Brush Up On Brushes
May 17, 2017
Have you ever gone into the art supply store and been bombarded with an aisle of every size and shape brush ever created? A little overwhelming to try and figure which ones to buy for the kind of paint you are using. Not to worry, we have you covered here with a 'brush up' on brushes!
Artist painting brushes are designed for specific purposes, sizes, types of paints and quality levels. Inexpensive brushes are student grade and are usually made with synthetic bristles which generally do not hold as much water/paint as natural hair brushes. The more expensive artist quality brushes are made from animal hair such as sable, badger, hog, pony, goat, mongoose and squirrel.
Purchasing a high quality set of brushes will last for many years if taken care of properly. It is so much more of a pleasure to paint with brushes that keep their shape, hold paint and blend it the way they should. And it is a total nightmare to be dealing with stray bristles or bristles that fall out into your painting!
Because of its strength, spring, and ability to retain shape ("snap"), Kolinsky Sable brushes are considered the finest fiber for watercolor and oil brushes. It holds a very fine point or edge. Kolinsky is considered to be a professional grade of hair, and if properly cared for, it will last for many years. Very expensive, but totally worth it. I was spoiled with my first one and am now a total brush snob after using the best!
The anatomy of a brush is as follows:
- bristles - also known as hairs. Can be natural, synthetic, or combination of both
- ferrule - the silver piece that connects the bristles with the handle
- crimp - the part of the ferrule that secures it, pinches it, to the handle
- handle - usually made of wood or acrylic and varnished or painted.
The basic brush shapes are round: bright, fan, filbert, flat and round.
Brushes are sized by numbers. A #0 is a tiny detail brush and as the numbers go higher, the brushes get larger. If you work on a large scale you will need #8, 10, 12 brushes.
Long or Short Handles
Oil and acrylic brushes have long handles allowing the artist to paint vertically on an easel. Watercolor brushes have short handles making it more comfortable to paint flat on an artwork.
What These Brushes Are For
- Bright-Flat ferrule, short-length hairs, usually set in a long handle. Width and length of brush head is about equal. Useful for short, controlled strokes, and with thick or heavy color. For oil and acrylic.
- Fan-Flat ferrule, spread hairs. Natural hair is more suitable for soft blending, and synthetic works well for textural effects. Useful for smoothing and blending, special effects and textures. For oil and acrylic.
- Filbert-Thick, flat ferrule and oval-shaped medium to long hairs. Long handles. Natural hair is more suitable for blending because the hairs hold together when wet. With its soft rounded edges, the filbert is suitable for blending and figurative work. For oil and acrylic.
- Flat-Thick, flat ferrule and oval-shaped medium to long hairs. Long handles. Natural hair is more suitable for blending because the hairs hold together when wet. With its soft rounded edges, the filbert is suitable for blending and figurative work. For oil and acrylic.
- Round-Round ferrule, round or pointed tip. Useful for detail, wash, fills, and thin to thick lines. A pointed round is used for fine detail. A detailer is a pointed round with very short hair. For all painting media.
There are many other types of specialty brushes such as angular, mop, hake, rigger, quill, sash etc. For the art student, a selection of the basic brushes listed above in different sizes is perfect. I like to have one set for oil/acrylic paintings and a separate set for watercolors.
Now you know the basics about artist brushes. Experiment with the different styles and fibers to see what works for you. Check out our art supply resource list for online suppliers. There will be a lot more detail about the various brush descriptions on these websites.