The brushes I use

There are so many different brushes out there, that it has become a major task finding the ones you want for any given job. Try asking google to search for "artist's brushes" and you will see what I mean. I am going to discuss brushes for oil painting on this page - as time goes by, I will add pages for other types of brushes.

Good brushes will not guarantee a good painting, but bad brushes often leave me feeling a painting could have been better. So what are good and bad brushes? A good brush will return promptly to its original shape after delivering paint to your picture, it will be resilient, it will feel balanced in your hand (brushes for oil painting are usually long handled, which helps the balance), it won't lose its hair all over your painting! A brush that sheds hair should be thrown away. Immediately. The ferrule will not have a seam.

How many different shapes and sizes of brush do you need? The answer to that is really up to you, but here I will discuss the brushes I recommend to my students, and of course the ones I use myself.

paint brush
Three parts of the brush.

Most of us start out painting larger areas of colour, and as the painting progresses, we work on ever smaller areas until we get right down to the details; eyelashes, handwriting, signature etc. The brushes we use reflect that. So I start off with a fairly broad brush, usually a filbert. You could also use a flat brush.

Ok, so what is a filbert? The picture shows a filbert. There are synthetic brushes available that (apparently) last longer, and are (allegedly) easier to clean than natural bristle. I have never found a synthetic brush that I liked. Call me old-fashioned, but I like natural fibres. The best bristles come from Chungking (in China) - they cost a little more, but I think they are worth the extra. The brushes keep their shape better, last longer, and are all-round nicer to work with.

artists brushes

    From the left, No. 8 filbert bristle,
  • No. 16 filbert bristle,
  • No. 14 fan bristle,
  • No. 8 filbert bristle,
  • No. 8 round kolinsky sable,
  • No. 16 filbert sable,
  • No. 8 filbert sable.


pot of brushes

Obviously it depends on what you're going to paint, which brushes you will need. I find I can do most things with two or three bristle filberts (4, 16, 22), two or three sable filberts (4, 8, 16), a couple of sable rounds (4, 10), and a No. 14 bristle fan.

When you buy brushes there are one or two other things to think about as well; when you are painting it isn't great to have to clean your brush between colours, so I usually have two or three of each brush. Make sure you have a couple of glass jars to stand your brushes in. I usually keep brushes I use for yellow apart from the rest, and I keep clean brushes seperate.

On the subject of keeping your brushes clean, I have already made some suggestions on the page dealing with oil paints - HERE. A tip I got from a colleague about 30 years ago proved so useful, I will pass it on to you. If you are using - as I do - brushes with natural hair and bristle, they will respond well to the occasional shampoo - not conditioner, just the shampoo. It won't be a good cleaner, buit it will recondition the brushes to some extent.

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