Here you see a student of mine painting
with a rag in her hand. It is not a paper
towel, but is a soft cotton absorbent rag.
Good sources for such rags are soft cotton
things such as old t-shirts and nightwear
that has been laundered so often that there
is hardly any lint or fuzz that will come off
on your brushes. Also you don't want
rags that are so thin (like old sheets) that
you get paint all over your hands.
Use of Paper Towels
Basically, I use paper towels for cleaning
my brushes. I don't hold them in my hand
while I am painting the way I hold a rag
in my hand while painting. I have them
on my easel's shelf that is just below the
painting. Or I have a stack of paper towels
set aside and I use them just before I dip
them in the mineral spirits
to wipe off the excess.
Use of rags
But rags are for use while I work on a painting
and am doing things like blending areas of different
colors or tones. What happens is that the brush
will pick up a tone and if you don't wipe the brush
with the rag, the tone (or color) you don't want to
end up in a particular place will end up there!
So just hold a rag in your hand and wipe off the little
bit of paint so you can keep blending without dragging
a color into an area where you don't want it.
I also use a rag for another purpose. When you have
a brush that is a very small size and you have cleaned it in
the thinner, it will have the thinner run down the handle
and not only get your hands yucky (hi-tech word), but
when you go to pick up new paint, it will run down and
dilute what you just picked up. SO! I have a rag on
my easel shelf and always use it to absorb that thinner.
Rags are way more absorbent than paper towels.
How long to use a rag?
First of all, have a good supply of them and when they
get loaded with paint get rid of them. Do not wash them
as it's not worth it. Also, don't keep oily rags around as
it is a safety issue. I put them in the trash in a plastic bag.