I sometimes get asked about the brushes I use, so I thought I’d write a post about them. I have to say first however, that every painter will feel differently about their brushes, and every brush has a different feel depending on what paint is used and what surface is painted on.
As with wands in the Harry Potter universe, I think sometimes it’s a case of the brush chooses the artist, the artist doesn’t choose the brush!
In this post I’m going to talk about the brushes I like using for acrylic and oil painting.
Brushes come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to test out what different marks these different brushes can help you to make.
Each brush type (and there are many more than those shown below, which just happen to be my favourites) is available in a range of sizes.
Among the different brush types available are:
- Flat brushes – good for coverage and straight lines
- Filbert brushes – similar to a flat brush bur with rounded edges, filberts work well with tapering curves and are good for portraiture.
- Round brushes – these brushes are good for general purpose painting and detail
- Sword or dagger brushes – good for sweeping, tapering lines, for grasses, trees and hair
You should test your brushes out to see what kind of marks the brushes make, using the width of the bristles, the top of the bristles, the side of the bristles, the corner of the bristles, even the heel of the bristles.
I like to use Hog brushes with oil paints.
When I first started oil painting I only used hog brushes. These are tough, sturdy and require pressure to apply the paint, which is useful for expressive painting with a bit of push. You can apply paint thickly or thinly. The disadvantage as these brushes age is that you don’t achieve crisp edges to your strokes, as the bristles can become frayed. Although hog brushes are great for most of your painting, there may be occasions where you need more control over fine marks.
Good for: Juicy mark-making, coverage, more rough textures canvases, or smooth surfaces if you want to see the brush marks
Not so good for: detail
As brushes age: brushes can fray, splay or become misshapen. The bristles may also shorten. Sometimes this can be useful for painting texture nd special effects, so keep hold of your aging brushes!
Impasto brushes are stiff, synthetic brushes with a bit of spring.
I didn’t enjoy painting with acrylic for a long time. I felt the paint was too heavy for the brush and I was confused by how to pull and push it around the canvas with any control. I was using quite a toothy canvas.
It all became a lot easier when I was introduced to impasto brushes, which, as they are quite stiff, allowed me to take back control of the weight of the paint and allow for expressive mark making with a good load of paint.
Good for: putting paint onto a rougher canvas, putting paint on thickly, expressive marks, coverage
Not so good for: fine control and edges
White brushes are a synthetic alternative to hog brushes and have similar properties to hog when applying paint. They don’t splay or fray as easily and keep their shape. I prefer using them with acrylic paints, a synthetic paint seems to suit a synthetic brush, but I know lots of artists who enjoy using white brushes with oils.
Good for: multipurpose use
Not so good for: fine blending
Synthetics and sables
I only recently started to use softer brushes in my paintings.
Softer brushes are not good for putting paint on thickly, and are labour intensive for putting on large areas of paint (though this depends on your painting style).
I have discovered that they are very useful for areas where you need tight control and sharp edges or very fine blending.
Used dry, sable brushes are great for feathering and blending colours together.
Good for: detail, blending
Not so good for: coverage
The key to looking after your acrylic brushes is not letting the paint dry on the bristles, so depending on how long you spend painting, you may need to give your brushes a thorough clean part way through your working day as paint can collect and dry at the base of the bristles. Once it dries, it turns to plastic which cannot be reactivated and is hard to remove.
You may need to stand your brushes in water while working so the paint doesn’t dry on them.
When you’ve finished painting, wipe the excess paint from your brushes, then wash them with soap and warm water and rinse thoroughly.
Oil brushes need a good wipe clean and a swish around in some artist quality solvent cleaner before another wipe and a wash and a rinse in soapy water.