One of the most important things I use in my daily art practice is paint brushes. I have hundreds of them, all different brands, types and for different media. Here’s a breakdown on brushes.
First, a paint brush is made up of parts. These parts have a name. There is the handle, which you use to hold the brush. The crimp is next, which is the part of the ferrule that attaches to the handle. The ferrule is the metal piece which holds both the bristles and the handle together. Where the bristles leave the ferrule is called the heel. The middle part of the bristles is called the belly and the tip is called the toe. The part you paint with is called the brush head or tuft (or bristles, hair or filament which refers to the actual material which makes up the brush head). The bristles are made up of different materials. The type of bristle you need depends upon the type of paint you’re using. The bristles may be natural hair, synthetic, or a combination of both.
Natural bristles are made from some sort of animal hair. That could be hog, badger, or even Kolinsky sable (which is actually from the tail of a specific type of mink). These brushes are wonderful for watercolor and oil painting. The rougher, stronger natural bristles work well for oils and the softer, more pliable bristles are perfect for watercolors. There are some who feel the use of animal hair is unethical and for them synthetic filament is the best choice. I will tell you, if you take care of your watercolor brushes they will last a lifetime. The better quality ones will last more than your life time and can be passed down to the next generation.
Hog hair bristle brushes are used for both oil and acrylics. The reason you need firm brushes is because both oil and acrylic paints are dense and heavy to move around on your canvas. They can be thinned, of course, and often are. Nevertheless, I find for my own acrylic painting, I prefer the firmest filament I can get.
Synthetic brushes, whether nylon or polyester, are my preferred choice for acrylic painting. Again, I use the firmest brushes I can get. The synthetic bristles hold up better to solvents and paint, they clean up easier than natural filament brushes, they are stronger and have less breakage of the bristles. If you are an acrylic painter, consider your brushes a consumable. No matter how well you clean them and take care of them, they will wear out. You cannot prevent this because it is the nature of the paint itself. The paint actually turns into a plastic once dry, which means your brushes are subjected to some pretty intense stuff. My favorite brushes for acrylic painting are the Simply Simmons Extra-Firm. They are inexpensive, last a long time, and give me great results.
Now on to brush types:
- Round. This is a brush which should come to a fine point. You can use it to make both thick and thin lines. The ferrule is round.
- Detail Round. Best for precise strokes and details. Fine tip on round brush.
- Script Liner. The length of the bristles is long which gives you great control for scrolls, letters, lines, etc. It holds more paint than a liner brush. Long, pointed tip.
- Liner. Used for details, continuous curves and straight lines. Fine, pointed tip.
- Flat/Shader. Used for blocking in color, shading, blending, highlighting, and stroke work. Square tip.
- Bright. My most used paint brush by far. This is a brush with bristles like a flat, only shorter. I use this brush for everything when I am using acrylics and love it. I have many brights in all sizes.
- Angled Flat/Shader. This is a bristle which is cut on an angle. Great for painting petals of flowers, tight shading, and curving strokes. I also use angles quite a bit.
- Filbert. I find this brush to be one of the most versatile brushes I have. I can do just about anything with a filbert. It is a flat brush with an arched tip. Very useful for me in my art practice.
- Spotter. Used for fine details. Small, pointed round brush.
- Fan brush. This brush looks like a fan at the end of your ferrule. I use mine for spattering in night skys, for creating texture and foliage in watercolors, but little else. And to be honest I could do all those things without a fan brush at all. I rarely use this one.
- Rigger or Dagger. This is a flat brush which has a curved angle, unlike the angled brush which is a straight across the top of the bristles angle. It looks like the blade of a dagger-hence the name. I have one and I really like it. It produces consistent lines with little effort. I have been considering purchasing more of these brushes in various sizes.
- Wash or Mop. This brush is essential for watercolors. I also use the larger wash brushes in acrylic painting for covering large areas and for my backgrounds.
- Tight Spot brush. This is a fine point round on a bent ferrule. This works for getting your brush into tight spots. I have two and have only used one once.
- Cat’s Tongue. Very versatile brush. Can behave as three brushes in one. You have curved-to-the-center point which is great for lines and details, the sides for medium strokes similar to a flat or bright, and the width of the bristles for washes and filling in larger areas of color. I have a cat’s tongue in my watercolor brushes and I love it!
There are other brushes for other types of painting. For example there are Sumi brushes, decorative painting brushes, stencil brushes, lettering brushes, water brushes…pretty much every type of art has it’s own type of brushes.
If you paint with more than one medium, keep your brushes separate. My watercolor brushes are kept apart from my acrylic brushes. Acrylic paints are going to destroy your brushes, no matter what, so don’t use your watercolor brushes with them. If you do, that brush has become an acrylic paint brush from that point onward. You can use your acrylic paintbrushes with your watercolors, but not the other way around. Watercolor will not damage an acrylic paint brush.
I am willing to spend some money on watercolor brushes-because they will last a lifetime- I am careful to take care of them. They have their own storage container, and the expensive ones have their own, more protected, storage. My best watercolor brushes are Mimik Kolinsky and Silver Black Velvet brushes. But there are others I like as well, which are not nearly as expensive. I really like the Master’s Touch from Hobby Lobby, the Zen brushes from Royal and Langnickle, and the Princeton Neptune brushes.
Think about the type of handle your brush has. I find resin handles don’t wear but wood handles can. And if you tend to leave your brushes in water for any length of time (a no-no!) you need the resin handles. Wood handled brushes will be shot very quickly if left in water.
To clean your brushes, use a good quality brush cleaner. I use The Masters brush cleaner and preserver. I have had this tub of cleaner for a couple of years. I wet the acrylic brush ( after rinsing it as clean as possible) and swirl it in the cleaner-which is a hard cake. Then I work the soap carefully into the bristles, lathering them up well. I rinse the brush in clean water and reshape the bristles to their original shape. I let my brushes dry flat on a fake chamois cloth from Dollar Tree. (Later I will explain how to repair a “popped” brush.) You can use brush cleaner on your watercolor brushes if you choose, but I don’t. It’s watercolor and I rinse them out very well after each use.