A trip to the art store is a great way to reinvigorate your art practice and discover new materials that might help you along your journey. The right tools for any job are a crucial part of accomplishing any task and feeling good about it.
I am often asked about paintbrushes- which ones are best and why I choose the ones I paint with. Ultimately, paintbrushes are a matter of personal preference. As you develop your style and experiment with different techniques and mediums, your favorites will emerge. Read on for a breakdown on selecting the right brushes for your practice.
For starters, there are several different characteristics to paintbrushes that lend themselves well to different techniques. Let’s break down those categories.
Natural Hair vs. Synthetic Hair
Natural: As the name implies, natural brushes are made from animal hair, such as sable, squirrel, and mongoose, among others. They can be very soft but tend to have thicker bristles, making them stiffer. Oil painters may benefit more from natural bristles.
Synthetic: I find synthetic brushes are better for acrylic paints and easier to learn with. They tend to hold their shape better and are less expensive than their natural alternatives. If you are rough on your brushes, synthetics will be your best friend.
Flat: longer bristles, good for covering large areas but can also be used for details.
Bright: with shorter bristles than flat brushes, brights give you a lot of control, which is why brights are my preferred brush! Square tipped with slightly rounded sides, brights are better for creating straight lines but may also cover large swaths.
Filbert: rounded edge, similar function to bright but when you press down you will unload a lot of paint or achieve more organic brushstrokes.
Round: better for details, can achieve varied line weights and express more organic movements.
Chip brush: inexpensive, perfect for covering large areas. I like to quickly tone my canvas with a chip brush before I start painting.
China brush: another inexpensive brush with wider bristles, China brushes, also called Hake brushes, come in 1”, 2”, and 3” widths with super soft bristles. They hold a lot of water, making them perfect for thin washes of color, or using a lot of water or medium.
As a rule, smaller brushes are better for painting small, while bigger for painting big.
Short vs. Long Handle
Short handled brushes are typically used more for crafting, but are perfect for adding small details to your painting.
Long handled brushes encourage more gestural painting. With long handles, you will use your whole arm and shoulder instead of controlling brushstrokes with your wrist and fingers. It may be uncomfortable or feel foreign at first, but as you get used to the longer handles, you will come to appreciate their versatility.
Long handled brushes may also be beneficial for painters with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
TL;DR – Use a larger brush than you think you are comfortable with! It encourages looseness by forcing you to paint with your whole arm, making larger, more natural gestures.
You will find that paintbrushes vary wildly in price and that they can get quite expensive! If you are just starting out – do not be intimidated. There is no need to spend a ton of money on brushes until you figure out what you like best (and even then!). I recommend you invest in better paints than brushes, since paints are what make the biggest difference in your artistic growth and make for a minimally frustrating experience.
Synthetic brushes are less expensive than natural hair brushes. The larger the brush, including handle length and bristle width, the more it will cost. Start with a small variety and add to your collection as you find what works best for you.
We go over brushes and brushwork in greater depth in our monthly membership: the Creative Circle. The Creative Circle only opens a few times per year, so if you want to be the first to learn when registration opens again, sign up for the Waitlist today!