Choosing a Brush - A Guide For the Beginning Artist
Painting is a great artistic outlet and having the proper tools will make the process of creating a piece more enjoyable. The wrong kind of brush can lead to frustration when it doesn't perform as expected, so it is important to identify what kind of brushes you will need before you start painting.
Artist brushes are characterized by the following: size, shape, and the material the bristles are made from. Brushes come in an expansive array of size,shape and stiffness. The bristles can be made from natural hairs or they can be synthetic. The first step to choosing brushes is to identify the density of the paint you will be using. Soft brushes are good for thin paints and details while hard, stiff brushes are great for moving thick paint across a canvas and creating texture with brushstrokes.
The size of a brush will also be a key indicator in the stroke it will create. Round brushes can range from one to 10 millimeters in width and five to 40 millimeters in length. Flat or square brushes have widths ranging from two to 20 millimeters and can be up to 25 millimeters long.
There is a long standing debate over whether to use natural or synthetic brushes. Natural brushes are preferred by the die-hard artists, but animal friendly artists argue that synthetic is just as good. Natural brushes are usually made from sable, squirrel, hog, ox, or goat, with sable being the softest and hog hair being the stiffest. Synthetic brushes will cost less and are made from nylon. Quality synthetics are usually as good as the real thing.
Let's cover some beginner tips in purchasing art brushes. First, gently tug on the hairs of the brush. You don't want hair to pull free easily, this is a trait of cheap brushes and you can wind up with hair in your paint if you use these. Second, check that the bristles have a good spring to them and they don't bend easily. While it's to be said that brushes shouldn't be pressed hard to the canvas, they should be able to withstand the pressure of your strokes without permanently kinking. Lastly, begin with purchasing the three basic brushes: a large flat brush (for covering large areas on the canvas), a medium round brush (for broad and thin brushstrokes), and a small liner brush (for details and fine lines). Decide from there what brushes you feel you are missing.
Paint type is a crucial factor to consider in purchasing brushes. Oil brushes are usually made from stiff hog hair that can effectively push the thick paint. Soft brushes can be used with oils only when the paint is thinned (primarily done in glazing.) Acrylic brushes should also be stiff to move the heavy paint. Thick bristles will help hold the paint and prevent drips. Watercolor brushes need to be soft. Watercolor paints are thin and a soft brush will provide adequate give. There are also watercolor brushes that have a reservoir of water within the handle; this is great for traveling painters.
Experimenting with brush shapes will help the artist learn what kinds of strokes each brush can yield. An angular brush is good for stippling and can create wavy lines with the proper technique. A flat brush will cover large areas with its wide stroke, but turn the brush on its side and it can create thin lines. A round brush can create both thick and thin brush strokes; fine lines can even be created using just the brush's tip. A fan brush is usually just used for blending colors, stippling and creating grass or hair. Paint dries more quickly on a fan brush so the artist must be swift. A liner brush is used for details, fine lines, and dots. The filbert brush is like the number two pencil of paint brushes. It has a tuft of hair that is usually made from hog. Technically it's a flat brush with a rounded tip. As the brush is used the bristles wear down over time. A well-worn filbert brush is perfect as a dry brushing.
Choosing artist brushes can be very enjoyable. Online stores carry a wide range of brushes and some may even carry wholesale brushes (great for when you have a favorite.) Experiment with shapes and sizes to become knowledgeable. Painting is the most enjoyable when your tools provide the effect you would like.
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