Artist Brushes Explained

Artists’ brushes can be divided into two broad categories: brushes for oil painting and for watercolour painting. Acrylics can fit in either depending on whether you are painting with acrylics in the oil manner or the watercolour manner.


Oil Brushes ( also for Acrylic in oil manner )

When choosing a brush, consider the fibres and springiness of the brush. Natural fibres such as stable or hog hold paint better than smooth synthetic fibres, the downside is that it may initially shed hairs more readily into the paint and may not be as springy as synthetic hairs.  Solvents used in oil painting, may over time damage delicate hairs of sable but the softer hairs of natural fibres are extremely useful for blending colours.


There are brushes which are a mix of both natural and synthetic fibres to give the artist the best of both worlds. With technology so advanced, some new synthetic fibres have micropores which hold colours as well as natural fibres. Of course, the purists would prefer to stick with brushes made fully of natural hairs.


Handles of both oil and acrylic brushes are generally longer than watercolour brushes as paintings are often much larger so the artist stands back further to see more of the painting at once.

For the travelling artists, there are brushes that can be dismantled into 2 parts and covered to be easily kept in the pocket or travelling bags.


Watercolour Brushes ( also for Acrylic in watercolour manner )

When choosing a brush for watercolour painting, artists have  3 basic concerns: the holding capacity, the spring, and the shape. The amount of  water and paint it will hold, so the paint doesn’t run out in the middle of the stroke, is determined by the hairs used. The hairs or fibres used can be natural like sable and squirrel which have a porous shaft and will hold more pigment or they can be synthetic which tend to be more slippery and springier.


The shape of the brush is important as different shapes will make different marks. Round brushes are the most popular brushes as they can be used for the most purposes. There are also flats and short flats (brights) for making square edged marks, filberts (almond shaped, this is a squashed round brush), and specialty brushes like mops for washes, liners (riggers) and spotters for fine marks and fans for blending.


The texture of the brush: springy or soft, and the quality of the point if the brush is a pointed brush are also important. You cannot tell the point quality of a dry brush, you must wet it to see if it holds a point. Brushes are usually sent from the brush makers coated with a light layer of gum Arabic to shape the brush to show what it will look like when it is wet. The artist should remove this coating by wetting the brush instead of bending it when dry as doing this could damage the hairs.


Watercolour brushes tend to have shorter handles than oil and acrylic brushes and can also be obtained as pocket (travel) brushes.


The brush selection for Vibrant Art can be found at: