Paint brushes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and costs. Determining which one is right for you, and when it is the right one, depends largely on how you want to use it.
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The main types of brushes are china bristle, soft hair, and synthetic bristle:
- China Bristle Brushes
China bristle brushes, also called hog bristle or Chungking bristle, are made from natural pig hair. They are tough, durable brushes, able to stand up to the oil while still cleaning up nicely. They can hold a lot of paint, making them ideal for alla prima painting or impasto.
- Soft Hair Brushes
Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair, or more rarely squirrel, pony, goat, mongoose or badger. Soft hair brushes are much softer than china bristles, and a lot more expensive. It’s not unheard of to pay several hundred dollars for a large sable brush. But for more delicate work, like blending and glazing, soft hair brushes are indispensable.
- Synthetic Bristle Brushes
For quality and affordability, you can’t go wrong with synthetic bristle brushes. Though turpentine or thinners used in oil painting can destroy some types of synthetic brushes, recent innovations in synthetic bristle technology have produced solvent resistant brushes.
Be careful, though. While affordability is a legitimate consideration when choosing your brushes, don’t let it be the main one. Those brushes in the multi-packs may look just as good as the others, at a fraction of the cost, but you will end up with brushes warped and falling apart in no time.
Paint brushes come in several shapes, each designed to apply the paint in specific ways. The most useful shapes you will use in oil painting, in no particular order, are:
- Flat – Designed to spread paint quickly and evenly to an area.
- Bright – Similar to a flat brush, but with short, stiff bristles. Great for impasto work.
- Round – Long, closely arranged bristles used for drawing or detail work.
- Filbert – These almond-shaped brushes offer good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work
- Fan Brush – Used for blending broad areas and creating different textures.
- Liner Brush – Used for lettering and fine detail work.
By no means do you have to use, or even have, all of these brushes. Experiment and find the shape that works for you.
Brushes are sized by numbers based on the width of the brush at the metal sleeve, or ferrule, which holds the bristles in place. The size of your painting surface will help determine the size of the brush you use. For example, a brush that is 2 inches wide will be used on a canvas that is at least two or three feet in either direction. However, this is just a rule of thumb. As with brush shapes, the sizes you choose will ultimately be determined by personal preference. So go get some brushes and start painting.
To learn more, please visit me at http://www.oilandpigment.blogspot.com for a look at my own paintings and works in progress.