When you’re painting, you should use the shape and size of your brushes to help you make the marks you need for your subject. The right brush will help you paint confident grass blades or strong tree trunks.

Before you start, take a little while to see what kind of marks your brushes make. The minimum you need will be a wide flat brush and a round brush. It’s best to have a few different sizes.

Trying out brush marks

It’s really useful to know the full range of marks you can make with the different brushes that you own. Use each of your paint brushes brush to make ‘samplers’ of marks:

  • Vary the width, direction and pressure of your brush marks
  • Twist and turn your wrist to achieve flicks and variety of line
  • Use the tip, side and heel (the bottom of the fibres near the handle)
Flat brush marks

Flat brush marks

Round brush marks

Round brush marks

Useful for: Finding out what marks are suitable for the different objects and subjects that you paint. When you think you have found a mark that might suit a particular subject try it out.

Some brush mark-making for particular subject examples

Use the tip of a wide flat brush to make angular tree branches:

Tree

Use a round brush to make confident strokes that use a flick and a decrease in pressure at the end to give a ‘grass blade’ mark.

Grass blades painted with a round brush

Dry brush

If you load your brush with paint and then blot it so that the bristles are dry but still contain pigment, you can get some great ‘textural’ effects. You probably already know what it feels like for the brush to run dry as you are trying to paint something smooth and crisp, but dry brush effects can be very useful. For example, painting the sparkling light on the surface of water.

It’s useful to keep a spare piece of paper to practice this when working on a painting so you learn how much water, colour and blotting you need for a particular effect before you apply it to a painting you are working on.

Dry brush

Water painted using dry brush marks

Spattering and splattering

Another useful textural effect can be achieved by flicking paint with a paintbrush or toothbrush.

Spattering

  • Mask off an area of paper so that the paint will only go where it’s intended
  • Mix up some paint with some water, keeping it saturated with colour yet liquid (so not too watery). This  is easier with tube paint than pan paint and it’s helpful to have a little receptacle to hold the paint rather than it laying on a flat palette
  • Use a brush or rubber tip colour shaper or something similar to pick up the paint and then tap it down on the edge of your hand over the paper so that the drops fly off randomly onto it. Practice first so you can get an idea about where the drops will fall
  • Vary height and direction to see the different effects you can get
  • Repeat with different colours over dry paint and wet paint

Spattering paint

Useful for: Decorative effects, and natural landscape and seascape effects such as sea spray and plants

Splattering

Follow the steps above, but use a brush loaded with paint and flick the bristles back to launch a spray of small droplets onto the paper.
As above, practice varying brush size, height, direction and on wet and dry paint.

Splattering paint

Useful for: Decorative effects, and natural landscape and seascape effects such as sea spray and plants

Blowing and dripping paint

Using a straw to blow excess wet paint around with a straw or tipping the paper upright and allowing it to drip can give dramatic and decorative effects.

  • Mix some paint until very liquid but well pigmented and paint it onto your paper
  • Blow onto the paint with a straw to send trails of paint across the page
  • It can take a bit of effort, if it’s not working, use a brush to introduce extra wet paint into the lip of the paint on the paper that you are blowing into so there’s more chance of a ‘drip’ forming
  • You can tilt the paper (on a drawing board) to increase the chances of drips forming and flowing in the direction you want them to go
  • If it’s too tough to blow through a straw, use a hairdryer

Blowing paint with straws

Useful for: Backgrounds. decorative and abstract effects

Experiment!

There are many more ways of applying paint to achieve different effects and textures. printing, scratching into the paper before painting, applying the paint with different things (sponges, toothbrushes, twigs, plastic, cardboard). Have a play and see what effects you get!

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