Anatomy of The Artist Paint Brush

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.

parts of art brush

Bristles

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.


longhorn cow oil painting“Texas Longhorn in The Meadow”
Wildlife Art by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Ferrule

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.

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.

Types of Artist Brushes for Oil Painting

Artist brushes for oil painting come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each type of brush is for a specific purpose. Here are some of the more common types used: bright, fan, filbert, flat, and round.

Bright

bright oil painting art brush
Bright Art Brush

A Bright is a brush with a flat ferrule with short-length hairs set in a long handle. The hairs curve inward at the tip and measure almost the same for width and length of the brush head. This brush works well for applying heavy color in short controlled strokes, however, when worked too hard a Bright will remove as much paint as they apply. Use this brush when you want the brush strokes to show. These type brush are better for working up close rather than holding the brush at a distance from the canvas.


painting with covered wagon“Covered Wagon on The Prairie”
Western landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Fan

fan art brush
Fan Art Brush

A Fan is a flat brush with a thin layer of hairs spread out in the shape of a fan. It also features a flat ferrule. This brush is great for smoothing, blending, and feathering. The synthetic hairs are especially good for painting highlights and flowing strands of hair, grasses, or leaves and thin branches on trees, creating textural effects, and blending the soft edges of clouds. A word of caution though, be careful not to make identical or repetitive marks that look unnatural.

Filbert

filbert oil painting brush
Filbert Art Brush

A Filbert is flat oval-shaped brush with medium to long chiseled rounded edge hairs. It has thick flat ferrule with a long handle. This brush is ideal for blending, soft rounded edges like flower petals. Filbert brushes look like a blend of Rounds and Flats. The curved tip makes it easier to control blending and softening edges. Used on its side, a filbert gives a thin line; used flat it produces a broad brush stroke; and by varying the pressure as you apply the brush to canvas, or flicking it across, you can get a tapering mark.

Flat

flat oil painting art brush
Flat Art Brush

The Flat brush has medium to long square-ended hairs within a flat ferrule. The hairs are arranged  in a rectangular shape that are longer than wide. Looking at from the side it is narrow. This brush is ideal for bold, sweeping strokes, washes, filling wide spaces, impasto. It can also be used for fine lines, straight edges and stripes. Used flat produces broad brushstrokes, turned on the narrow edge produces thin strokes. Flat brushes are primarily used for covering large areas, flat strokes as well as blending.

Round

round oil painting brush
Round Art Brush

The Round brush is a traditional brush shape with a round or pointed tip in a round ferrule. It is what most individuals picture when they think of an art brush. They make excellent brushes for sketching, outlining, detailed work, controlled washes, and filling in small areas. Use them to create thin to thick lines – thin at the tip, becoming wider the more its pressed down. The round brush is versatile in many ways. They have large bellies with long hairs that taper at the ends. They can hold a lot of paint for thick, large, bold strokes. Thin delicate marks are also possible with this brush if the pant loaded to the belly is thin. Rounds are most often used for small details and line work.

Additional Reading

Anatomy of the Artist Paint Brush

Complete List of Art Supplies for The Beginning Oil Painter

Below is a list of necessary art supplies for the beginning oil painter. All items can easily be found at local arts and crafts supply stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels, or online via DickBlick.com or JerrysArtarama.com, for example.

art bin paint box
Art Bin and Paint box
  • Art supply bin or wooden paint box
    A plastic art supply bin (resembles a fishing tackle box) or wooden paint box are ideal for carrying supplies in.
  • Art brushes (the type made for oil painting)
    10 to 12 brushes is a good start. Both Flat (square with long bristles), and Filbert (rounded on top with long bristles) are recommended.

    • 2 Large brushes (one flat, one filbert) about one inch wide
    • 5 Medium brushes (three flat, two filbert) about ½ inch wide
    • 3 Small brushes (one filbert, two flat) about ¼ inch wide
    • 1 Very small brush for autographing the painting when completed

Bunratty Ireland canvas panel“Bunratty Ireland”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


Click for more info on flat and filbert types of brushes.

Click for more information about oil painting brushes.

  • Canvas
    A variety of pre-primed canvas board or stretched canvas, in sizes from 9 X 12 to 16 X 20 will do to get started with.

Click for more info on the types of canvas used for oil paintings.

  • Charcoal
    A package of each small and large sticks of charcoal. Used for sketching the composition onto the canvas. Can also be used to do preliminary sketches of the subject matter.
  • Cleaning rags and/or paper towels
    These are used for cleaning excess paint, medium, etc. off a brush. They are also used for getting most of the paint and turpentine out of brushes before final cleaning.
  • Cups for turpentine and medium
    A small or medium sized cup for each.
  • Dishwashing liquid
    A small bottle of liquid dishwashing soap to clean your brushes. It will need to be the kind that works on grease such as Dawn. The small size fits nicely in an art bin or paint box.
  • Easel
    For portability, a table easel that can fold up. For studio work, a standing easel that can be adjusted to a comfortable height for standing up. For “plein air” work, an adjustable standing easel that can be folded up and easily transported.
  • Eraser
    A  kneaded eraser for charcoal work. A pink pearl to erase pencil lines.
  • Gesso
    1 small container. Used to prepare just about any surface to receive oil paint, from thick paper to wood, even pre-primed canvas.

Click for information about gesso.

  • Linseed oil
    1 bottle or can. Used to mix painting medium. Medium is made by combining 1 part linseed oil to 1 part turpentine. Medium is used to thin oil paint and makes it flow more easily on canvas and aids in blending paints.
  • Oil paint
    Windsor & Newton or Grumbacher are two good brands of oil paint for the beginner. They are less expensive than other brands, but the quality is fine. Be sure to purchase oil paint rather than water-soluble oil paint. Buy one each (200 ml tubes) of these colors are:tube of oil paint

    • Thalo Blue
    • Cobalt Blue
    • Cerulean Blue
    • Ultramarine Blue
    • Cadmium Red light
    • Alizarin Crimson
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow
    • Cadmium Yellow Medium
    • Viridian Green
    • Sap Green
    • Ivory black
    • Burnt Umber
    • Raw Umber
    • Burnt Sienna
    • Raw Sienna
    • Burnt Umber acrylic paint – This will be used to trace over and cover up sketch marks on the canvas.

For more information about oil paints, see article titled Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making A Choice.

  • Odorless turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (a.k.a. paint thinner) 
    Used to clean paint from art brushes.
  • Palette
    Used to hold dabs of paint squeezed from the tube and also for mixing colors together. Can be made from wood, glass or some other material. Disposable palettes have sheets of wax paper which can be torn off and thrown away for easy cleanup.

Learn much more about the artist palette. See article titled What to Know About an Artists Palette, Part 1 and Part 2.

  • Palette knife
    palette knife image
    Palette Knife

    A handy tool used to mix paint on the palette. Some artists also like to using one to apply paint to canvas instead using an art brush.

See article titled There Are Palette Knives and Then There are Painting Knives.

  • Pencils
    A variety of sizes for drawing and for sketching a composition onto the canvas.
  • Pliers
    This tool will come in handy to loosen tight paint tube caps.
  • Rulers
    Used for measuring and drawing straight lines.
  • Sketch pad
    Any size to sketch on.
  • Varnish
    Applied to a painting after it is thoroughly dry to bring out the color and protect the painting from dust, direct sunlight and other elements that could harm it.
  • Varnish brush
    A soft brush with long hairs, dedicated to varnishing, helps to apply varnish thinly and evenly.