Ultimate Brush Guide For Oil Painting

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About Oil Paint Brushes

There is quite a variety of different brushes available for oil painters. All of them serve a variety of different purposes. Sometimes you need small thin brushes for minute details, and other times you might need a large filbert brush to be able to cover a large area. It is good to use a few different types of brushes as you do not want every brush mark to look the same. It is good to bring in a little bit of variety to your painting.

However, you definitely do not need every type of brush that there is out there for one to buy! If you are starting out, it is good to try out a few different types of brushes to learn which ones you enjoy using the most. Just make sure that you do not end up using ONE type of brush.

Round

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This brush type has a pointed tip that can make thin or thick lines. It is great for sketching and is commonly used in watercolor painting. It is probably the most traditional type of paint brush and is most likely what comes to mind when people think ‘fine art brush’. Look for one that has a good spring to it. By that I mean when you press the hairs back it quickly springs back up again.

Flat

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With flat brushes the bristles are arranged so that the brush is wide but not very thick. The length of the brush varies – some can be quite long and others short. They are great for being able to make broader marks on your canvas as well as fine lines due to its straight ‘square like’ shape.

Bright

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Bright brushes are very similar to flat brushes except that they tend to be a little bit shorter in length. They work well for driving paint into the weave of the canvas as well as for thicker painting styles.

Filbert

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Filberts have an oval shaped tip that can be great for creating a greater variety of brush marks. I find filberts to have the most versatility out of all the different brush types. They can create round and soft edges. They also allow the ability to do some more detailed work.

Fan

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I personally do not like these brushes and was never introduced to them in Art School. However, I know some people love them to gain certain effects in their painting. It can also be good for blending broad areas of paint.

Liner

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A liner brush (also called rigger brush) is a thin brush with extremely long bristles. Usually, they come to a sharp point but sometimes they might have a flat tip. These can be great for detailed marks in your painting or for signing our name!

Wash

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Wash brushes look like house paint brushes. They are great for consistent strokes so are perfect for gessoing and applying glazes and varnish.

Sizes

You will see the size of brushes indicated on the brush handles. Sizes can range from 0000 to 24. It is best to get a variety of sizes for your collection of brushes. Unfortunately brush sizes are not uniform across all brush brands. If you are a beginning painter I highly recommend starting out with larger sized brushes. I would roughly define ‘larger’ as being sizes 8 and up.

Different Hair Types of Brushes

Natural Hair Brushes

Sable – are the ultimate soft brush. They are made from the hairs of the tail of a sable marten. Sable brushes are known to be quite expensive. Kolinsky sable from Siberia is the traditional hair used for sable watercolor brushes. For lesser quality brushes, sometimes kolinsky hair is blended with camel hair.

Squirrel – Squirrel brushes are typically cheaper than sable brushes. It does not have as much ‘spring’ as sable brushes. However, larger squirrel brushes work better than smaller ones because the mass of hair gives more support.

Camel – Brushes labeled as ‘camel hair’ are actually made with other hair types. Camel hair is far too soft and wooly to use for painting.

Ox Hair – This hair type is long, strong and springy. You will frequently see this hair type in flat shaped brushes.

Goat Hair – Does not have a great spring but can form a good point. Used frequently in calligraphy and Chinese brush painting.

Other – Other soft hair brush types are pony, goat, mongoose and badger.

Hog – This brush type is probably the workhouse for most oil painters. Bristle brushes are much stiffer and stronger than soft hair brushes and might be bleached. The best bristle brushes are strong and have a good bounce to it. Poor quality brushes are soft, weak and difficult to control paint with. These brushes are great for leaving brush marks on your painting!

Synthetic Brushes

Synthetic brushes are soft and flexible and comparable to sable brushes when used for glazing. These brushes are much more affordable than natural hair brushes and sometimes can last longer. Because of their lower price range they can be great to use for disposable sketches, covering canvases quickly, or bringing out for plein air painting. I personally love using synthetic brushes. I recommend trying a variety of different brush types to find out which you prefer. You will probably find that you prefer certain brushes over others for certain paintings.

More Resources

For how to best clean your paint brushes check out this article

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Elisabeth Larson Koehler creator of art studio life

Hi! I am Elisabeth

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