Handcrafted Brushes

One of the good things to come out of the pandemic was the explosion of various online resources. Those included a growing number of on-demand art classes. I hesitantly took my first online class in 2020, and was immediately hooked. Since then, I’ve been taking various courses from artists I like. I’ve enjoyed learning new techniques, but mostly loved seeing other artists’ process (often, their approach is very different than mine!). Taking more classes and learning from artists in other corners of the world has been one of my goals for 2022, and so far I’ve been having a blast!

This summer, I am taking a class with Australian artist Lorna Crane. Lorna makes beautiful handcrafted brushes, with which she paints interesting marks to incorporate into her art. As a part of her course, I was to forage for objects that can be turned into my own handcrafted brushes. This seemed like the perfect summer homework, something I could do on family hikes and outings.

California Highway 1

Recently, my family and I took a road trip to San Luis Obispo, to see my artwork Loss at the SLO Museum of Art. With my homework in mind, I made sure we stopped at a few beaches along the way. California’s Highway 1 is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve been to. It’s always a treat to see the breathtaking views it offers. I was surprised, though, by how empty many of the beaches we stopped at were, with nothing at all to collect for brushes.

The piles of rotting kelp weren’t really helpful…

Eventually, we stopped at a beach that had at least a few interesting bits. I started exploring, while my family waited impatiently for me to finish.

I always think of my dad while spending time at a beach. He loved the sea, and knew its fauna and flora better than many. I’m a total marine-biology ignoramus, but I find treasures of other kinds. Here are some of the things that caught my eye.

The Process

It took a while to gather the supplies I needed for my brush making. Summer is a lazy time, after all, and my kids are all home. But I did eventually, putting together things I foraged from the beach, from my garden, and from the endless treasures I tend to gather in my sewing room. I decided to limit my palette to turquoise (which reminded me of the ocean and of summer), and to magenta and purple (my favorite colors). 

Some of the items I gathered included my daughter’s torn sock, a stick from my garden, silk sari scraps I bought online, a ribbon I saved from a birthday cake, a wire I took out of the trash years ago (originally, it held the cork of bubbly wine, but it was quite beautiful, so I thought it might come in handy some day), and some beads I got at FabMo. I took out my glue, my embroidery threads and needles, borrowed a tape from my husband and started playing. For hours, I cut, glued, wrapped, twisted, sewed. I really enjoyed the process.

The Brushes

My first brush had a smooth driftwood handle and bristles made out of sari silk strips.

I decorated it with the cake ribbon, the wine-cork wire and some glass (or is it shell?) beads, as well as with embroidery thread.

For the second brush, I used an interestingly-twisted stick and a feather I found on the beach.

I made the third brush, a dabbler, from a stick I found in my yard and from my daughter’s sock.

The top, I wrapped with the cake ribbon, the wire and the beads.

I couldn’t resist decorating the handle with a charm I once found on the street. I’ve been keeping it, too, “just in case,” for quite some time. I love it when “in case” actually happens, and I find a good use for long-forgotten finds…

For the fourth and last brush I used pieces of leather left over from my bag-making days.

I cut the leather into bristle-like strips, which looked pretty good with the cut sock and sari ribbon.

Each of these handcrafted brushes feels good in my hand, albeit in different ways. I also like how they look all together.

Final Thoughts on Trash and Treasure

Trash and treasure always mix in my art practice. That’s what upcycled art is all about, after all: turning things that other people discard into art. Every single item I’ve made since the very beginning had been created out of rescued materials.

And yet, there was something different about these brushes. I made them out of entirely worthless materials: sticks, scraps, things I literally picked out of the trash. But when they were finished, they felt precious. More so than other items I’ve made. Sacred, almost. Like items used in tribal rituals, like divine ritualistic objects. They made me think of our cave-dwelling ancestors, and of how they must have evolved to respect decorated sticks. Were those the beginning of art?

I love my handcrafted brushes, but will I able to use them? Will I manage to “ruin” them by dipping them into black ink? Since I don’t actually have ink on hand, and since I am yet to order some online, the verdict on this is still open… In the meantime, I’m gathering courage…

6 thoughts on “Handcrafted Brushes”

  1. My first thought at seeing the picture was these are too gorgeous to use. Glad to know you had a similar response. Either choice will require courage and conviction.

  2. These look precious and lovely and I’m looking forward to seeing the marks they make.
    I’ve made “brushes” with sticks and bashing one end with a stone on stone till the fibres spread and until you get your inks you can play with watercolour paints or even black coffee knowing most of it will wash out afterwards.

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