3 Reasons Painters Lick Their Brushes

Do you lick your paint brushes when you paint minis? Or, maybe you’ve seen other hobbyist do it and you’re a little disgusted. If so, here are the three reasons a miniature artists might lick their brush. 

Here are 3 reasons why miniature painters lick their brushes:

  1. Brush licking is a convenient way to keep a fine brush tip
  2. Saliva is the best paint blending medium
  3. You like it, maybe?

Continue reading to see why painting miniatures is a reason to lick your brush.

Brush licking in miniature painting - 3 reasons why artists lick their brushes - vertical banner feature image

1. Brush licking is a convenient way to keep a fine brush tip

A fine bristle tip is vital to painting miniatures with precision, and goes a long way to granting more control over the painting process, including detailed line work and color blending, e.g., loaded brush blending.

I think this is particularly true for pointed round-shaped brushes with natural hair tufts (written about here). If you’re looking for simple ways to clean and maintain your brushes, check out this brush care guide.

A painter might lick their brushes to reform the bristles after each color change or after rinsing their brush in their water pot. Saliva has a strong surface tension for bristles, quickly acting as a binder. The whole motion is fast and can easily become part of the painting flow. It’s effective.

Importantly, some painters even lick their brushes while there’s still residual paint on the brush (which I have avoided just because the taste is awful). In this case, there is certainly some level of consumption of paint, including pigments and binder mediums. This is where there is some concern of toxicity (source).

2. Saliva is the best paint blending medium

Saliva has useful properties for acrylic painting of miniatures. A lot of advanced techniques use saliva to blend paint. Privateer Press advocates the use of two-brush blending (TBB) with their brand of P3 Paints and painting style.

In this painting method for color blending, one brush is used to apply a dollop of paint on a miniature; a second clean brush, with no paint on it, is wetted with saliva to blend the still-wet paint in a feathering motion.

Of course, the easiest way to get saliva from your month to a miniature, is to first have the brush in your mouth.

Although there are alternatives mediums that could match the blending properties of saliva, such as water (e.g., in classical feathering approaches) or clear acrylic mediums (such as matte medium, which I use for various applications), they have their drawbacks.

I have personally not been able to replicate the TBB technique without saliva. The really buttery smooth color blends achieved with TBB are difficult to obtain without getting saliva into the paint. 

Being able to perform smooth color blending with saliva is probably one of the biggest reasons not to stop licking your brush. It simply works, and makes painting with advanced styles of color-blends easier. 

3. You like it, maybe?

Do you even know why you lick your brushes?

See oral fixation.

Maybe, you’re a miniature painter who simply uses their mouth as a place to briefly hold your brush when you’re doing something else at the moment that requires both hands; and you don’t want to put the brush down where it might roll away.

Hmm, you may even like the sensation of licking bristles. I’m sure there are a lot of miniature painters out there that enjoy this licking habit; way more than would care to admit.

I would compare this to someone who chews the tips of their plastic Bic pens when they are in a classroom, or an engineer who taps their pencil on their desk as they are working out a math equation.

Licking your brush is one of those miniature painter reflexes, a muscle memory of sorts, or psycho-thing that you’ve acquired over time.

Whatever. You just happen to lick your brushes.

Alternatives to Paint Brush Licking

Use water to make a fine tip.

After rinsing my brush in water, I dry the excess moisture on a paper towel and reform the tip with my fingers. This works well.

Lately, I’ve been trying out the Citadel water pot that has “tip maker grooves” (check it out). 

Water pot for brush cleaning - why do painters lick their brushes? Brush licking - why lick your paint brush?
The best water pot on the market? Seriously.

Use acrylic blending mediums

There are a lot of different types of acrylic mediums that artists use for blending and mixing paint.

The choice often depends on the application, e.g., glazing, wet-blending.

For blending miniature paint colors, I personally use Liquitex matte medium (about $11 per 8oz).

It only takes 1-2 drops to make your paint blend easier, or to create a smooth glaze for blending color transitions.


Water pot for brush cleaning - why do painters lick their brushes? Brush licking - why lick your paint brush?
Useful for mixing and blending acrylic paint

Find a different habit

Okay, I know it’s hard to break habits. We all have them.

Well, if you’re looking to get away from licking your brushes, you’re going to have to make a conscience effort.

Hmm… there isn’t much advice I can provide here. If you like licking your brushes for whatever reason, there won’t be much anyone can do to break that compulsion. Maybe, a psychiatrist?

For an article on how to break bad habits click here.

Okay, but is brush licking safe?

The internet is rife with this question. Brush licking is a common miniature painting community practice, and it has become more useful recently for the technical reasons listed above. 

See here for an article about the safety or danger of licking your brushes for miniatures painting.

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4 thoughts on “3 Reasons Painters Lick Their Brushes”

  1. My old art teacher always licked his brushes. As a teen, definitely thought it was disgusting…because the word mucus was used in his explanation. Gross!

    But wouldn’t you know it….somewhere along the way, I picked it up. Quick rinse of the brush in the water pot while painting, or between changing paints, run it across a folded paper towel to rid excess moisture. Then pop it into my mouth and twist to get the sharp point back. I also twist and pull after dipping into paint, to maintain the tip.

    I can’t do the ‘lick brush with paint on it’ thing though.

    The only negative I can really think of, is quite possibly acids in your mouth wearing on the bristles. But I’ll likely keep on with my old dog tricks!

  2. Oh, I should add that I would love to know if saliva is bad for the bristles. That would be a good reason not to brush lick (this is such a fun and weird sounding phrase).

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