Getting Started: understanding  brushes + video

Are you using the right brush?


The main brisstles used in paint brushes are.  Sabel,Squirrel,Hog & Synthetic.



Sable is soft, holds loads of water and has a great spring making it ideal for watercolour, also for fine finishing with oils. It returns to its natural point after use.

These are the most expensive brushes due to the rarity of the hair, pound for pound it’s more expensive than gold! Most manufacturers make sable brushes with a short handle because artists mostly use them for watercolour on the flat.


Squirrel is super soft, holds a lot of water and has some spring. Due to the longer length of squirrel hair, it’s great for big watercolour washes. It returns to its natural point when dipped in water. This is priced much more reasonably. Again, usually available in a short handle


Hog or Pig brisstle is a stiffer brisstle, and holds little moisture but has strength and resilience. It’s great to stand up to the thinners used in oil painting and also great for moving thick paint around the canvas. As these are generally used with oils they tend to have long handles allowing you to work upright at an easel and stand away from the painting.

They can be used with acrylic but dont let them soak in water.


You could have the most expensive Kolinsky sable brush available but if you use it to scrub in the under painting of your painting the brush will be ruined in no time and it will be very hard to move any thick paint around. It’s like trying to cut butter with a piece of paper. The butter won’t move easily, the paper will get wet and disintegrate.
The same thing would happen, albeit at a slower rate, to your brush. If you try attacking a watercolour scene with a pig brush ‘hog’ you’re destined for trouble, you’ll run out of water in your first stroke.

The joy of natural brushes, especially sables, are their ability to hold a lot of water in the ‘belly’ of the brush.

Rounds are commonly used for precision work and the belly of the brush holds enough water that you can still paint quite large areas.


Flats are good for blocking in and large areas of colour, usually for oils and acrylics.


Filberts are just great for acrylic. They have a feathered top to them so are great for blending and can be used to block in areas as well as detail work for portraits. I use filberts in 100% of my paintings.


A general rule of thumb:-

A square-tipped flat 2-inch DIY brush for applying a coloured ground to canvas.


A medium sized synthetic blend filbert shaped brush for most of the painting block out.


A small round brush for details.


You need to love your brushes, in fact, it is astonishing how attached you can get to them.  You can get slightly edgy if I misplace one or one has to be thown away.

There’s something about an old brush that remembers how you work, how much pressure you put on the canvas if you’re scratchy or have a feather touch.


Brush sizing: ?????


Confused? Here is a quick painting brush guide to keep in mind next time you visit your art shop/store:


All brushes increase in size depending on the number,


Size 14 will always be larger than a size 12, whatever the Make or brand.​  There are other numbers on the brushes that indicate the series number (often abbreviated to SER).


This is normally 4 digits long, for example: SER 5214. This helps to identify a brush correctly when you order a brush in store or online.


Brushes can come in short and long handles.


Short handles are best for detailed work or painting on the flat.


Longer handles are best if you intend to stand at the easel.


The longer the length of bristle, the more flex there is in the brush.


A short length of brush hair will appear to be much stiffer and coarser than a longer length– even if the bristle is the same softness of hair.


The length is called the ‘length out’ and a long length out was favored by the Old Masters.


Tip: When you are next shopping in your favorate art store, flick your thumb from left to right over the edge of the brush.


This will give you a feel for the ‘snap’ of the brush.

The brush will ‘crack’ when you first flick it, this is the gum arabic that has been used to set the head.


It’s advisable to rinse the new brush before use to remove any excess gum arabic.


And never place the brisstles in your mouth as you never know who has done that before, trust me I see so many do that.


So In conclusion


I tend to go by the width of the brush and the length of the bristles, rather than the size or number.

To get started with a small acrylic paintings art piece under 30 x 40 cm I recommend:

Round brush 6mm – 7mm in width with a 25mm length out. Filbert brush 10mm in width with a 16mm – 20mm length out.


Of course, to find the perfect brush for you can take a little while but I hope this will help you along your way.



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