Indispensable: Jane Kim

During her June residency at the de Young, Jane Kim, a visual artist and science illustrator, will create a project that explores the flora and fauna of Golden Gate Park.  As part of our series Indispensible, we asked her to tell us about a tool that’s important to her work.

You chose a tool that might not be familiar to most people.

Yeah, I picked the Pentel Waterbrush. It was introduced to me in a scientific illustration program in 2009 and I’ve been using it ever since. You put water in the handle of the brush and when you squeeze the handle, water comes out of the bristles. I wouldn’t tell anyone that it should be their main brush, but I fell in love with it.

It’s not necessarily an easy brush to use. You need to develop finesse. Like any tool—I’m sure chefs are like this with their knives—how you hold it, or the angle you get, gives you a certain result.  

A lot of your work, including what you’re doing here at the de Young, is about large scale murals and public installations. How is this tool suited to that specific work?

For one thing, I don’t have to dip my brush in water constantly, so it helps me paint faster. Speed is a big thing for me in my work.  I need to get murals done quickly because the weather is inconsistent or I have a specific amount of time to complete a commission, so speed is important.

I also love it for outdoor use—I did a series of six murals in the eastern Sierra and it’s notorious for being windy there, and for having very unpredictable weather, so this was great. And on a really hot day the water helps maintain a consistent flow and moisture with acrylic paint.  

This tool is something you’ve become very familiar with. Is the value mostly in the utility of the object or is it something more abstract?  

I probably do 90 to 95 percent of my painting with this one tool. They cost about eight bucks and I continue using them as the bristles break down, though I need fresh ones for more detailed work. To do a 3000 square foot mural, which took 16 months to paint, I probably went through 20 to 25 brushes.

I would certainly say I have a long term relationship with this tool. I got introduced to it in school, I totally fell in love with it, and that was the end of that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to traditional brushes.

I’m a little bit OCD about it. As you can see—I’m cleaning it right now—I definitely never let paint start to cake up around the tip. Sometimes I look at other painters using this kind of brush and I’m like [catches her breath], how are they letting it get like that?! 

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