A paintbrush is an artist’s tool of the trade. It is the most important tool the artist uses. Therefore, it is good to know the various parts of your paintbrush. The anatomy of the artist paintbrush consists of three major parts. These are bristles, ferrule, and handle. Other parts of the brush are the toe, belly, heel, and crimp.
Sometimes referred to as hairs or filaments, bristles make up the head of the brush called the “brush head.” This is the part of the brush that holds the paint. They are made from natural hair, synthetic fibers, or a combination of both. Natural bristles are made from some 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. (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 tip of the bristles is called the toe, while the heel is where the strands 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, copper alloys, 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 applications 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 paintbrush 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.
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