A brush is an artist’s tool of the trade. In fact it is the most important tool the artist uses, therefor, it is good to know the various parts of your paintbrush. The anatomy of a paintbrush consists of three major parts. These are the: bristles, ferrule, and the handle. Other parts of the are brush’s: toe, belly, heel, and crimp. These are all explained below in this article.
Sometimes referred to as hairs or filaments, bristles make up the head of the brush called the brushhead. This is the part of the brush that holds the paint. They be made from natural hair, synthetic fibers, or combination of both. Natural bristles are made from some sort of animal hair, such as hog or badger. Synthetic bristles are often made from nylon, polyester, or a combination of both. (For more information on the types of fibers bristles are made from see “Brush Bristle (Hair) Types”.)
Bristles are formed into different shapes which dictate the type of brush it is; bright, fan, filbert, flat, and round, for example. (See “Types of Art Brushes for Oil Painting” for more information about this topic.) The quality of the bristles determines the cost of the brush. The very tip of the bristles is called the brush’s toe, while the heel is where the bristles go into the ferrule at the tip of the handle. The belly is the fattest part of the bristle head.
The ferrule of a brush is the metal band that connects the bristles to the handle and the crimp is the part of the ferrule that secures it to the handle. Ferrules can be made from tin, aluminum, brass or copper alloys that are nickel or chrome plated. Better quality brushes have a brass or copper alloy ferrule. These types have the best adhesion to the handle and a double or triple crimp. This is important because if the ferrule does not fit properly, the bristles will fall out or the ferrule could come off the handle.
Handles can be made of wood, acrylic, or bone. Most are made of hardwoods like beech. They can be either short or long, however, lengths do differ from manufacture to manufacture. Short handles fit into the palm allowing different paint application and movement. Oil painting brushes are made with longer handles which provides for better balance. Longer handle brushes are the ones used by most oil painters. The size of the brush is indicated by a number printed on the handle, usually starting from 000 (called “triple ought” and is the smallest size), then 0, 1, 2, up to #12 or larger.