Pop into any art supplies store and you will see an inviting wall of brushes. There are watercolour brushes, brushes for acrylic paint and brushes for oil paints. But as an oil painter, do you have to stick to your aisle? In this video I go over the various types of brushes and how you can use them for oil painting.
Bristle brushes (sometimes made of hog hair) are sturdy, stiff brushes that can take a bit of punishment. They are perfect for oil painting. A good quality bristle brush will be able to to take plenty of scrubbing, scumbling, impasto work, cleaning and solvents. Bristle brushes create expressive marks and leave obvious brush marks on your canvas. They are great for painterly styles. I use bristle brushes in my underpainting, when I scrub on the fairly dry paint with quite a bit of umph, in order to stain the canvas.
There is a huge choice of synthetic (man-made) brushes. Most are much softer than bristle brushes and have more spring. Although they can vary, in general synthetic brushes create a softer brush mark with less pronounced edges. Synthetic brushes are great for smoother work, gentle brush work and blending. I paint the vast majority of my work with various sizes of synthetic brushes like Jackson’s Shinku brush.
Watercolour brushes are often made from natural hair, although synthetic versions are available as well (making them a hybrid between the two types). Watercolour brushes are the delicate ones. They are not made for scumbling and scrubbing, they are not made to be used on coarse canvas, cleaned in solvent, they were made for soft and gentle washes, delicate lines and soft splotches of colour. So yes, they are not the best choice for oil paint but a good quality watercolour brush offers the most beautiful spring, a good paint load and a perfect point. How else could one paint the threads of lace? They are perfect for minute detail and soft touches. I love to gently hatch skin tones with a watercolour brush, or paint tiny transitions with the pointy tip of a sable brush. Watercolour brushes will wear quickly if you don't treat them well. Some are very expensive. But they can do things the others can't.
So next time you are wondering which brushes to buy for your oil painting project, do know that ALL brushes can be for you. They all have different qualities but they all work brilliantly for oil painters.
Which type of brush is your favourite for your oil painting? Let me know in the comments.