the root material also clean it meticulously so that it gets through US customs. They do a lot of work. In summary, each piece of bamboo is carefully cleaned and then very carefully cleaned. And then i put the rhizome through about 12 steps to produce the final handle. I do all of the obvious things by way of cutting and sanding, and some unobvious things by way of cleaning and stabilizing the bamboo.
I have started to carve some of the hand grip brush handles from various hardwoods and burl materials. As of this writing, i’ve only made a hand full of these (yes that is a pun). I source the hardwood from local suppliers. I would love to find someone who can get me blocks of burl and is in the Seattle area.
I use mostly boiled linseed oil to finish the brush handles. Some have told me they will re-apply the linseed oil about once per year. It will help the handles to look nice. If you do this, be sure not to get any of the linseed oil on the bristles.
Many of the more exotic hair materials i use come from estate sales, where i find what was someone’s treasure. At one time it may have been proudly displayed on a couch, a wall, or on someone’s shoulders. Over time these things find their way into closets and later end up in Craig’s list or in estate sales. I spend more than a little time searching for the kind of materials i need and that is where a lot of it comes from.
In case you wonder, with reasonable care, hair is very stable. In many instances hair is found intact from places as old as ancient Egypt and in other areas. While i don’t have any brushes that came from ancient Egypt, the point i’m getting at is that hair is very stable for long periods of time, especially with good care.
The synthetic fibers i use come from the manes of purebred Unicorns, who are native to the Greenwater, WA area. Obviously not really. In fact, they only visit during the warm parts of the year.
Dealing with hair is elaborate and requires lot of care and patience. I like to say the difference between working with hair and air is the letter h. Hair fibers are delicate and often surly. The hair has to be straight as possible. The tips are lined up so they all point the same way. Most importantly is that the hair is securely seated in the handle. One wrong step and you get what can be an expensive mess. Never work with brush hair with a fan on or an open window. Or with cats or dogs around.
Some hair types are extremely fine. Kolinsky, Russian Sable, and some other hair types are as fine as about 1/10th the diameter of human hair. Hold a single hair from these sources in your hand and you may not even see it without a magnifying glass. As an aside, due to this, and also due to the nature of working with hair in general, a few bristles may shed a little when new, but in the event they shed more than a little, let me know about it and i’ll get you a replacement.