All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 3

paint brush shapesThis article is the final installment of a three part discussion on artist paint brushes. As a recap, in part one brush anatomy and bristle types were discussed. In part two we looked at brush shapes and sizes. In part three the various brush manufacturers and brush care will be covered.

An artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is the paintbrush. It is the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas. Art brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different types of brushes available and how they are used, will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.


Irong Age Pottery Still Life“Still Life with Iron Age Pottery”
Still life by Teresa Bernard
14″ x 11″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Brush Manufacturers

Oil painting brushes are made by a variety of manufacturers from around the world. A few of the more popular brands are da Vinci, Winsor & Newton, Silver Brush Limited, Raphael Paris Classic and the Robert Simmons line of brushes. These brands are the best known and most used high quality brand name of brushes. They will always be known for the quality of the brush as well as their longevity and ease of use. Some artists are faithful to just one or two particular brands and will not use anything else. Whereas, other artists like to have an assortment of different brands available depending on their needs at the time. The only way to know which brand you will like best is by using the brushes yourself. Some name brands will be more expensive than others, however, don’t let that be what you base your final purchasing decision on. With proper care the more expensive brushes will out last the lesser made and priced brands.

Caring for Your Paintbrushes

art brush careIt makes no sense to invest in quality art brushes if you are not going to take proper care of them. All art brushes require a thorough cleaning at the end of each painting session. Let me repeat, never store your brush until it is completely cleaned. Never leave your brush standing head down in a solvent for any length of time. This can cause the brush to lose its shape. After cleaning, a brush should be hung head-down or laid flat to dry. This allows moisture to drain out of the ferrule and hairs. If you allow your brush to dry standing up, the cleaner and paint residue can drain towards the ferrule, which can weaken the glue that holds the hairs to the handle. In addition it can also cause a buildup of paint residue in the ferrule. In time, this will also cause the brush to become misshaped. When a brush looses its shape, it is then worthless. As a final step in caring for your paintbrushes, you will need to remove the solvent from the head by using a mild “degreaser”, like dish soap, and warm water. This helps to keep the hairs soft and undamaged.

One final word – always keep in mind that your art brushes are expensive, if you take good care of them they will last a long, long time.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 2

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 2

paint brush shapesThis article is continued from part one where brush anatomy and bristle type was covered. In part two, brush shapes and sizes will be discussed.

An artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is the paintbrush. It is the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas. Art brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different types of brushes available and how they are used, will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.


The Study still life oil painting“The Study”
Still life by Teresa Bernard
14″ x 11″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Brush Shapes

Art brushes come in four standard shapes for oil painters and are called round, flat, filbert and bright. The names refer to the shape of the end of the hairs on the brushes and the different shapes determine the nature of the stroke that it will make. Therefore, it is important to select the proper brushes for specific needs. There are also a few other brush shapes that are used for specialized functions like blending which will be talked about afterward.

flat oil painting art brush
Flat Art Brush

A flat is a brush with hairs that are long and flat on the end, much like the head of a screwdriver. From the side it is narrow. Flat brushes have a lot of spring to them and can hold a lot of paint. You can use these brushes for broad sweeping broad strokes or you can turn the brush on its edge to create fine lines. With a little twist, you can even create a triangular stroke. The flat brush is also good for when you are blocking in large areas and for early stages of a painting. These brushes are perfect for quickly and evenly applying large amounts of paint to the canvas surface.

filbert oil painting brush
Filbert Art Brush

The filbert brush is an almond-shaped brush with a thick, flat ferrule and hairs that are medium to long in length. It is similar to the flat brush except the edge of the brush hairs come to a rounded shape. The strokes are somewhere between a flat and round brush. Filberts create a softer more rounded stroke because of their shape and are perfect for painting flower petals and leaves.

round oil painting brush
Round Art Brush

Round brushes are most often sable hair and get their name from their round ferrule. Their tip is shaped like a bullet which comes to a blunt point or sometimes it can be pointed. They are designed for more controlled brush strokes. Round brushes make a softer rounded stroke and are not suited for creating hard straight edges. They hold a nice amount of paint and are great for making thin or thick lines. Round brushes are also good for washes, fills, fine detail work and creating long lines.

bright oil painting art brush
Bright Art Brush

Bright brushes are similar in shape to flat brushes but the hairs are much shorter. They make short controlled strokes and tend to put paint on thickly. Brights are good for driving paint into the weave of a canvas, however if worked too hard, they will actually remove as much paint as they apply. Depending on how you manipulate the brush, brights can create broad and bold brush strokes, sharp edged thin lines or smooth sweeping layers of paint. A bright is the ideal brush for painting landscapes and flowers.

The last paintbrushes that fall under this category are called blending brushes. While these type art brushes are not essential like the first four types listed above, they are good to have on hand for smoothing out brushstrokes and for spreading and blending colors smoothly. Blending brushes are very soft and are not used for applying paint. They are made to gently stroke the wet paint that you have already applied to canvas to take out brushstrokes and for blending paint. These art brushes are usually the most expensive art brushes in your paintbox so you will want to take good care of them to make them last a long time.

For more information about different brush shapes see article titled Types of Artist Brushes for Oil Painting.

Brush Sizes

Artist’s paintbrushes come in a large assortment of sizes. They range from very large brushes to medium sized to extra-small brushes. The size of the brush is usually indicated by a single digit number on the side of the brush handle up near the ferrule. Most brush sizes range from 0 up to 30, however, really small brushes are numbered by multiples of the number zero (like this: 00, 000, 0000 or 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, etc.). The more zeroes there are, the smaller the brush. The most standard brush sizes are 3/0, 2/0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, and 20. However, keep in mind there is no exact standard for their sizes and brushes manufactured by different companies are not universal in size. You will need different sized brushes for all stages of a typical painting. Large brushes for the beginning stages and smaller brushes for the detail work. Which brush you would want to use depends on two things:

  1. The size of your canvas. The larger your canvas, the larger your brush will need to be and the smaller your canvas, the smaller your brushes.
  2. The particular area of the painting you are working in. For example, you would use a large brush to apply paint to larger areas of your painting such as the background (like the sky) and smaller brushes for the detail work (like individual leaves on a tree).

Auvers, France church painting“Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers, France”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 24″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Handle Length

After you have considered your brush size, the next thing to think about is the handle length. Art brushes are either “long-handled” or “short-handled.” There is no universal standard for handle length. Long-handled brushes usually tend to be around 9 inches or longer and short-handled brushes are generally 6 inches or shorter in length. The handle length was developed ages ago and depended upon the brush use. Oil painters usually stand away from the canvas which requires a longer handle on their brushes, whereas, a water colorist sits and paints much closer to their canvases and do not need the longer handle. Your larger brushes will most likely have the longer handles since they are used are for larger areas of the canvas and smaller brushes will have slightly shorter handles since these are used most for detail work where the artist would need to move in closer to the canvas.

Continued in Part 3.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 3

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

paint brush shapesAn artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is the paintbrush. It is the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas. Art brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different types of brushes available and how they are used, will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.


Still Life with Fruit and Candle“Still Life with Fruit and Candle”
Still life by Teresa Bernard
14″ x 11″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Paintbrush Anatomy

A paintbrush’s anatomy is made up of three basic parts. These are the head, the ferrule and the handle. It isn’t necessary to know this to create a beautiful painting, however, by knowing the different parts you will be familiar with various art terms when you hear them.

artist brush parts anatonomy

  • Head — The hairs or bristles of the brush. The hairs are made from either natural or synthetic fibers and is what an artist uses to apply and push paint around on the canvas. The head has three parts too. The very tip of the head is called the toe. The fattest part of the head is called the belly and the point where the head meets the ferrule is called the heel.
  • Ferrule — The metal cylinder that attaches the head on to the handle and helps hold the hairs in shape. High quality ferrules won’t rust or come loose.
  • Handle — The long stem of the brush that is held when in use. It’s generally made of wood or plastic. The length of the handle can vary. A quality brush will balance on your finger regardless of the size.

For additional information about the parts of a brush, see article titled Anatomy of The Artist Paint Brush.

Hair Types

Artist’s paintbrushes come in a variety of types. Knowing what those types are is beneficial in knowing which brush to use to achieve the effect you desire in your paintings. There are two main types of hairs in paintbrushes – bristle and sable. There is one other type – synthetic, however that one will be talked about last.

bristle hair brushBristle brushes are made from ox or hog’s hair and are usually light in color and have a lot of bounce. The ends of the bristle hairs don’t come to a point, but has two or three V-shaped splits called “flags.” This makes them capable of holding a good amount of paint which is beneficial since these brushes are mostly used when you are applying paint to the major areas of your canvas. After repeated use, the “flags” will become stained by darker pigments, however, this will not adversely effect the brush in any way. In addition, because the individual hairs of the bristle brush are hard or stiff to the touch, they will leave small grooves in the paint. These grooves will remain in the paint until they are smoothed out with a sable hair brush.

sable hair brushSable hair brushes are soft painting brushes made with hair that comes from animals such as sable, squirrel, marten or mongoose. They are springy and silky to the touch with each strand converging to a fine point. Sable brushes are great for blending, glazing and making soft, less-defined brushstrokes. When compared to a bristle brush, you will notice their hairs are softer and much more delicate. In addition, sable brushes will not leave tiny grooves in your paint. They are capable of smoothing out the brushstrokes left by other type brushes and will give your painting a smoother, softer look when you don’t want your brushstrokes to show. Artists prefer using them for more delicate applications of paint and finer detailed work. Sable brushes are the most expensive and will require more care than all of your art brushes.

Synthetic brushThe final type of art paintbrushes are called synthetic brushes. They are not made from animal hairs, but are products from man-made materials of either nylon or polyester filaments. Synthetic brushes range from soft to stiff hairs. They can be tapered, tipped, flagged, abraded or etched to increase their paint carrying ability. They are more affordable than natural brushes made from animal hair, however, they are not quite as good. The hairs of these type brushes tend to stick together when they get wet and synthetic brushes are also prone to wear out faster and are harder to work with. The individual strands often spread out in all directions and fall out and can become a permanent part of your oil painting. However, there are some advantages to synthetic brushes. They are less prone to being damaged by solvents, insects or caustic paints. They are also easier to clean than natural hair brushes because the filaments won’t trap paint like natural hairs will.

For additional information about the different types of brush see article titled Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes.

Continued in Part 2.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 2

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 3

Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes

Bristle is the term used for the hairs that make up the brushhead of a brush used for painting. The brushhead is the part that holds and delivers paint to the surface of an artist’s canvas. Bristles are made from two types of hair, these are natural hair and synthetic hair.

Natural Hair

There are two main types of hair used in natural brushes, these are bristle and sable. Because natural bristles are softer than synthetic bristles, professionals prefer them for oil paints.

  • Bristle brushes
    bristle hair brush
    Bristle brush

    are made from the hairs on the back of a pig and are stiff and springy. They have natural “split-ends” making them perfect for oil painting as they are durable enough to withstand use with heavy oil paint, textured canvas and harsh solvents like turpentine. They clean up nicely, and they make a strong mark on the canvas. Bristle brushes are best in sizes of a half inch wide or larger. They are best when used in large areas of a canvas, to begin a painting, or for very large paintings. Entire paintings can be painted using only bristle brushes, however, if you want finer detail in smaller areas, you would want to switch to sable brushes.

  • Sable brushes
    sable hair brush
    Sable brush

    do not come from sables. They are actually made from any member of the weasel family with “red” hair. Sable brushes are softer and more delicate than bristle or synthetic brushes. They can also be quiet expensive and require more care. Sables are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined marks. They make great detail brushes. The best sizes for this brush are those one half inch in width or smaller. Artists painting with oils often prefer their long handles which allows them work at a greater distance from their painting.

  • Some less common natural hairs used for painting brushes are badger, camel, goat, mongoose, ox, pony, and squirrel.

Synthetic Hair

synthetic hair brush
Synthetic brush

Synthetic brushes are man-made either of nylon or “Taklon”, a polyester filament. Synthetic bristles offer more versatility than natural because they can be used with acrylic and oil paints. These brushes are a good economical alternative to natural bristle brushes, however, make sure they are made for oil paints.

Some advantages of synthetic brushes are:

  • They are more resistant to damage from turpentine, insects or paints.
  • Cleanup is easier since they don’t tend to trap paint in the individual hairs.
  • The hairs last longer because they are less prone to break and are more durable on many different types of canvas surfaces.

bonnie and clyde car painting“Forgotten Roads of Bygone Days”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


One disadvantage is the less expensive synthetic brushes tend to lose their shape quickly due to heavy paint on textured canvas.

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