Let me just first put it out there that I don’t need another hobby. I have too many already and not enough time to do them all! I just can’t help myself, though. I get curious about something and then I want to try it out. Honestly, I like the excuse to delve into a new corner of the world of art supplies, too. I would love to get into pottery, but I’m realizing that is very involved, and going to a class (once we’re past this pandemic) might be a good place to start. But one thing that has captured my interest that I can do in my own studio is handmade brushes and pens.
I’ve seen some handmade brushes and pens here and there online, but it was the book The Organic Artist that gave me the nudge to try it myself.
Coincidentally, Jeanne Oliver also offered a class on handmade brushes – Natural Art Brushes by Leslie Rottner. It’s a short class that’s packed with great information and answers questions I had about handmade brushes. I was curious about which waterproof glue worked the best, things to look for in a “handle”, etc. Between the book and the class, I felt like I had a good enough grasp to make some decent handmade brushes.
I collected sticks from around my yard…we have maple, cherry, and applewood. I also gathered some pine needles. For the pens, I had wild turkey feathers and I believe the spotted one is guinea fowl. The fowl feathers are from my friend’s farm. I collected them when we would “farm sit” for her years ago. I bought the turkey feathers from a vendor at the Lucketts Spring Market about 8 years ago.
And, here are my beautiful handmade brushes and pens…
Aren’t they fun??
These are watercolor brushes that I made out of sticks and goat hair.
Randomly, you can buy goat hair bundles off of Etsy! It was just $12 and will make a ton of brushes. Working with it is a little messy, but I just try to pull what I need out of the bundle carefully.
The bundle itself almost looks like a large brush. I’m tempted to give it a try, but I don’t know how I would wash it, since it’s just tied into that bundle and not secured in any way.
To make the sticks look more like handles, I sanded them smooth and finished them off with some Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Wax. It makes the sticks feel buttery and smooth to the touch and gives the wood some luster.
(Violet loves these brushes and I often find her dragging them around the house.)
I also made a mark-making brush out of long pine needles…
I clipped bristles from an old hog’s bristle brush for the other brushes. They are stiffer than the goat hair and better for acrylics or oils. I had a good time painting with this one made from a hollow hydrangea branch. The stiff bristles forced me to use a lot of paint and gave a scratchy look to my painting that I sort of love.
I followed the instructions in The Organic Artist book about making a dip pen from a feather. I also watched a couple of YouTube videos. You can get very finicky with it or you can just cut a tip on a feather and clean it up a bit. I went the simple route and it still worked great…
My cuts were messy, so I’ll need to work on that. I made two, though, and both had a pretty good point and wrote well. I even made a little slit to act as a reservoir.
I know my handmade brushes and pens will never be as good as ones I can simply buy from an art supply store, but there was something therapeutic about making them and then putting them to use. It took me to a place where we, as humans, had to have more ingenuity. We couldn’t order things off the internet or drive five minutes to a store with shelves packed full of incredible variety. We had to make what we needed with what was around us. I’m thankful for modern conveniences, but I enjoyed this little journey into simpler times.
Whether you’re into art or brushes or making pens out of feathers, I hope you found some beauty and delight in this journey as well…