Let's Talk About Brushes...

As my students were finishing painting today, I realized that I have a pretty great idea (if I do say so myself) that I need to share with you. More on that in a bit.

Here is my cabinet full of paint brushes. I remember doing some field work in a public school in Columbus, Ohio and I saw a bunch of brushes sitting dirty by the sink. I was mortified. As I proceeded to clean them, the teacher said to me, "Just wait until you have your own classroom. You'll see." At the time, I couldn't imagine leaving brushes unwashed, but I will admit that a brush or two (or a ton)  have sat on my counter a time or two.

So, what is the secret to having kids clean their own brushes? I have had this sign posted on the brush cabinet for as long as I have been teaching (18 years!) and it barely gets looked at. 

I do SAY these words, or a variation,  to the kids all the time and that seems to help.

I have taught the kids to put a little soap in the palm of their hand and "paint" their hand until all the paint is gone and the water runs dry. You can see the gal on the left doing just that.

And this brings me to the "Big Idea" that I have been bragging about. Once their brush is clean, they have to come to me and paint my arm with it. Yep, this is not for the faint of heart, but IT WORKS. If you look in the above photo, you might be able to see the boy on the far left painting his own arm. They are told to test it on themselves before coming to me.

Yes, that is my arm- and this little person was sent back to rewash that brush!

I make a big deal about this, telling them how DISAPPOINTED I will be if their brush is not clean. "I BETTER not get dirty!!"
They love it.
And I love it because the brushes get clean... and rarely sit on the counter dirty.

Here is a FANTASTIC resource- Fugleflicks
Tricia Fuglestad is an art teacher from the Chicago area who has her students create wonderful videos that may be used in the art classroom. 
Here is her video entitled Young Sloppy Brush. Show it to your kidlets. They will love it!

Do you have any great ways to keep brushes clean and organized? Please share!


  1. Great minds think alike! I've taught kids to wash brushes like that forever, and we've painted on my arm too! Do you have the adorable Mr. Brush posters? One introduces his family, and the other is about taking care of Mr. Brush. The kids adore the posters.

  2. That is too funny!!! I do the exact same thing. The kids think its fun to pass the clean brush test :} Love your blog!!!

  3. I have done a variation of this for several years. When demonstrating with watercolor, I always include in the demonstration my clean up expectations. After I'm done, I swipe the paintbrush across my FACE. It never fails to amaze. I told them (high school kids) that when they are done they will hand their brush to me and I will test it on their shirt (which I have never done) - so when they hand it in, I lean towards them and ask if they're ready for me to test it. If they say yes, I just take the brush - most of them jump back in fear and give it another rinse just in case I'm crazy enough to do it. I guess no one wants to ruin an $80 hoodie from Abercrombie.

  4. I love this idea! I also love the idea of painting a high school students shirt. Man could they use that as motivation to clean their brushes better!

  5. This is probably one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed! The idea of dirty brushes has always mortified me and has stopped me from considering many projects because of it. This idea is perfect for all ages I feel. Just some minor modifications for older kids are needed. Great job though! I will be using this in the future!

  6. I have been having my elementary students put their dirty brushes in the "dirty brush bucket" (just a small plastic coffee container). They put them in there to soak with the hair down. Sometimes I have a helper clean them by the handful but more often I clean them myself afterwards just for peace of mind. I have been debating trying to train all the kids to do this themselves and this post came at just the right time! Thanks!

  7. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

    Permanent Sharpie Marker

  8. I tried it with my smallest class, and it worked brilliantly! They loved it, giggling constantly. It's not every day they get to paint on a teacher!

    Thank you so much for the tip. It is going straight into my bag of tricks to be used always. -Tempest, Doodlesnyc.com

  9. I enjoyed reading it. I'm supposed to be somewhere else in a minute but I stuck to reading the story. I like the quality of your blog.

  10. I tell the kids "don't give the brushes a bad hair day". They think it is funny. I also have one person in charge of the brushes in each class. That person takes the job very seriously and I tell the class the "sink manager" has been specially trained to wash brushes. It seems to work.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

PicaSsO MoNstERs!

Warm & Cool Swirling Leaves

I'm A Thief!!!