THE BEAUTY OF BRUSHES

Coarse, soft and shiny, wiry, long, feathery. Horse hair, goat hair, bison, ox, badger, camel hair. Raw wood, hardwood, warm, rough, smooth wood…

I think my ‘interest’ in brushes started a couple of years ago on a trip to Japan. Strolling through the blooming streets of Kyoto, my boyfriend and I stumbled across a small shop minded by an adorable little old lady, selling only handmade brushes. She looked like a wrinkly, elegant fairy in a wooden workshop. Her brushes like magic wands. We walked in and were instantly promised jobs done like never before.

We came out with a strange looking whisk for vegetables and one for suede shoes, which looked a little like it might obliterate the shoe along with its stains.

Our suede shoes have been clean (and healthy looking) ever since.

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Studying art as a teenager, I spent hours lusting over the various paint tools. But if I was to tell my younger self now that one day she would have drooled in front of a basket loaded with sink cleaning brushes, she might run away crying thinking her destiny was to have a brain damaging accident before her thirties.

I’m clean, not obsessed with cleaning, and yet a good brush, whatever its function, seems to have an enchanting effect on me. Presented with a tableful of them, I can feel my eyes light up with manga-like sparkles of desire. Do I need a radiator brush? Surely, I do. I am talking quality brushes here: not those annoying ‘fake’ ones that loose hair in your paint stroke, or on the floor and on your freshly dry-cleaned jacket (any famous painter or experienced decorator would agree). These are good, old-fashioned brushes made to solve problems and have a long lease of life. Brushes you can always count on.

But I don’t think it’s just me. Wonderful items from companies like the sophisticated Swedish Iris Hantverk or the traditional, family owned German Bedecker, are popping up all over and it seems hand-drawn wooden brushes are having a renaissance at the moment. So what is a brush offering that a fluorescent Scotch-Brite or e-cloth is not?

It seems to me that our vintage obsession is shifting from looks to habits or ways to do things. We don’t just like vintage items, but objects that perform vintage functions, and next to our iPad Minis we want to be sure to find things that work in a perfectly straightforward, old-fashioned way. Almost as a physical dialogue with various imaginary grandparents who really knew how to do things.

A good old-fashioned brush is not only made to do the job, it is made to reassure you. When you hold it in your hands, it says to you: “I am here, I can do it. I can be your magic wand.”

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Here, my imaginary French brush-making grandpa and I have picked the brushes that you surely can’t do without:

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Photography: Dee Ramadan
Styling: Margherita Poggiali