Jul 8, 2009

What Every Artist Needs To Know About Brushes!

Lets look at some common brush shapes and facts for fine artists and decoratvie artists.

As artists we need to know all about the products we use, brushes should represent a painter’s major investment because they are our tools that help us put the paint in the right places. Knowing all about brushes can help the painter save money and precious time not to mention a lot of frustration. It is good to know the different types and sizes and which are better suited for particular techniques than others. Unfortunately you can't use one type of brush for all the different painting mediums. You will need a set for of brushes for Watercolor paints and a different set for your Oil and Acrylic work. Buying brushes gets quite personal, with so many styles and shapes to choose from. You need to understand which brush will fit your need and then go from there.

There are so many brands to choose from. There different grades too, you can find a “student” grade of brush for a lot less money than a “professional” grade brush. It all depends on the manufacturer. Some make “hand cupped” brushes with the highest quality hair with beautiful kiln dried handles, while others use machines to mass produce their brushes. You need to look for these things when making your choice:
*Does the brush have the ability to form a sharp point or chisel edge?
*Does the brush have elasticity of the hair; will it bounce back to its original shape after each stroke, sometimes referred to as the spring or snap of the brush?
*Does the brush have the ability to control the paint flow, will it be able to hold and dispense the paint as expected?
* Have the handles been hand crafted and kiln-dried for durability? Wood is the most common handle and plastic acrylic handles are used on many watercolor brushes. An easy way to see if the brush is well made is to hold it out for balance. Precision handles will balance on your finger regardless of the size
* Do they have “seamless" metal ferrules, to provide safe, long lasting, and water-resistant beauty? The ferrules on the best brushes are made of seamless brass, copper or nickel plated for protection from corrosion. Generally the longer the ferrule, the better the holding capacity on the handle, hence a stronger and a higher quality brush.
You cannot paint a masterpiece with cheap or worn out brushes; it would be like a surgeon doing surgery with kitchen knives. I have told my students for many years to buy the best you can afford and take care of them, don’t waste money on cheap brushes.
What are the differences in long and short handle brushes?
Traditionally an oil or acrylic painter stands or sits at a distance from the canvas and paints with a long handle brush on a
vertical easel The decorative painter or watercolorist sits and paints much closer on a horizontal surface, using a short handle brush.
Watercolorists usually use the softer brushes like sable. While the oil and acrylic easel painters will use hog bristles plus the sable and synthetic brushes.
Decorative artists and crafters usually use short handled brushes as they sit while they are painting. The brushes they use come in a large variety of shapes and often you will see that they call them different names, a flat brush is a “shader’ and a bright brush is a “Chisel blender”.
Elements of a Brush
Let’s get started with the elements of a brush. We know that a brush is made up of a handle, a ferrule and some hairs. The handle can be made of wood or plastic and some are ergonomically designed for ease in handling. The length can be really short to really long which is ideal for canvas painting. When choosing a brush make sure it balanced in your hand. You're going to be using it a lot, so it needs to be comfortable to hold.
The ferrule is the metal part that holds the hairs in place. The hairs can be synthetic or natural. It's usually made from metal; a good quality ferrule won't rust or come loose.

Shapes of Brushes
We have two distinct shapes; a flat and a round. Flat just means that the brushes have a flat ferrule and a round one has a round ferrule.
There are three types of hair or filament that is used in the bushes, synthetic, natural and synthetic blends.
Decorative artists use the synthetic and blends with the bottled acrylic paints. They are very durable and have an exceptional spring. They are very absorbent and the chisel edge can be maintained with regular care. They are great performers on any surface that the artist chooses to paint on. They come in many sizes and thickness and best of all they are very affordable.
The synthetic blends are also popular for the decorative artist; these contain natural and synthetic hairs. They are usually more absorbent and are more durable. These can be used in just about any medium and again they are very affordable.
Fine artists usually prefer the natural and or hog bristles.
What natural hairs are used in paint brushes?
Natural hair comes from sable, camel, mongoose, and squirrel. Oil painters like to use natural brushes because these are much softer and more absorbent than the pure synthetic or blends. Sable and Mongoose brushes are the very most expensive brushes you can buy; these are soft brushes that generally will give your painting a very soft, smooth appearance. They are great for blending. They are often used for the finishing and detail work. Today we can buy synthetic brushes made of nylon that are excellent substitutes for real sable. They are more durable and cheaper than sable. The ultimate soft brush is made from the hairs on the tail of a sable marten; these taper naturally, so when they're put into a brush they form a point. Sable brushes are expensive, but are distinguished by their softness, flexibility, and fine point. Kolinsky sable from Siberia has usually been considered the best hair for watercolor brushes.
Cheaper than sable, squirrel is a soft hair with little spring. Larger squirrel brushes work better than smaller ones because the mass of hairs together gives them support.
There is not brush that is really made out of Camel they are are really made from other types of soft hair.
Natural bristles come from ox, horses and hogs and they are a lot stiffer. Their strength and sturdiness means they can be used in heavy media like oils over rough surfaces. The stiffness of bristle brushes can make it easier to work with pushing the paint around. These can range from affordable to expensive. You can often work well with both synthetic and natural fiber brushes in oils as there are so many different types of brush strokes with oil painting. The ultimate hard brush is made from the hairs on the back of a pig they are strong yet springy. The bristles have natural split-ends, which increases the amount of paint they hold. These are used mainly for oils and acrylics. Ox hair is long, springy and strong. Pony is very coarse hair that won’t form a good point this is often used in cheaper brushes. Goat hair lacks the spring but will form a good point; it is used in Chinese Brush painting and calligraphy.
Understanding Size Numbers
On your brush you will see 1/8", 1/4", 1/2", etc.; this refers to the width of a brush in standard measurement.
You may see also a number like: #16F, this refers to the width in millimeters. Unfortunately ferrules sizes vary in sizing from one country to another there is no standardization in sizing so you may see that a # 14 brush from one company is not the same size from another company.
What the letters mean?
A Angular
B Bright
D Dagger
DF Deerfoot
F Flat
FN Fan
FIL Filbert
FW Flat Wash
R Round
SL Script Liner
There are basically five shapes that artists generally refer to, however today we have many “specialty” brushes to choose from which the decorative artists use.


These are similar in shape to flat brushes only the hairs are shorter and they have less spring. If you want to paint short controlled strokes these are for you. They will not hold as much paint as a flat brush but you have more control in tight areas with a Bright. These won’t hold enough paint for doing flowing strokes but they are very good for cleaning up messy edges and blending paint.


This is similar to the flat brush but the edge is rounded, sometimes it is called a “Cat’s Tongue” which actually is a shorter version of a filbert. They come in medium to long lengths. They have a great chisel edge and give you more control than a bright. The filbert is considered the brush for advanced artists. It can be used in place of flats for broad coverage and in place of rounds for detail work by turning the filbert on its side. This reduces the requirement for the artist having to stop and switch brushes to achieve different effects. The extra long filberts are capable of carrying a large volume of water allowing for the greatest variation in stroke width. These brushes are the most flexible of the artists brushes, but are the most difficult to master.
They are great for blending and abstract work and base coating because the shape of the hairs eliminates ridges. You can side-load this brush in the same way you do to a flat brush to create shades and highlights. Because they can hold a good amount of water it is great for applying washes. It is really an outstanding brush when you need to paint flower petals, leaves and bird feathers!


This brush is not appropriate for holding paint; it is shaped like a flat fan. It is generally used for specialty effects and blending. This is a flat brush with bristles fanning out. Use it dry for scumbling and blending. Use it wet to create textures. It can create a fine wood texture by dragging it through wet paint.

These artist paint brushes come in many sizes; the smallest being a 20/0 with # 10 being the largest. They hold a nice amount of paint and are great for making thin or thick lines and detail work. They are also good for washes and detailed work. They will not create hard straight edges. A good quality sable type round should come to a needle point when wet and maintain its shape in use.

These have a wide square end with medium to long hairs. They have a lot of spring and can hold a lot of paint. They are great for broad sweeping strokes, turning it on its edge will create a fine line. They are best for the earlier stages of your painting when you are blocking in large areas. Decorative artists use these for base coating, stroke work, floating, blending, washes and varnishing. The flat with the shortest length of hair are called bights or chisel blenders. The second length out are called flats or shaders and the longest length out are called stroke brushes. The longer hair allows more paint to be carried lengthening the stroke. Pressing down on the surface widens the stroke. The shorter hair in brights allows for greater control. Flats are used for coverage. Sable flats should maintain a razor sharp edge.

Mop Brush

This brush is designed to gently blend and soften the edges. You can blur your paint with a light touch and soften a hard floated edge. They are used to apply large washes for watercolor artists. These come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are usually very soft.


This is simply a Flat with an angular chisel brush tip. It will hold less paint and water. It is used mostly for floating and tight shading and highlighting. It is especially good for getting into those little nooks and crannies. These brushes have an angled edge and are popular in decorative painting in short handles. They are also popular for painting on large canvases. The artist can paint flat while holding the brush at an angle.

Script Liner

These are actually part of the Round family of artist paint brushes. These come in different lengths and thickness.
They range in size from 18/0 to #8. The longer the hairs the more paint and water the brush will hold. A regular liner has shorter hairs than a Script liner.
A short liner is best for things like eyelashes while the longer scrolller is best for beautiful flowing scroll work for tree branches and fence wire in landscapes and many other fine lines uses. This brush is also called a rigger. This is the perfect brush for the artist’s signature!

These stiff brushes are used for creating texture, fur and foliage and stenciling. You will use this brush dry and the amount of pressure you apply during the pouncing or stippling will establish the general look and color of your finished product. The hair for this brush is usually chopped hog bristle. This gives it a very stiff blunt tip.

Deerfoot Stippler
The deer foot stippler is also a great brush to create texture with. It is an excellent brush to use to paint clouds with and to pounce on the paint in dry brush technique to simulate flowers, pods, grass, hair and texture.
The bristles on the heel are short and long on the toe, making it look like a deer’s foot. Be sure to choose a deerfoot that has a lot of texture in its bristles over one that's stiff and precisely formed.

Dagger Stripper

This brush is like a filbert with half of its bristles missing. They are really great brushes to use for ribbons and stripes. Decorative artists like these for single stroke petals and leaves.
Taking Care of your Investment

Cleaning your brushes after using oils
Natural Hair Brushes
Now you have purchased your brushes and you need to know how to care for them.
First you will wipe off any excess oil paint using a cloth or soft tissue. To remove the paint from the brush gently squeeze the bristles from the ferrule edge outwards with your fingers, or with a cloth. Be careful to avoid pulling on the bristles.

1. Next rinse the brush in Turpenoid a natural safe brush cleaner, and then wipe it on an old towel or T-shirt rag. These rags do not disturb or stress the sable hairs as much as harder surfaces such as paper towels. Gently squeeze the brush with a clean rag. This absorbs the soiled liquid from the bristles and completes the initial cleaning stage. Now it is time to do a sudsy wash.
2. Place your Shining Feather Soft Scrub Brush Basin in the sink, Fill the small compartment with water and a little bit Castile liquid soap and gently swish your brush back and forth across the cleaning bristles in the bottom of the basin removing most of the paint and Turpenoid.
3. Now let the water run into the largest compartment and while doing so run the brush over the cleaning bristles. Repeat this until you can squeeze the brush at the base of the ferrule and no color comes out.
4. I like to use some Lanolin or Lard oil on my sable brushes to replace the natural oils from the animals. This keeps my brushes in good condition.
5. When complete, blot with a clean, soft cloth and reshape the brush tip. Rounds are especially susceptible to split tips, so this shaping step is important. If necessary, wrap the bristles in a piece of tissue or toilet paper while the brush is still wet. When the paper dries it'll contract, pulling the bristles into shape. Lay the brush flat or hang it from the handle but do not set it up right to dry as the water will drain into the ferrule and loosen the glue. Make sure that nothing is pushing on the bristles bending them out of shape.

Synthetic Brushes
Never use Turpentine with synthetic brushes as it may soften and melt the polyester fibers. Use the safe Turpenoid and follow the directions above for these brushes, except you do not need to add oils or conditioners to these brushes.

Don’t use brush basins that have ridges in the bottoms of them. Ridges are great for potato chips but not brushes! With over 30 years of experience in teaching and seeing every brush cleaner on the market I can honestly say that these only damage your brushes, they do clean them but the constant rubbing of the delicate bristles over a hard ridges breaks them down faster than you can say “My brush is ruined!” For years that was what my students used. Seeing how fast they could destroy a good chisel edge made me look for a solution and that is when I came up with my brush basins. They don’t harm your brushes, period!

Never let your brushes soak in water or turpentine. I know that we are all guilty of this but we have to be aware of what we are doing to our brushes when we do this: The brush is resting on its bristles the most valuable and fragile part of the brush! The water is soaking into the wood of the handle and the glue that is holding the bristles in is getting looser and looser and the handles will crack and peel. It does not happen immediately but if you do this over time your brushes will become trash.

Be sure to get all the paint out of the brush. I know it takes time to clean brushes and who wants to do it….however if you don’t take the time to do this, each and every time you have finished painting, the paint will slowly accumulate and in the end you will have a very stiff brush that is good for nothing. If you're using cheap brushes and can afford to replace them regularly, then you surely don't need to bother with cleaning all the paint out of a brush. But if you're on a budget like most of us or if you use expensive brushes, then it's worth the time spent. In a real pinch you can put them in a ziplock bag and pop them into the freezer, they will not dry out and you can come back at a later time and give them a real good cleaning. Just don’t make a habit out of this as overtime they will start to deteriorate.
Never use your good brush as a “Scrub Brush”

Scrubbing paint on with a brush as is very harsh on the bristles. It bends them out against the brush ferrule, and with extensive abuse the brush will be unwilling to reshape itself into its 'normal' shape. Keep an old brush for doing this, or buy a cheap one.
Don’t use the same brush for different mediums.
Don’t use your brush to mix paints with use a palette knife.

Never do this to your brush, unless you can afford to buy new ones often!

Don’t push on your brush to break it down, because that is exactly what you will do. Threat them gently! If you need a brush for texture that looks like the one in the picture use an old worn out brush.

Don’t use expensive natural hair brushes on rough surfaces. Painting on rocks or even the rough or textured canvas will wear your expensive brushes out very quickly. Synthetics are more appropriate for these surfaces.

Paintbrushes are used for applying ink or paint. These brushes are usually made by clamping the bristles to a handle with a ferrule.Short handled brushes are for watercolor or ink painting while the long handled brushes are for oil or acrylic paint. The styles of brush tip seen most commonly are:Round: Long closely arranged bristles for detail Flat: For spreading paint quickly and evenly over a surface. They will have longer hairs than their Bright counterpart. Bright: Flat brushes with short stiff bristles, good for driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as thicker painting styles like impasto work.

Filbert: Flat brushes with domed ends. They allow good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work.

Fan: For blending broad areas of paint. Angle: Like the Filbert, these are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.

Mop: A larger format brush with a rounded edge for broad soft paint application as well as for getting thinner glazes over existing drying layers of paint without damaging lower layers.

Rigger: Round brushes with longish hairs, traditionally used for painting the rigging in pictures of ships. They are useful for fine lines and are versatile for both oils and watercolors. Sumi: Similar in style to certain watercolor brushes,also with a generally thick wooden or bamboo handle and a broad soft hair brush that when wetted should form a fine tip.
Hake: An Asian style of brush with a large broad wooden handle and an extremely fine soft hair used in counterpoint to traditional Sumi brushes for covering large areas. Often made of goat hair.
Spotter: Round brushes with just a few short bristles. These brushes are commonly used in spotting photographic prints. Artists' brushes are usually given numbered sizes, although there is no exact standard for their physical dimensions.From smallest to largest, the sizes are:10/0, 7/0 (also written 0000000), 6/0, 5/0, 4/0, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30. Brushes as fine as 30/0 are manufactured by major companies, but are not a common size. Sizes 000 to 20 are most common.Artists' brushes are most commonly categorized by type and by shape.Types include: watercolor brushes which are usually made of sable, synthetic sable or nylon; oil painting brushes which are usually made of sable or bristle; and acrylic brushes which are almost entirely nylon or synthetic. Turpentine or thinners used in oil painting can destroy some types of synthetic brushes. However, innovations in synthetic bristle technology have produced solvent resistant synthetic bristles suitable for use in all media. Natural hair, squirrel, badger or sable are used by watercolorists due to their superior ability to absorb and hold water.Shapes include rounds (pointed), flats, brights (shorter than flats) and filbert.
Other shapes include stipplers (short, stubby rounds), deer-foot stipplers, liners (elongated rounds), daggers, scripts (highly elongated rounds), egberts and fans.Bristles may be natural — either soft hair or hog bristle — or synthetic.Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair (sabeline); or more rarely, squirrel, pony, goat, mongoose or badger. Cheaper hair is sometimes called camel hair, although it does not come from camels.
Hog bristle (often called china bristle or Chunking bristle) is stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached. Synthetic bristles are made of special multi-diameter extruded nylon filament. Artists' brush handles are commonly wooden but can also be made of molded plastic. Many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood; better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood.
The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling.Metal ferrules may be of aluminum, nickel, copper, or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules are also found: these give a different "feel" to the brush. The top of the range brushes, however, usually have ferrules made from transparent plastic tightened in place by thin wire.Synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research by scientists to improve upon naturally occurring animal and plant. In general, synthetic fibers are created by forcing, usually through extrusion, fiber forming materials through holes (called spinnerets) into the air, forming a thread.
Before synthetic fibers were developed, artificially manufactured fibers were made from cellulose, which comes from plants. These fibers are called cellulose fibers.The first artificial fiber, known as artificial silk, became known as viscose around 1894, and finally rayon in 1924. A similar product known as cellulose acetate was discovered in 1865. Rayon and acetate are both artificial fibers, but not truly synthetic, being made from wood. Although these artificial fibers were discovered in the mid-nineteenth century, successful modern manufacture began much later (see the dates below).Nylon, the first synthetic fiber, made its debut in the United States as a replacement for silk, just in time for World War II rationing.
Its novel use as a material for women's stockings overshadowed more practical uses, such as a replacement for the silk in parachutes and other military uses.Common synthetic fibers include:Rayon (1910) (artificial, not synthetic) Acetate (1924) (artificial, not synthetic) Nylon (1939) Modacrylic (1949) Olefin (1949) Acrylic (1950) Polyester (1953) Carbon fiber (1968) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brush

Sharon Teal-Coray

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