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Brushes Used in Pottery

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In pottery, brushes have many uses. They are used to apply slurry or slip to joints during construction. Brushes are used to apply decorative effects such as slips, underglazes, glazes, and overglazes. Brushes have other jobs in pottery as well.

In buying brushes for pottery work, it is always a good idea to keep in mind what you want each brush to do. To help elongate your brush's life, also follow the tips below.

Brushes Used in Construction

Two sumi brushes (also called bamboo brushes) drying.
Beth E Peterson

Many potters I know, myself included, would make a sumi (or bamboo) brush their choice if they were allowed only one brush. The reason for this is these brushes' versatility. A well-constructed sumi brush can hold a vast amount of slip, slurry, or other liquid.

Make no mistake, though. These brushes are hardly sloppy to work with. Even when fully loaded (full of liquid) a sumi brush will still come to a sharp point and allow for the finest strokes, as well as being able to deliver a smooth, bold stroke.

Sumi brushes are excellent when you are joining pieces of clay together using the score and slip method. Other brushes that are able to hold a great deal of liquid are also good for this job. A number 12 or higher is a good choice.

Brushes for Decorating

These are three basic brushes useful in decorating pottery.
Beth E Peterson

If you want other brushes for decorating work and you aren't familiar with brushes, I have some recommendations for you. First, I suggest synthetic sable (white or golden) brushes. They are high-quality, with good spring and excellent durability. Second, I recommend you begin with three basic brushes:

  • # 12 Round: great all-purpose brushes.
  • # 12 Flat Shader: useful for shading effects, laying more than one color at a time, and creating textural effects.
  • # 4 Liner: used for linear and highly detailed work.

Once comfortable with brushwork, you may also want to explore different brush shapes, such as filberts, fans, and hakes. Different people favor different brushes; it may take some experimentation to find the ones that are right for you.

Brushes for Other Work

Some chores in pottery are better done with cheaper brushes.
Beth E Peterson

Brushes often are asked to do some of the rough work in pottery, too. For these tough chores, I personally recommend inexpensive brushes that you can buy at discount or department stores.

Tasks such as applying kiln wash to kiln shelves before a glaze firing are best done with a large house painting brush. Foam rubber "brushes" are great for applying wax resists. Wax resists can destroy a regular brush quite quickly if they aren't cleaned immediately and in the correct way for that particular resist. Rubber foam brushes are cheap enough that this becomes much less of a concern. They can be cut to the right tip-size for your particular needs, which is an added bonus.

Caring for Your Brushes

In order to last a long time and give you good service, brushes do need to be cared for:

  • Never leave a brush in liquid.
  • Do not use a brush to stir liquids; use a stir stick.
  • Never leave a brush standing so that the hairs or bristles are bent under it.
  • Do not leave brushes to dry dirty; rinse with water then clean with water and mild soap.
  • After cleaning, reshape the hairs to their proper shape.
  • Dry brushes canted downwards so liquid can drain away from the ferrule, but making sure the hairs are not being bent (see the photo above of the drying sumi brushes). Water in a ferrule weakens the glue and cording used to attach the hairs as well as possibly causing rust.
  • Once dry, store brushes upright on the end of their handles.

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