The Sci-Files – 05/16/2021 – Qian Bates – Tools of the Trade: Paintbrushes

Qian Bates
Qian Bates

On this week’s The Sci-Files, your hosts Chelsie and Danny interview Qian Bates. Qian is a first-year student at MSU studying mechanical engineering. She recently did a project that analyzed the reasons behind the materials used to make paintbrushes. Oil brushes are made of natural fibers like hog or sable hair while acrylic brushes are all synthetically made from nylon or polyester and watercolor can be made of either but rarely both natural and synthetic. Qian, being an avid painter as well, took notice of these differences and decided to figure out why they were present. She used a scanning electron microscope to take pictures of the bristles from very close up in order to study the texture and size of the individual hairs to see if that affected how they behaved with certain paints. After taking pictures of the brushes, she used them to paint for a couple of weeks and took notes as to how each brush performed with different mediums. As she painted it became increasingly apparent that the synthetic (acrylic and watercolor) and natural hair (oil) brushes were not interchangeable. When the synthetic brushes were used for oil paint, Qian found that, after a couple of hours of use, the bristles would start to drop from the brush and be deposited on the page or canvas with the paint. The same thing happened with the natural oil brush when used for acrylic paint. She found that this came down to the chemicals in the paint and solvents and how they interact with the materials the bristles are made of. With watercolor paint, the story was a bit different. Qian found that the topography of the bristles, the texture, and the diameter of the bristles greatly affected how smoothly the paint was applied and how much control she had while painting.
If you’re interested in talking about your MSU research on the radio or nominating a student, please email Chelsie and Danny at [email protected] Check The Sci-Files out on TwitterFacebookInstagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube!