Artist brushes - Your step-by-step guide

by Art Materials on Aug 04, 2021

Artist brushes - a step-by-step guide

Unless you’re a child who is finger painting, artist brushes are a quintessential art tool; the magic wands that enable you to tell your visual story on a canvas. But choosing from the vast array of paint brushes can be an overwhelming and confusing experience. And if you are new to painting, how do you decide where to start? 

We are here to help you 'brush up' on the basics of artist paintbrushes so you can get started on your next masterpiece - be that acrylics, oils or watercolours.

The landscape of artist brush sizes, shapes and hair/bristle types is vast and each is used to create different effects as well as being suited to different mediums. 

Artist brushes 101

Lesson #1 - The anatomy of a paintbrush

‘Art geek’ or not, some basic technical knowledge around art supplies and materials is necessary and it starts with an explanation of the anatomy of a paintbrush. 

An artist’s brush is made up of 4 sections:

  1. The handle (generally made from wood or plastic)
  2. The crimp (connects the handle to the ferrule)
  3. The ferrule (made from metal and holds the bristles in place)
  4. The bristles/hair (broken down into the heel, belly and toe)

The little number on the handle of the paintbrush is determined by the length, diameter and width of the bristles. (This tends to be brand-specific as there is no industry standard for the numbering of brushes). 

Anatomy of artist brushes

Lesson #2 - The bristles of a paintbrush

Traditionally, artist brushes were made from animal hair - hog, sable, badger, camel, squirrel and ox - and these would have been what the Masters painted with. Animal hair brushes - loved by oil painters - hold the paint for a slower and more even release of pigment. 

Today, however, synthetic bristles - made from polyester or nylon - have transformed the painting landscape, offering the performance of animal hair combined with durability and affordability. But at the end of the day, artist brushes become a personal choice and budget and your preference will dictate which of these paintbrushes you add to your art supplies kit. 

Lesson #3 - The shape of a paintbrush

Just like humans, paint brushes come in all shapes and sizes, allowing a painter to create a  masterpiece of varied brush strokes and techniques 

Your collection of artist brushes starts with these 8 brushes:

  1. Flat brushes - These brushes have a wide set, flat arrangement of bristles (in various sizes) producing thin to broad strokes. They are also used for painting large areas and for blending. 
  2. Bright brushes - Similar to flat brushes but with shorter bristles, bright brushes are good for smaller controlled strokes and for switching between thin and thick stroke techniques. 
  3. Filbert brushes - A very flexible oval-shaped brush that can hold a lot of water making it great for washes. Its bristles stay together when wet, so it is good for smooth blending. (Often used for leaves, flowers and figures).
Artist brush shapes
  1. Angular brushes - The angular bristles are a variation of the flat brush giving you precise strokes and straight edges that are clean-cut and for filling in tight spots. But they are also great for producing curvy strokes. 
  2. Fan brushes -  Who doesn’t want one of the pretty paintbrushes among their art supplies? For soft blending, smoothing, feathering and texturing - without harsh lines - the fan brush is a must-have for any painter.  
  3. Round brushes - For washes, fills and thick to thin line paint techniques,  round brushes, in different sizes, are a perfect choice. 
  4. Liner brushes - Liner brushes are used for detailing, outlining, intricate strokes and lettering. For their size, they can actually hold a lot of paint. 
  5. Mop brushes - So much more than its name suggests, the large soft bristles cover large areas and soften and blend harsher areas. Try twirling it for circular shapes. The mop brush is also super for removing excess water or paint on a canvas.

If you are just beginning your painting journey, start with a beginner brush set and as you find your artist brush groove, you can upscale to an artist quality brush set or slowly add individual brushes (synthetic or animal hair) to your paintbrush collection. 

(Stay tuned for an upcoming blog where we will break down exactly how to care for your different brushes).

Lesson #4 - Visit The Art Materials Company

The simplest and most convenient way of shopping for all your art supplies and materials is online at The Art Materials Company. 

To get started, you will want to rush to our online brushes collection where you can shop natural and synthetic artist brushes to your heart's content. From there, our art supplies world is your creative muse.