Writing the review of the excellent brushes by Rosemary and Co today got me thinking about what I look for in brushes, how I use them, and what for me would constitute the perfect starter brush set.
The first thing I do when looking at any brush is to make sure there is a good point on it. One of the best, and probably the least hygenic techniques, is to wet the the bristles then tap the brush on the edge of a table. A good brush will come to a good point immediately. Discard any that don’t. I then have a feel of the spring in the bristles. Check how well the ferrule is made. Some cheap brushes have badly closed and unfinished ferrules which can quickly come away from the handles or are uneven so they don’t allow the bristles to form a point. Check the handle. Is it comfortable to hold? Is it too thin so that after a time you will get aching fingers from constantly readjusting you grip on it? Or too fat so you end up almost holding the metal ferrule? I bought some double ended brushes from SmogCon last year. Seemed like an intriguing idea but I discarded them almost immediately as utterly impractical.
The next step is to consider what the brush will be used for.
The right brush for the job
For fine dotting, very fine detail, and short line drawing a 00 is probably as fine as I would ever go. Why not 2/0 or 3/0? My concern with the extremely fine brushes is that they do not hold enough paint and consequently need regular washing and constant reloading as the limited amount of paint they hold dries out too quickly. In my experience a well made size 1 brush will form a point just as fine and will continue to work properly for longer. This is where the Kolinsky sable brushes shine. Their conical bristles are perfect for this kind of work.
For free handing any kind of thin line work, especially curves I find a liner or even a script or rigger brush is best. These are the brushes with over half an inch or more bristle length. They hold enough paint to be able to complete a good size sweeping line in one go rather than scratching around with a 2/0. The longer hairs also act as shock absorbers and help keep the tip of the brush more stable. Don’t believe me? Try sitting in the passenger seat of a car with a deep fat fryer held close to the chest. Yes you have slightly more control of the angle you’re holding it at but … If the car brakes, turns or accelerates.. Scalded chest, or worse! Hold it at arms length however and you absorb the worst the car can do with your outstretched arm.
For basic blocking in of colours a good size 2-4 brush will do the job best. Large capacity for carrying paint and when pushed gently will produce a thicker line. For this work the best hair quality is not really essential so Red Sable/synthetic mixes are good. Squirrel too is ideal for this. Save your Kolinsky sable for the fine work that needs it.
For oil washes I generally have a group of brushes held aside for just for this purpose as the white spirit tends to be fairly tough on them and they wear out quite quickly. A good size 2 or even 3 or 4 is perfect. Probably a sable/synthetic mix is best to give it some resilience.
For pastel work or blending oil washes and oils in general I like to use a range of flat ended sable or even sable synthetic mix brushes. Nice and soft for feathering oil paints into each other and still tough enough to withstand being constantly wiped on a lint free rag when using an oil glaze technique. (As described in the blog on painting horses)
Drybrushing and doloping paint out of those outdated paint pots is obviously best done with those brushes that are already well past their prime and gives them something useful to do in their final months before becoming paint stirrers or suffering the indignity of having the ends of their handles sharpened for use as glue applicators.
Basic set of brushes
So what would I include as a starting set of paint brushes?
- 1x Kolinsky Sable size 0 .. For fine detail; eyes, final dotted highlights
- 1 x Kolinsky Sable size 1 .. For edge highlights and fine detail
- 1 x Red Sable Rigger size 1 .. For freehand lines and curves
- 1 x Red Sable size 2 .. General purpose blocking in, shading, blending
- 1 x Squirrel size 2 .. An exciting alternative to the red sable for general work
- 1 x Sable / Synthetic mix size 2 .. To be kept for oil or pastel work where a tougher brush is needed
- 1 x Sable / Synthetic mix flat ended (Brights) size 1 or 2 .. Blending oils and pastels
- 1 x Sable / Synthetic mix Pointed Round size 3 .. To be used for drybrushing
All of these choices are purely personal but I feel would give a good starting point for a new brush set. It offers versatility and with its mix of fibres a degree of longevity too.
I would be interested to find out what you think about this Brush Set. Please leave comments below with your suggestions or contact me on Twitter @wrkbnchwarriors
That’s it for this post then. Please have a look at some of the wonderful companies and products at the top of the side bar. This week in particular, while we’re talking brushes, check out the excellent Rosemary and Co Brushes. Great brushes, excellent service, and knowledgable and passionate staff. And, to celebrate the opening of her new web store, please head over to the wonderful Dice Bag Lady’s site and check out the superb new range of gaming, measuring, and drinking accessories.
See you all next time and thank you for reading