Admit it, if you’ve started painting recently you’ve noticed that it’s a challenge to get good brushes for your art. They either don’t last very long, or you get the wrong kind buying them online. Let’s look at their properties first to understand what you need to have in your art box.
Brushes differ in size, shape, and type of bristles.
The higher the number the larger the brush you get. For example #0000-0 brushes are for super fine detail, # 2-4 brushes are for small work, # 6-10+ for general application of paint.
There are rounds, flats, liners, chisel tips, filberts, and fans. The shape of a brush determines the stroke you can make with it. The rounds have a fine point and are good for small, detailed application of paint, flats are for a large coverage of paint or to make a wide stroke; fans are good for gentle blending of the edges and for creation of some textures like tree foliage. My favorites are the filberts because they give me two distinct strokes. Depending on the rotation of my brush, it can give me either a flat stroke or a thin, fine line that’s great for defining and maintaining straight edges.
Types of brushes
There are very soft watercolor brushes and stiffer, oil/acrylic painting brushes. In general, watercolor brushes are too soft to maintain a point filled with oil paint, but watercolor 1″ flats are great for blending large areas of paint right after a painting session ( it’s a brush with a transparent handle in the picture).
There are three main kinds of oil/acrylic brushes: the bristle ones, the synthetic ones, and a blend of synthetic and sable hairs. Both the bristle and the synthetic ones are necessary for oil or acrylic painting.
The bristle brushes ( shown at the top of the picture) are always used in a first, rough layer of painting to put paint on canvas and to mass out shapes. It’s difficult to paint the first layer with the synthetic ones on canvas, because they are too soft for this step and don’t spread the paint around easily. Use a bit of Gamsol with your first paint layer to dilute and to move paint around a canvas. I find that major manufacturers produce similar bristle brushes that don’t differ much in quality. I would avoid the cheapest ones though because they shed hairs a lot that get embedded into the wet paint, if you don’t take them out of your artwork during painting.
The synthetic brushes are often used in subsequent applications of paint. With each layer your painting becomes more refined just like the brushes. I use #2 round and #2-4 filbert for most work and #6-8 to paint larger areas.
I find that this 5-pack synthetic brush set works best for beginners: http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/brushes-and-palette-knives/oil-and-acrylic-brushes/robert-simmons-oil-and-acrylic-brushes/simply-simmons-oil-and-acrylic-brushes-wallet-sets.htm . It has different brush types to try out. Also, the Robert Simmons brushes’ quality is OK for its price. They don’t last forever, but perform quite well in comparison to other more expensive brushes I’ve tried so far. I also buy them separately, if I need a particular size or a tip.
For fine detail I also use a #0 liner “scepter gold II”, a sable/synthetic blend by Windsor & Newton.
If you want your brushes to keep their shape, it’s not only the quality of the hairs to pay attention to, but also how you wash them.
If you want your brushes to last, take good care of them. Squeeze all the unused paint out of your brush, using a paper towel. Then use a solvent like Gamsol to swish them around in a glass jar, and then wash them out with a soap bar and warm water. I skip the solvent step most of the time because of the two reasons: one is a plain health precaution and another one is care for my brush hairs. The solvent dilutes the paint and damages the hairs, in my opinion.
I wipe the water off of every brush, and rest them flat on a paper towel, so the excess water doesn’t run underneath the ferrules, damaging them.
One more thing. Brushes wear out a lot faster working on textured canvases. Use smooth panels or slightly textured canvases to keep your brushes like new.