Jul 4, 2012

Selecting Brushes

By Linda Lover

When I shop for painting brushes these days, occasionally I will notice someone in the aisle with an expression that I can still recall. It’s the perplexed look of a new painter trying to decipher which brushes to buy. If it’s a class, usually it becomes simplified as there’s a list. If on their own and new to painting it becomes more of a challenge.

The questions can be long handle or short? Bristle quality? Style and size? Brand label? Cost? So many questions with so many possibilities. Usually the question for the handle is simplified as to whether the painter will be using an easel or painting on a table.

I still remember shopping for my first good brushes at Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. Price was definitely a consideration and, at the time, I was limited to how many I could buy. My first choices were flat shaders and rounds, and most good brushes were long handled at the time. Eventually I had my husband cut the handles down as it seemed to make them easier to handle since I was painting from a table. I learned that when brushes became scruffy, they worked well for stippling, which was a new technique I was working with. I used scruffy brushes for years until I opted for deerfoot brushes. And then I found stencil brushes worked well for larger projects.

As time progressed I learned the importance of bristle quality as well as which bristle type worked best for the medium of choice. Since I paint with acrylics, I use taklon which is a synthetic.
I prefer a brush with spring and resilience, one that will be durable and perform as expected. I like shaders that continue to hold an edge. Which brings me to the point of mentioning a good cleaning after a painting session is a must for brushes to keep them in shape. Some artists purposely grind to splay a particular brush to use for grasses and other textures but, keep in mind that in doing this, the brush most likely will not resume the original shape.
Brushes that are limp do not work with my acrylics, but don’t count them out as they can work well when painting on glass. Some brushes are suitable for acrylics, oils and watercolor but it’s suggested that brushes used with oils only be used with that medium. This is because if any particle of oil is left in a brush, it could affect the results when the brush is used with acrylics or watercolors. Oil and water do not mix; however, now there are waterbased oils.

Specialty brushes continue to be introduced to the art market and some have a lot of potential while others can be somewhat limited. It’s generally up to the artist to make the decision if any is right for them. If a specially cut brush can make painting easier and there is versatility in using it, then definitely it’s an excellent addition. Even if a specialty brush is limited, perhaps the artists will find that it’s useful for a single application that they use quite often. But even before specialty brushes, artists were able to create much of the same stroke work or textures with traditional brushes.
Some innovative brushes simply help to simplify or speed up the process. As a self-taught painter I found that using some of the uniquely cut brushes did take some of the frustration out of my work. The deerfoot brush has been around for quite sometime now, and it’s probably my favorite of all. I also really like the bristle angles for evergreens and more compacted stippling. Since I do paint a lot of landscape, this is what dictates my preferences.
When selecting brushes, there are many labels to choose from. Sometimes a brush company that has their own label will also make the same brush for an artist or store that wish to identify themselves with a brush line. It’s simply a matter of changing a handle color or style and the imprint. This is a business tactic that benefits a brush company as well as the artist or store. In addition, sometimes a brush company will offer the same bristle on different handles such as soft or thicker handles, interchangeable ones or those that might have floral designs or offer a choice of colors. This is to address what appeals to one artist may be different than what appeals to another.

There is a massive amount of information on brushes in computer articles and demo videos and in blogs by artists and paint companies. But the bottom line is you can start out painting successfully with only a few brushes and, with proper care, a quality brush will last a long time. Brushes can be added gradually as you learn which ones you like to use the most or perhaps a unique one that you’d like to try.

I have many sizes in shaders as I’ve found this brush to be one that I pick up most often. I can use it flush when painting buildings and it has the capacity to grain wood, shade, highlight and blend. On a sharp chisel line work is possible. I’ve used the larger flats such as the wash brushes for sky and ground as well as water and country roads. And using it on the chisel with short choppy strokes is a favorite technique for clouds and texture in grass and fields and quickly creating stone.
I’ve used the shader for leaves and petals when painting flowers, too, and it’s wonderful for blending colors for fruits and vegetables. Even though this particular style is a great fit for me, other artist’s have their personal preferences. And this is why, particularly if you are just starting out painting, that you begin with a selection of styles and then add to the brush sizes that you prefer.

Ways to use a Shader

Using a shader for leaves and petals when painting flowers

I can use a shader flush when painting buildings and it has the capacity to grain wood, shade, highlight and blend.

The shader is wonderful for blending colors for fruits and vegetables.

Painting pine trees using a bristle angle

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