Thinking Out Loud: Clean Your Brushes

THINKING OUT LOUD is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column in which we talk about creative process and what might be holding back that voice of yours – whatever form it might take. Send your questions to:

I studied oil painting in college. This entailed standing for hours on end in front of an easel, painting and scraping and re-painting. Playing loud music, and being covered in pigments and linseed oil and turpentine. Even my pillowcases in my dorm room had paint on them.

One of my teachers was Frank Lobdell, who was always coming around to remind me to take it easy and to clean my brushes.

“Clean your brushes,” he would say, and then amble off in his bright pink or orange socks.

In oil painting, managing your materials is the whole ballgame. You’ve got to scrape off your palette on a regular basis. Some paints (I’m looking at you Titanium White) seep all over when they sit for a while and you have to keep them from invading the other ones.

Never mind the various heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

And, you’ve got to clean your brushes.

If you don’t clean your brushes, pretty soon every color that you are using becomes barf brown. No blue, no yellow, no ochre, just barf.

Professor Lobdell noticed me working with mucky brushes a lot. He could see my canvas descending into a gross layer of barfiness and he would try to stop me before I passed the point of no return.

More than once I plunked the brushes into some solvent, scraped down a canvas and set the thing aside to dry out before starting over on another one.

Cleaning your brushes is an important concept no matter what you are making. Clear off your desk. Throw some stuff out. Don’t let the muck cover you over.

Delete files. Hose your email box. Donate something. Use a leaf blower if you have to.

Keep the elements of your life and your brain from blending into barf brown, and give yourself the space to start new. The colors will show up better.

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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