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All You Need to Know About Brushes

All You Need to Know About Brushes


Of all the items that can fill an artist’s paint box, brushes will have more impact on the quality of results than any other art supply. As the brush is, quite literally, where paint meets canvas, selecting the right brush for the task at hand is critical to realizing artistic intent.

What makes a brush good for one’s own particular painting sometimes is the same for all painters- the brush should be well-made, with a properly shaped tuft fixed in a seam-free ferrule, crimped twice to the handle; the hairs should have intact flags on the ends (the splits at the ends of the hairs or bristles that distribute paint evenly and leave an attractive texture on the paint film. However, for a specific painting, the selection of brushes needs to be appropriate to the task at hand.

The first, obvious choice is the general type of brush. The type of hair should be well-paired with the medium. For oils, the bulk of brushes should be natural hog bristle, or a synthetic substitute. Bristle has sufficient stiffness to retain snap even when fully loaded with heavy paint. Oil painters also may wish to include some small rounds with soft hair for detailed work. For acrylics, however, synthetics are the best choice due to their resistance to water. The range in quality for synthetic brushes is quite broad, so look for similar properties to those used when choosing bristle brushes- shape, natural-looking flags, good crimping of seamless ferrule to handle.

Watercolorists require altogether different types of brushes, for a medium more responsive than any other to the brush. The very best brushes for watercolor are Kolinsky Sable; a genuine Kolinsky brush combines durability, sensitivity and a gradual, regular distribution of paint like no substitute. Every watercolor kit should contain at least one Kolinsky brush. However, if the cost of an entire Kolinsky brush set is prohibitive, a broad range of substitutes are available.

Red Sable is a natural hair, from other animal sources (usually weasel) that performs acceptably well where absolute responsiveness is not an issue (broadly wetting the paper, dropping in color). Sabeline is a dyed animal hair (sometimes ox or squirrel) intended to look like Kolinsky. Sablette, depending on manufacturer is either entirely synthetic, or blended synthetic and natural hair, intended to give the benefits of both types of hair in the same brush. Sablette is good for long painting sessions where an entirely natural brush would become waterlogged and lose snap.

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