So you’re ready to dive headlong into painting? Time to learn about different brushes and what they do! It’s been a long time since I had to shop for brushes, so I had to do a little research re-fresher (as well as look at my own brushes – many have held up well, as I still use them every now and then)
Artist paintbrushes are made up of three main parts: the bristles themselves, ferrules, the metal casing that binds the bristles together, and the handle. Handles are mainly wood but I’ve owned a few made of plastic, which I wouldn’t recommend professionally. They are great “starter brushes” and may work well for small-scale projects such as painting a wall hanging, tole painting, or stencil work.
Animal hair vs synthetic?
Every pro I’ve spoken with says that natural/animal hair bristles are the best choice (the animal in question is usually horse or wild boar- maybe more than you wanted to know, but yes, real animal coat) I’ve owned both, this choice is up to you but a lot of the time it’s important that new brushes have two things going for them: the bristles have a certain stiffness to them, and that the bristles themselves are not likely to separate and leave stragglers behind. This can be super annoying – make sure the surrounding ferrules are secure and well made too.
Hopefully I didn’t “split hairs” too much here LOL! It’s tempting to want to go for the best deal on brushes, but you’ll thank me later when you’re proud to say that you’ve got the same set of brushes 20 years later that have held up like gangbusters. Of course, I’m not perfect, I’ve had some hits or misses, some that were exceptionally good and some that were worthless.
The Main Brush Shapes and Types Used By Artists
These are the main types and sizes of brushes used: They also have a sizing system and many times you’ll see the size on the handle somewhere. There is a “#” symbol next to the size, which is usually a single digit, e.g. $2, #4, #8 and so forth.
- Liner brush – A long skinny brush made for fine detail. They often come with a skinny tube-shaped cap to keep the bristles neat and intact when not in use.
- Fan -Pretty much looks like it’s name. The spread-out bristles help with things that require subtlety in painting, like clouds and shrubbery.
- Flat – A wide bristle brush (there are size variances) used to fill in large areas.
- Filbert – A wider brush much like the flat one above, only with rounded-off edges. Used in blending work often.
- Round – Although narrow-looking, round brushes look like their name when examined close-up, they have a tapered design and made to fill in small spaces.
Are Oil and Acrylic Brushes Similar? What About Watercolors?
Yes, you need the same quality brushes and the size types above for oils and acrylics.
It’s been awhile since I painted with watercolors, but what I do remember is that watercolor brushes tend to be softer bristle. Coarse bristles will have a negative affect on watercolor paint’s more thin and delicate appearance (Meaning that they would leave ridges or bristle marks that would be obvious.) Also, the use of sponges is kind of common, sometimes with the “wet/dry” technique.
This may go without saying, but it is a good idea to keep your brush sets separate if you divide your time between oil-based and water-based paints. You will be using different solutions for cleaning and if any residue is left it could cause problems for the next project. The important part is regardless of what solution you are using (water, solvent, etc.) only fill your jar a few inches full as only the bristles need to get cleaned, if the handles are exposed too long in liquid it is not good for them and could cause the casing around them to flake off.
After cleaning them give them an ever-so-slight smoothing, and then store them upright or flat down, such as in a roll-up carry case. I wish I had one of these carrying cases ; I used to own a plastic long tube that had a few ventilation holes on each end, which was nice and secure. Brushes that get a lot of use do need to be exposed to some air and not confined.
Try to purchase paintbrushes separately; the “paintbrush sets” are best for home projects, crafts, what have you….but not so much “professional art” It is always going to be more expensive to replace brushes frequently that are problematic than it is to get a good number of them the first time around! Most of the time a professional-grade set is going to have no more than 5 included…not a dozen or 20.
Be aware that when a listing says for a paintbrush set “suitable for all mediums”….do your homework first because as I said earlier, not all brushes are created equal 🙂
Image Credit: Photo Courtesy of Lotus Head