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Brushes: artist’s most important tools

Brushes for Oils–Types, Styles and Shapes

A painter, interested in switching to oils, recently asked me what brand of brushes I use. Naming the brand isn’t always going to be enough information to get the proper brushes because manufacturers come and go. Information on brush types, hairs or bristles, styles and shapes would be more helpful. I can remember getting that “deer in the headlights” stare standing in front of the wide display of brushes in an art store with seemingly myriads of styles, shapes and prices. Which ones for decorative painting in oil and why? Then there is another problem; sticker shock. Do brushes have to be natural bristles or will lesser-priced synthetics work as well? Synthetic brights will work fine and hold up pretty well with proper care although I personally prefer the feel and performance of natural-haired brights, such as royal sable in most cases. Some artists actually prefer synthetics and others use only natural bristles; my advice is to buy the best quality, regardless of type, you can afford because the brush is your most important tool. I will list some of the brush types that I use for oil. It is good to have a variety of sizes on hand, especially in Brights and filberts. ( #2, 4, 6, 8, 10.) Note: Hairs, bristles and filaments are synonymous referring to the tuft that you apply paint with. It is the most important part of any brush.

Bright brushes: These are brushes I could not do without. Two bristle lengths are available, short bright and bright. Both are shorter haired than flat brushes; longer haired flats are more commonly used for acrylics and watercolor. Brights provide better control of brush work than flats when painting with oil because oil is thicker and heavier than acrylics. Brights come in synthetic and natural hairs. Although more expensive, Royal Sables and Kolinsky sables have a great deal of snap, are resilient and wear very well. Synthetic brights are more economical and with good care and proper cleaning can wear very well, too.

Round brushes: There are two types Dome and Pointed. Pointed are wonderful for stroke work. I often use a natural-haired dome round for a certain type of blending.

Filbert brushes: Filbert bristles come in three lengths: short, regular and extra long. These are like flats and brights but with rounded edges or corners. I mostly use the short bristled, natural-haired filberts. They are especially wonderful for blending.

Fan or Fan blender: This brush is named for the shape and use. Out of all my brushes, it is one I could give up when doing decorative painting. I use it more in canvas painting.

Angle brushes: This is a favorite for cutting in edges and corners or for easy double-loading. Some artists substitute them for brights entirely.

Mop brushes: Mops have soft, absorbent hair used to refine blending. One needs some tiny versions as well as a large one for backgrounds.

Detail Brush: Sometimes called spotters, these are just small round brushes that make life easier when painting details, dots and spots with thicker paint.

Liner Brush: This long thin brush is used for painting lines and tiny details. It must be loaded with thinned oil in order to paint a line successfully.

Script or Lettering brushes: Scripts are longer liner brushes that will carry more paint enabling one to paint longer lines with less reloading. I personally prefer these over shorter liners.

I have used many brands of brushes through the years. My routine of cleaning them well when finished with painting each day has paid off; I have some very old brushes that are still in fine shape. Of these, Winsor Newton brushes proved to be excellent quality and are my favorites. I have many Langnickel sables that I love and use for doing demos. Langnickel Royal Majestic brushes are made from good quality synthetic filaments. My favorite brand or company in business today making reasonably-priced, natural-bristled filberts is Scharff Brushes. Loew Cornell makes very good dome rounds and synthetic brushes. It is hard to say which long-liner I prefer, there are many excellent ones available. Maureen McNaughton’s are my latest purchase. I have several brands of mops, Winsor Newton, Majestic, Ann Kingslan, and Cheri Rol. Love them all.

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