Artist Brushes come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and materials.
The artist brush is made up of 3 parts.
1. The Tuft which can be natural hair or synthetic fibres.
The tuft holds and applies the paint.
2. The Ferrule which is the metal part that holds the tuft
to the handle.
3. The Handle, a good quality handle is made of hardwood.
Artist brushes can have either short or long handles. Long
handles are for working on a vertical surface when you would
be standing further away from the painting. Short handles
are more suited to close up work.
The tuft can have soft, medium or stiff hairs.
Soft, this is best used with thin paints for blending and
glazing. It gives more control and has a fine point or edge.
Medium, this will hold its shape and usually holds more
paint. It is good for painting with medium to thick paints.
Stiff, or bristle type brushes, that allow you to push and
move thicker paints. These are especially useful when painting
Natural hair brushes are often made from sable. This is a high quality
(and high price) brush that is very good for using with watercolours.
However there are also artist brushes that use other natural hairs like
squirrel hair, ox hair, goat hair and bristle (which is from the ear of a pig).
Synthetic brushes are usually less expensive than natural hair ones.
Synthetic artist brushes are easier to clean as the cell structure of the
hairs is smoother than the natural hair. Synthetic brushes are usually
more durable and can be used with watercolours, acrylics and oils.
Synthetic bristle tends to soften a bit in water.
*Nylon brushes are the best for acrylics. They can be kept constantly
wet so that the paint does not dry in the brush and ruin it.*
The Size System
The number on the brush is determined by the diameter of the tuft
and by the length of the hair. Most manufacturers use the same
For example a size 2 round brush tuft is 3/32 inches in diameter
and has a 7/16 inches hair length.
The size of brush you chose is usually a personal preference that
comes with experience.
There is also a range of shapes of artists brushes.
The main ones are -
Pointed, round brushes, good for highlights and applying smooth
Flat, square brushes, good for covering large areas and tree trunks
Bright are shorter versions of a flat which gives more control and is
good with thick paints.
Filberts (flat brushes with a curved end), good for hiding brush strokes
Riggers or Liners, round brush with long hair shaped to a square tip,
good for lettering and detail
Fan brush (curved end), good for grass, clouds, foliage and blending
2 Main Brush Types
There are two main brush types and your choice will depend on
the thickness of the paint you are using.
Water absorbing and releasing brushes
including sable and the synthetic equivalents. These absorb the water
(and paint), hold it in the body of the tuft and release it through the
brush tip. This type of brush is good with thin, fluid paint.
Like hog bristle and the synthetic equivalents. These brushes hold
the paint in the tip. Good with thicker paints.
Always buy good quality brushes. Cheap, poor quality brushes lose
their hair and the ferrules will loosen on the handle.
Surprisingly, putting the brush head onto a handle gives a company
the right to say that they made the brush!
I paint pet portraits and doing the fur can be fairly time consuming.
Last May I took an old flat brush and cut out sections of the hair. It
was quite successful for painting in cat and dog fur, especially for
longer fur effects.
Of course you can buy brushes like this. They seem to be called
by a range of names; rake, comb and wispy are ones I have see
recently. I bought a couple while we were on holiday and I have
been experimenting with them.
I bought a couple of different sizes and manufacturers to see what
the differences were. One very fine one (meant for decorative painting)
was only suitable for thin paints. The larger ones are more suited to
my painting style.
These brushes also produce lovely grassy effects but this would need
to be used in the foreground of a painting. Remember, there is less
detail in the distance.
I am very pleased with the results. This might be something you
would like to try too.