I'll start with some of my procedures for practical paintbrush use and care. After spending 36 years teaching art, I feel well-qualified to address this topic, and hopefully offer you some helpful tips. But like with a lot of other things, you will find that my procedures are often different from what is typical. Over the years I have learned from others, and from trial and error, but in the end, I march to my own drummer and have trusted my instincts to figure out what works best, at least for me. And lest you say "I think I've seen these images before", let me tell you that they all have appeared in prior blog posts over the almost three years I've had this blog.
So the original question on Facebook had to do with painting procedures and water at the table. I have seen a lot of blog posts where teachers are left with a sinkful of dirty, loaded paintbrushes at the end of the day. Eek!! Hopefully my suggestions will help prevent that situation.
If you look at the 4th grade paintings to the left (painted on 18"x24" white paper) from a still life setup, while studying Matisse), I think you will agree the colors are clear, not muddy. You'll notice the edges of the papers are unpainted. More about that later.
The students set themselves up with water bowls between them, or sometimes had their own. For my Royal Big Kid paintbrushes (which I love, but have short handles), I favor water bowls that have a wide bottom so they don't easily tip, and that are not too tall. I don't want the brushes to fall into the water. Also between the kids were what we fondly called our "ugly sponges". These were shaped differently from the sponges we cleaned the tables with, so there's no confusion. The ugly sponges have one purpose - removing extra paint from a brush. From kindergarten up, the students were taught to "wipe, wash, wipe". In other words, after using one color, the brush is wiped on the ugly sponge (or newspaper, or paper towel, depending on the circumstance) to remove excess paint, then washed with an up and down motion in the water bowl, touching the bottom. We called this the washing machine. It prevents the stirring that knocks water bowls over or causes splashing, and gets the paint off really well. Then the brush was wiped again, to remove excess water before dipping in another color. This really helps to prevent color contamination when painting with a new color, and helps to keep those yellow and whites pure and clean!
For this particular project, the students also each had one of those black dishes from diet TV dinners to use as a mixing palette. A staff member donated hundreds of them to me! A selection of paint colors (red, yellow, blue, turquoise, magenta, and white) were placed in solo cups, on a large tray on my circular center table. Each color had a pop stick in it. Students would take their palettes to the paint table, use the pop stick to scoop some color, and then use their brush to mix. Letting the students mix this way gave them a broad range of lively color choices, rather than colors straight from the bottle, and they had to figure out how to get what they needed, based, of course, on past learning. Note that depending on the project, sometimes paints were placed at every table, but the central table was often used when students were making a lot of individual choices and I didn't want a dish of every color at every table.
At the end of the class, students gave their brushes a final wipe/wash/wipe and they were collected in a bucket that had a couple of inches of soapy water. Two kids took that bucket to the sink and gave the brushes a final wash (they usually were very clean at this point anyhow).
My classes were 40 minutes long. But maybe yours are only a 1/2 hour. If you use the method I've described, I doubt you'll have time to have kids give the brushes the final wash at the end of class. But that's OK. With this system you are left with a bucket of almost clean brushes, rather than a sinkful of dirty ones, and that final wash will just take a few minutes at the end of your day. Give it a try.
Now here's where I did something really different. I'll bet you, at this point, now return the brushes to a container, with their brushes pointing up. Of course you don't want them brush down, because we know they get a terrible case of "bed-head"! But you don't really want them brush up, either, because the water seeps into the ferrule of the brush and eventually causes the glue to loosen and the brush to fall apart. This has happened to you, right? In an ideal world, you would hang the brushes so the tips dripped downward, but who has a way to do that??! So, I covered an old cafeteria tray with a padding of newspapers, and the cleaned brushes, with their brush tips nicely shaped and smoothed, were placed on the newspaper padding to dry. This way the tips stay nicely shaped, and the water does not seep into the ferrule. The brushes will last longer. If the next class is also painting, they can select brushes right off the newspaper to use. The next day there is always a kid who wants to sort the dry brushes and put them back in the container. Works like a charm!!
Meanwhile, those dirty palettes... My room had a 'sloppy sink', and we collected them all in there and filled it with soapy water. But this could also be done in a big basin, if no sink is available. Later, there is usually a bored kid who loves to rinse them off and put them on the dish drainer (thank you, dollar store) to dry. If we are using acrylic paints and not tempera, we simply let the paint dry in the palettes, and do NOT wash them. The dry paint can be peeled off! The kids fight for the chance to peel them!
Now lets say the kids were painting with bigger bristle brushes. My favorite water containers for these longer handled brushes, again to share with two kids, were empty Kool-Aid containers, which are pretty stable and curve inward at the top, which means drips go inside and not outside!
black paint, especially for outlining. But one dip in a dish of black can contaminate the rest of the colors at the table. So I taught kids that if they chose to use black, they needed to wipe the brush, then take it to the sink and give it a good shampoo before dipping in another color! Unless, of course, everyone is using black. Then there is a bucket for collecting just paintbrushes used for black. Believe me, this really helps! By the way, if we used black tempera for outlining, I usually premixed it with a little water to get it just the right consistency to outline smoothly but still maintain its blackness.
'alternative paintbrush' will make your life so much easier, and give the kids a fun tactile experience. The kindergarten rainbow and pussywillow paintings above were done with fingerprints. No brushes to wash, just hands! The first grade lilacs were painted with long-handled Q-tips. Disposable!
Sometimes, you can make your life easier by painting with just one, or a few colors at a time. In the pop art paintings below, each table had only variations of one color. No wiping and washing was needed at all! One water bucket was placed on each table, and all the brushes started and finished class in that bucket. The next class came in and used the same brushes, and the final wash didn't need to happen until the last class left the room. Big time saver!!! In the paintings below, students selected their table to paint their checkerboard and and circle (on a different piece of paper, which was cut out and glued on when dry) depending on their color preference. The black paint was done on a different day, where everyone used just black.
Same thing here. One day only warm colors were available, one color at each table, and the next class was just cool colors. The black again was done last.
Regarding table cleaning - to the left is a tower of my favorite water bowls. I'm not sure what they were originally from, but you can see a Kool-Aid container and a couple of other random containers that were found in my room. Kids cleaning the sink area loved to create a tower at the end of class, and it helped the bowls drain and stay dry.
- Sponges - Kids
like to clean up, and can be taught to do it well. I'm not saying I
never had to do any cleaning, but I tried to have the bulk of it
completed by the kids, not me. Starting in kindergarten, teach them how
to use sponges! Teach them that sponges must be moist, but not wet.
Show them how to use two hands to squeeze excess water in the sink
before washing tables. In case of spills on the floor, teach them to
use the sponge to scoop the spill in one scoop-up stroke, and then rinse
the sponge well and squeeze it out well before wiping up any leftover
mess on the floor. Repeat as needed. I made sure kids knew that I
wouldn't get angry if there was a spill, but they had to tell me and
clean it up immediately, before everyone steps in it and spreads the
mess! I always had lots of sponges, so that kids could all participate in table cleanup.
- Placemats? There were times we used newspapers under our work to keep tables clean, but generally, no. I know many of you use 'placemats' but not me. I found that paper under the artwork made spills more frequent. Plus I like big paper, and if you are painting on 18"x24" paper, you'd need mighty big placemats! I found table cleanup could be done quickly with lots of sponges and a bottle of non-toxic spray cleaner (that was used only by me).
- Borders? So this wonderful, practical hint helps to minimize paint on tables. Have kids draw a pencil or chalk border approximately 1/2" from the edges of their paper (for younger kids, I sometimes drew the border myself). They are not to allowed to paint inside the frame. This has several benefits: First of all, if your paper isn't painted right to the edges, it will curl less when drying. Yippee! Second, it will give the artwork 'handles' - unpainted edges to make it easier to carry to the drying rack and keep hands clean! (Or in the case of big paper, sometimes we lined them up along the wall in the hallway to dry. Unpainted edges means no paint on the hallway floor and happy custodians!) Finally, the unpainted edge gives the painting a nice white 'frame' for display, or a frame for decorating to give the artwork some pizazz! I used this process for all large paintings, both tempera and watercolor, and often for smaller works too! The tree paintings above, originally posted here, were painted on 12"x18" paper by 3rd graders, have an unpainted border, as do the 4th grade sunflower paintings above, and the 3rd grade "fauve fauve" paintings below. The unpainted borders in this case, on 16"x20" paper, were made wider and were collaged with animal print tissue paper to complete the work. To see a whole post on these paintings, look here.