When you go shopping for supplies, are you confused when it comes to choosing brushes for acrylics? I know I was, There were so many types and styles.I first got started with private lessons in the early 90s (as a teenager) and a lot of what I was told about brushes kind of went over my head – at first.
But that was a long time ago, however I still retained the knowledge I had to understand and identify different brushes, what each type does and what its best for, as well as the issue of choosing brushes based on what kind of bristle hair. So without further ado let’s dive in to the nitty gritty of brushes.
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Let’s start with the anatomy of a brush up close. All of them have these four major parts:
The anatomy of an artist brush is as follows:
Handle – Can be wood or plastic. Most of the ones I own are wood with an outer casing.
Crimp – The part where the ferrule is secured to the handle
Ferrule – The metal part that holds the bristles together
Bristles – Can be synthetic or animal hair
As a general rule, animal hair bristles tend to be more expensive. The creme de la creme, as far as that goes, is Kolinsky sable – This prime quality bristle is made from the coat of an animal native to Siberia – no doubt in that harsh climate it’s got to have a thick coat to survive, which is why so many artists prize this type of bristle. Other animal coats bristles, though, do make for quality brushes.
Cost notwithstanding, I like synthetic over natural hair for acrylics, as they tend to be less coarse, they don’t leave as many brush marks behind, and due to the fact that acrylic paint is highly alkaline, it doesn’t have natural oils that will organically keep the bristles supple as oil paints have.
Look for Nylon and “Taklon” bristles, as they have just the right kind of “snapback”.
Brushes also have a numbered sizing system. If you look at a typical paintbrush you can see a number on the handle, along with the brand name and type. There is a size range that runs from from 0 – 14. “0” is the smallest and 14 is the largest. Flat brushes have a single number and round brushes, including liners, have the size written on the handle as a fraction – e.g “10/0”, “2/0”, etc.
Don’t think you have to get one in every size and shape, it is best to start with the main bristle types and pick out a few.
I also like to have different bristle shapes – round, flat and a few liners, mainly. The brush ferrules are respectively shaped in these major types. Now let’s have a look at the main types of bristle shapes
Round brushes get their name as they are cylindrical in appearance if you look closely. They are good for small details, especially thin-to-thick – some shading and creating blends.
You’ll want to have three or four of these on hand as they will always have a use. The image you saw earlier with the anatomy labeled, is an example of a round brush.
I used to refer to these as “square” but they are called flat as this is how they are designed. Flat brushes are made for color blocking and larger details. It’s good to have at least three or four of these in varying sizes for your “main” colors. , backgrounds like the sky or trees and shrubbery, etc., just to give an example. In the image below you can see examples of flat brushes, brush sizes, also notice the number on the handle indicating its size.
Flat brushes come in these major types:
The angled flat brush…notice how the bristles are longer on one side which assists with various blending strategies. It will let you create emphasis on one part of the detail as you work. Angled brushes come in various sizes, this one I’m showing here is on the medium range.
Another well-known style of flat brush is the Filbert, which is characterized by its rounded corners. Filberts are used for contoured soft blending, for subject matter like clouds in the sky and tree foliage.
Shaders have perfectly straight bristles. Ideal for color blocking.I use a large 10 size one for large swaths of backgrounds like skies and sunsets, and smaller ones for little elements.
A liner is a brush with a round ferrule with narrow bristles that come to a point, you should have at least one of these on hand. It will enable you to craft fine details on your pictures or projects, and it’s especially necessary for applying your signature.
I usually keep about 4-5 of these nearby. Some of them are very dainty. Notice how the size I have here is 10/0.
In my experience the liner is very essential. There are some that have very long bristles – I was taught that these are to dip in “inky” paint mixes. but it’s the hardest to keep clean and in shape.
I have several of these fan brushes, they are made for intricate blending, They pretty much look like their name – a fanned out bristle design. I always watched Bob Ross on the Joy of Painting use these for things like tree foliage. You may only need one of these – they do come in a few sizes though. If you plan to focus mainly on craft painting, you may not need one of these at all.
The fan brush will have semi-regular use, but will come in handy for certain details.
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A mop brush is kind of reminiscent of a makeup brush used to apply blusher – kind of fluffy in appearance. In my opinion, you probably won’t need one of these, as they’re mainly used in watercolor washes. They could help you to apply some special effects – but I’ve found you can do that easily with a sponge applicator.
I used to have one but not sure what happened to it…It is very hard to keep clean as it’s a highly porous brush (no surprise there with a name like “mop”.)
If you happen to use makeup, you could always use one of your brushes (the kind used for applying blusher) in a pinch, as the shape is just about close to the artists’ variety.
Not to mention, makeup brushes are made with synthetic hair, so they would work out perfectly .
Now that I have de-mystified paintbrushes and their different styles and shapes, you should have a much easier time picking out some that will suit your intended purposes. At that point your next step will be choosing a good catch-all with which to store them in properly, which I will go over in this post. Be sure to check that article out as it will cover the best ways to keep your collection in tip top shape.
Hope you will find this article useful, and that I have helped you to “brush” up on your tools!