Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Let’s talk about brushes. Students ask me what to look for when purchasing brushes, as there are so many out there to choose from.

A good oil painting brush is your tool. A brush should lay down paint on the canvas, not drag or scrape it. Many of my students show up to class with a handful of brushes, which are “over the hill”. It is frustrating for them, because the paint won’t come off the brush and lay over the paint layer under it. Brushes do not last forever, but with good care they will live longer. I will cover cleaning in another post. Hey, but don’t throw out your old brushes. I like to use my old brushes for other uses, like paint touch ups on walls, cleaning lint out of sewing machines, crafts, scouring drain openings… use your imagination, there are many useful ways to use that old brush.

"Over the Hill Brushes"

My favorite overall choice is a filbert bristle brush, second is a flat. That said, there are many different brands and quality of bristle brushes. Remember, this is one of your most important tools (next to your brain). Just like a chef needs a good quality knife that cuts with ease, you need a brush that will apply the paint without a fight and keep the process fun.

This is what I look for in a brush.
Flexibility: A good bristle brush should have flex and be long enough to bend in the middle.
There is a difference between flex and soft. A soft haired brush, as in sables, is good for softening edges in oil or in painting with watercolor. I prefer a natural hog hair bristle brush for the majority of my oil painting applications.
If the bristles are too stiff the paint will not leave the brush and lay paint over the layer underneath, it will merely scrape it. Your painting will look thin and anemic and your colors will be dull, not luminous.

Dimension: I choose filberts that have a thin profile. This allows the brush to be used as a drawing tool as well as for layering of paint. If the brush is too thick, you loose the ability to make beautiful thin linear notes as well as overall control. Notice how much thinner one brush is. These two new brushes are both size 8, by different manufactures.

Flats vs. Filberts: I really like flats when I am working with square shapes or wanting a sharper edge. Filberts are the brush I use 90% of the time.
Notice how the paint layers differently with a flat versus a filbert. The filberts add layers without a hard edge. Also shown is the path of each brush as it paints on a clean canvas. The flat & filbert brushes used are both size #6.

Remember: Our tools are an extension of our desire. Choose the best and make a beautiful mark on the World.

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