Keep it Clean: How to Maintain 3 Mixed-Media Collage Art Tools

You know the people who have cubbies, drawers, and labels for every category of art supply? The ones who make sure every paint bottle, pencil, and cutting tool is put in its proper place before they leave the studio for the day?

Keep it Clean: How to Maintain 3 Mixed-Media Collage Art Tools |
Be sure to clean your mixed-media & collage
art tools, like this stencil by Jane Davenport,
to keep them working well.

I’m not one of them.

I confess I maintain my paint, print, and collage art supplies minimally. If the papers are stacked in a pile, liquids and gels have been capped, and the brushes etc. are washed and left to air dry, I feel I’ve done a good job.

But recently, I screwed up even that. I had been using a rubber brayer to spread paint over a stencil when I unexpectedly had to leave it and run. Thinking I’d get back to the artwork within the hour-and with a puddle of black paint on the palette that I didn’t want to waste-I cleverly stuck the palette inside a plastic bag, leaving the brayer on top of the paint.

Two days later I found the bag and its dried-up contents under something else. The once-smooth brayer now has a patterned surface from the dried-on (or peeled-off) paint.

Oh, how I wish I had just taken two minutes to clean the darn thing.

It’s especially important to clean brayers, paintbrushes, and stencils that can be used with different materials, like paint, ink, and mediums, so your supplies last and work as intended.

Here are some tips for cleaning three of your basic mixed-media and collage tools.


  • It’s easier to clean them if you do it before the paint, ink, etc., dries.
  • If you have a brayer with a removable roller, take it apart for easier cleaning.
  • Check with the manufacturer/instruction to see whether your brayer can be cleaned with anything besides water (such as a solvent).


  • Remove the excess paint from the paintbrush by wiping it onto (or with) a cloth or paper towel. Gently squeezing the bristles from the ferrule (the metal part) to the tip helps to remove the paint, but avoid pulling on the bristles.
  • Rinse the brush in lukewarm to cool water if you painted with a water-based medium. Use turpentine or a paintbrush cleaner specifically for oil-based products to remove oil paint. Never use hot water; it can cause the bristles/hairs to fall out.
  • Wipe the brush on the cloth again to remove any paint that remains. Once all of the excess paint is removed, wash the brush gently with mild soap. Rinse and repeat until there is no trace of paint or soap.
  • Shake the water from the paintbrush and then gently shape the brush head into its correct shape with your fingers.
  • Stand the paintbrush, handle-side down, in a container and allow the brush to air-dry at room temperature. Never rest the paintbrush on its head to dry as the bristles will lose their shape.


  • Acrylic paint and modeling paste can build up and fill in the details of your stencils. After using these, soak the stencils and then gently clean the surface with a baby wipe.
  • Water reactive sprays left on a stencil will reactivate, often coloring your artwork. (Sometimes this is a bonus, sometimes not.)
  • Store them flat so they don’t bend or tear.

You have my permission (as if you needed it) to leave your studio a mess. But please, for the love of your mixed-media/collage art supplies, clean them before you move on.

Learning how to use, and maintain, your art supplies will save you time and money in the long run. In Volume 3 of Art Lessons: Supply Stash Series, Jane Davenport shows you how to use stencils with a variety of supplies in mixed-media collage.

P.S. What’s your favorite art supply cleaning tip–or fiasco? Leave a comment below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Supplies, Mixed-Media Techniques

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