The paintbrush is the artist’s tool. In essence they are the tools of their trade. They are as important to an artist as an instrument is to a musician. The more an artist uses their brushes the more increasingly familiar they become with the way they handle the paint and what they can accomplish with them. Soon the paintbrush becomes a part of them, an extension of their hand that they intuitively know how to manoeuvre.
At first, it can be quite daunting for anyone to choose the right brush. I do recall standing in the paintbrush aisle at the art store, with a huge selection of artist paint brushes spread out before me. Thinking…
What do they do with all these?
Why do they need so many?
Isn’t one brush enough?
Each brush has its particular duty. You don’t need every type of brush that’s out there, some come multi tasked and some you turn into multi taskers. Your choice of brushes will depend on the style you wish to paint in, the material that the bristles are made from and how much you want to spend. Although I do recommend you buy the best you can afford. And lastly, No, one brush is not enough but a selection of the basics is generally a good way to get you started. You can then add to your collection as you need them.
If you’re just starting out with acrylic painting, here is a selection of brushes you will need;
- 1 inch Flat brush– For basecoating backgrounds, washes, filling wide spaces and varnishing.
- ¼ inch and ½ inch Flat brush– For basecoating large elements in your work, creating straight lines and washes.
- No.2 and No.4. Round brush – For outlining, fine detailing, filling in small areas. These brushes can create thin to thick lines – they are thin at the tip and widen as you add more pressure when you press down.
- No.0 liner brush– Work best with thinned paint. Mix paint with a little water to resemble the consistency of ink. Used for fine lines, detailing and touch ups. They come in long or short bristles; long bristles hold more paint and are ideal for continuous liner work without having to reload the brush too often.
- ¼ inch angle brush– Great for filling in corners and floating colour.
- Deer foot brush (optional) – great for stippling such as painting animal fur.
- Stencil brush (optional) – perfect when working with stencils
The anatomy of a paint brush
- Bristles – can be natural, synthetic, or combination of both. Soft synthetic fibres work well with acrylics.
- ferrule – the silvery bit that connects the bristles with the handle
- crimp – the part of the ferrule that secures it to the handle
- handle – can be long or short, usually made of wood or acrylic, this is a personal choice it all depends on which one you are most comfortable with, acrylic handles do last longer than the wooden ones, this does not affect the performance of the brush
The material that the paint brush bristles are made of, the way they are shaped and their length all affect the characteristics of the brush. Paint brushes are made from stiff or soft bristles, which can be either natural hairs or synthetic fibres. Soft brushes are ideal for thinned paint so it can be spread easily, their sharp point allows for detailed work which is essential for precision painting. Hard bristle brushes are great for pushing around thick paint as in creating impasto effects.
How to care for your brushes
Never leave brushes sitting in water as this can damage the tips of the bristles. Always wash your brushes as soon as you have finished painting. Dab the brush gently onto a piece of mild soap, and then work up a lather in the palm of your hand. Wash the brush as though you are painting strokes on your work in keeping with the shape of the brush. Then gently hold the tip of the bristles with your finger tips and give the bristles a slight wriggle so any paint that is caught between the bristles and the ferrule is released. Rinse with cool water and repeat. Use your fingers to gently shape the brush head into its correct shape. Allow to dry by storing your brushes in a horizontal position. Leaving them vertical allows water to run down and stay in the ferrule, which may cause the tips to splay.