A Guide to Artist Paint Brushes

Posted by James Robinson on

At J Robinson Art, we are more than a painting workshop we also available to provide you with helpful information to help you with your artistic journey.  We also like to be as much helpful about art as we can. 

It has come to my attention that a great many of you have some questions about artist brushes. We decided to create this art blog in order to provide you with as many answers as possible along with some helpful information about artist brushes.

The painting process should be fun and easy, not confusion and when it comes to painting brushes there are a variety of different kinds which can sometimes add confusion to the painting process instead of making it easier. 

A paintbrush is a tool that should feel like an extension of your hand.  You should feel comfortable using them and know which brush is best for you during your painting process.  In this blog, I will discuss some of the different kinds of artist brushes that are available for use to help expand your basic understanding.  Remember when you are working your projects in our style of painting what tool you use to get the best results is totally up to you.

Let's start with some basic brush anatomy which is good to know for any level of art skills.

(place a sample brush here with descriptions of Tip Toe, Belly, Heel, Ferrule, crimp, handle, Bristol.)   

Types of Bristles

The bristle of a brush usually determines the medium a brush is suited for.  While there are only two forms of bristles which are animal hair and synthetic this is not be confused with the different types of bristles suited for each medium.  Examples:

- Oil Painting is harsh and requires bristles that have a nice spring to them and are resilient.

- Acrylic painting bristles can be much finer since is not so harsh.

- Watercolors need bristles that are softer which can hold lots of water.

Animal hair brushes are often more expensive and apply paint in a way that is not possible for a synthetic brush.  Over the years, however, synthetic brushes have been developed to be in some competition with animal hair brushes.  Here are an alphabetical listing and general description of the individual types of bristles for a basic understanding.

Badger:  More popular for oil painting as they tend to be the thickest at the tip of the brush and thinner around the belly.  This makes them perfect for broad and general brushwork.

Hog:  One of the more popular brushes for oil painting.  They are economical, stiff and springy.  Hog bristles do most of the heavy work since they are stiff and durable.  They may not be suited for some of the finer details but a great overall work brush.

Mongoose:  This brush can be used for both oil and acrylic painting the hairs are resilient and sturdy.

Sable:  These brushes are usually extremely fine, springy and hold lots of water making them perfect for watercolors.  They can be used for fine oil painting as well as for acrylic paint making them very versatile.  Just as a note of information a sable brush is not actually made from sable hair.  It is actually the tail of mink species which is from the weasel family found in North-Eastern China and Siberia.

Squirrel:  This bristle is really for low-resistance mediums.  Squirrel hairs are very soft and have little nap due to lack of resistance.  This brush is suited for watercolors and inking.

Synthetic:  This is the most versatile and economical option for any of the painting mediums.  They have usually manufactured these brushes combing synthetic and animal bristles.  However, there are some synthetic brushes that are very cheap and are not durable and lose their shape quickly.  For this, you have to very careful when purchasing them for your art use.

As a note of interest, I personally use them all in my collection of art tools. I tend to work in a variety of different mediums and I try mixing my brushes as part of painting technique and style.  Experiment and be surprised at what each may do for you.

Brush Shapes

Our next topic will be on the different shapes paint brushes come in.  Like the brush types, it is about your personal choice, your style, technic and so forth.  It is always a good idea to know what is out there so that you have more information to make your best choice of the tools you choose to use in your artistic journey and what brush shapes may best help you achieve your goals.  Here is an alphabetical listing:

Angular Brushes:  These brushes are cut at an angle where one side is longer than the other.

Bright Brushes:  Flat brush with short bristles that are useful for controlled short strokes.

Fan Brushes:  Most people use this brush for a special reason making it a specialty brush.  You can use a fan brush for trees, leaves, adding texture, grass rocks, scattered and broad brushwork.  A fan brush is not limited in any way.

Filbert Brushes:  This is a very versatile brush.  They are curved at the tip like a round brush and flat brush combined.  This brush allows you to blend and are good for soft brushwork.  I use them in portrait painting and soft detailing.  This one of my personal favorites.

Flat Brushes:  These brushes are great for thick consistent strokes or thin lines.  The tip is flat and great for blocking in solid shapes of color. You can use them for roads, fences, buildings and more.

Round Brushes:  This brush has a long tapered end with a large belly.  They are very versatile and can be used for long, bold strokes and great for detail work.

Script Liner Brushes:  Are actually apart of the round brush family I just listed them separate due to the fact they are usually listed separately when you purchase them.  They have the same long tapered end with a large belly as a round brush.  They are great for tree limbs, fine grass blades, signatures, distant birds flying, hairs, fur and so much more.

Brush Sizes

Brush sizes range according to types so they are really no industry-standard for all brushes.  You can get an 00 brush size in script liner brushes and a 4-inch wide flat brush.  A script liner will never be 4 inches and nor will a flat brush ever be 00 in size.  Brands of brushes also have a tendency to vary a little so while there are numbers on brushes you still have to first be acquainted with the different brush types and brush brands.

With that being said you can look at brushes from a small, medium and large perspective.  I would say you should use the largest brush you feel comfortable with and the for details the smallest brush you feel comfortable with.

It really comes down to how you want your pictures to look.  If you are going for realism, for example, the question is do you want your pictures to look more realistic from up close or far away.

I personally use the following:

For staining a canvas:  Use a flat or filbert large brush.

For sketching the composition:  Use a medium round brush, or sometimes use a filbert or a fan brush to stay rough for a landscape.

For painting Tree Limbs:  Scripliner brushes

For painting portraits:  Filbert brushes

For detailing:  Flats and Round brushes

For most backgrounds:  Flat Brushes

For falling snow, rain or stars: An old Flat brush or toothbrush

For Signing my work:  Scripliner brush

This has been a basic introduction to brushes and like anything with art, there is always so much more to learn and share.  If you have something interesting about brushes that you would like to share please contact me and I will be happy to add that to this blog for the benefit of others.  Thank you. 



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