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Artist's Brushes

Artist's Brushes

Often when I teach an art class, the question about what brushes to use for which type of painting or technique comes up.

So here is a run down on the brushes I prefer and have used

If you are a Watercolourist you will find that Sable brushes will work best for you, these natural hair brushes hold the water and 'bellies' out whilst having a good snap & spring. If you like to 'draw' with your watercolour, these types of brushes will taper to a fine point- they are very popular for expressive watercolourists as well as botanical painters. You can also use a sable/nylon mix where you get the benefit of both worlds in that the Sable will retain the liquid and flow onto the paper when pressure is applied and the nylon will give real control, indeed the snap of nylon is sometimes preferred to the more gentle snap from sable. It is also a cheaper option to pure sable.

You can also use Sable for oil painting depending on what effect you require, if you wish to see the brush strokes then a bristle brush whether synthetic or hog hair will have the right firmness for that. Nylon or synthetic type brushes go somewhere in between, giving that smoother finish but also flexibility and strength to move the paint around easier, especially if you use an impasto technique.

The main factor for the long life of oil brushes is maintenance & cleaning out the pigment which tends to collect in the belly of the brush (more in questions and answers section).

These days I paint mainly in acrylic and have a favourite range of nylon brushes I prefer to use. The nylon brushes are really firm, they keep a good shape and they clean out really well.  They don’t leave brush marks like a bristle brush does, which is what I prefer for my art.

TYPES OF BRUSHES

  • FILBERT - a filbert is a narrow, flat brush with hairs that come to a rounded point lie a fingernail would normally look like. Used on its side, a filbert gives a thin line; used flat it produces a broad brush stroke; and by varying the pressure as you apply the brush to canvas, or flicking it across, you can get a tapering mark.
  • FLAT - a flat brush is just that, flat! The bristles are arranged so the brush is quite wide but not very thick. The length of the bristles can vary, with some flat brushes having long and some very short bristles. (The latter is also called a square brush.) When buying a flat brush, look for one where the bristles have a spring to them, or snap back when you bend them gently.
    A flat brush creates a broad brushstroke which is useful for getting an edge together with a large area filled in. If you turn it onto its narrow edge, it'll produce thin brushstrokes. A short flat brush is ideal for small or precise brush-marks.
  • ROUND - A round paint brush is considered the most traditional brush shape, and what most people think is an "art paint brush". A decent round brush will come to a lovely sharp point, enabling you to paint fine lines and detail with it. Look for one that's got a good spring in the bristles, where they snap straight when you take the pressure off the brush.
  • OTHER – Fan brushes are good for blending as well as creating plant effects; I find them good for ponga or palm trees, or blending water effects. There is a Mop brush which as the name "mop" suggests, a mop brush is one that'll hold a large quantity of fluid paint. It's soft and floppy which is ideal for large watercolour washes, I wouldn’t recommend it for anything else though as its hard to clean up and a little difficult to control for anything else. And last but not least you have a Rigger, a rigger or liner brush is a thin brush with extremely long bristles. These may come to a sharp point, have a flat or square tip, or be angled. Rigger brushes are great for producing fine lines with a consistent width, making them ideal for painting thin branches on trees, boat masts, or cat's whiskers. They're also good for signing your name on a painting.

LOOKING AFTER YOUR BRUSHES.

Proper use, together with correct care and cleaning will ensure your brushes have a longer life span.

Storing your brushes - always keep your brushes aired so they don’t go mouldy. And whenever possible, in an upright position, never on their tips unless you want them to look like and paint like a fan.

Its best to try and keep handles dry, to prevent them from loosening and cracking. When you dip the head into water, try to keep the water level below the crimping and only wet the ferrule. What is a ferrule you ask? Well it is the metal part of a paintbrush that holds the bristles to the handle.

Always clean a good quality brush thoroughly after each painting session. If working in watercolour, rinse in cold water. Remove as much moisture as possible with kitchen roll and reshape before storing. If you need to transport your brushes around try using a bamboo brush roll. This not only keeps brushes secure and prevents damage to brush heads, but also allows for air ventilation.

Oil and acrylic paint is less easy to remove from the belly of the brush head.  There are some excellent cleansers available for both types of paint! I prefer using the brush soaps that are available, like Da Vinci brand. It also works well for removing dried paint and for those marks you left on the tablecloth or clothing. As an alternative, washing up liquid or a cream cleanser (found in the bathroom) are good or a good quality hand degreasing agent - usually used by mechanics for washing their hands is excellent. To store good quality oil brushes, it is recommended you reshape and apply Linseed Oil or Pure Almond Oil etc, but you will need to cleanse before next use.

OTHER TIPS

• Always have a set of brushes for each medium you use. It is false economy to use the same brushes for all applications. 'Crossing over' from one medium to another can prove expensive and disastrous when contamination occurs.

• Never use your brushes for mixing paint, use a palette knife for that. Paint can work its way up into the ferrule where it’s hard to get out again and it will then ruin the brush.

Posted: Thursday 7 January 2010

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