Art 101: How to Pick an Oil Painting Paint Brush

A paint brush is an extremely important tool in making art. I used to go into the art supply store and go to the paint brush section, look down at the bottom shelf where they kept the cheap brushes (sort of like how they keep liquor in a liquor store, hehe), and grab the variety pack. I used to think that I should be able to make just as good of a painting with a 20 cent brush versus a more expensive brush. 

I've learned that you don't have to spend a lot of money on brushes but its good to find a happy medium and it's really important to take care of your brushes.  In determining what size of paint brush there is a little number listed on the side of the brush 0 is the smallest which indicates the width of the hairs to the ferule (the little metal on the paint brush that holds the hairs)  A bigger number indicates a bigger brush and it's meant to cover a larger surface.  There are two main components in choosing a brush and the first is bristle and how well it holds the paint and then the second is the tip which allows the control for blending.

Here is my break down: 

Bristle Brushes are from hog hair. This brush is meant for larger strokes and covering bigger areas.  It has a firm bristle and used for controlled blending and carries more color.  Bristles are usually much easier to clean.

Sable Brushes are from the weasel.  This is a softer brush meant for more fine detail and lines. Its used best when using thinned down paint by solvents.  These brushes are usually harder to care for because the hair is more delicate.

Mongoose Brushes. Mongoose brushes are more affordable then a sable but are an in-between firmness from hog to sable.

Synthetic Brushes are usually a blend of different types of hair or plastic which is chose to blend hog and sable hair.  This is a great way to save money on brushes because typically Sable brushes can be pretty spend-y 
Long Handled Brushes are designed for the balance because when painting your painting should be vertical and your paint horizontally creating optimal balance of oil painting flow.  It also allows the artist to view the painting from a distance

Flats are a rectangular shaped brush, primarily a blending brush  and provides a sharper edge.  great for large areas.

Filberts are a rectangular shaped brush with rounded corners, used for smaller blending areas and has the ability to get a softer edge.  

Brights are very similar to a flat brush but the hairs are shorter, meant painting when you want your strokes to show.

Rounds are used for dots and lines and detail.

Fans used for blending and texture. 

I typically use a 4 or 6 filbert in synthetic mongoose, while using a 0 round for fine detail and lines because I like to get all the little details.  If you are just starting oil painting I would suggest starting with a 6 filbert synthetic because it's the most flexible with getting your vision of your painting accomplished and its a good middle brush to start oil painting.

Happy Painting!

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Erin said...

My dad was a painter, and had the best collection of brushes. Actually, I now keep my makeup brushes in one of his old Winsor Newton ceramic brush jars :) I'd accompany him to Pearl Paint and Utrecht and Charrette (I think all these stores have closed now!) and wander the aisles as he shopped for new supplies. I loved touching all the soft brush bristles. One of my fondest memories, actually. xo

Unknown said...

Thank you! I always used to love filberts, I need to buy a lot of brushes right now so this helps.
xo Mary Jo

Tales of Whimsy said...

Wow. Great info!!!!

Unknown said...

great tips! I paint with oils a lot but never really thought carefully of which brushes I use - I just change if i feel the one I was using isn't suitable for the project and so on.. but I believe that using different brushes can give you the different textures, I usually opt for smooth haired brushes because for some reasons my oil paintings are "smooth" looking. I'd like to try to paint with oils sort of thick and textured look if you know what I mean? sorry for the wobbly english I found really difficult to express those in words!

Katrina Sophia Blog

Christine D. | The Plumed Nest said...

this is so good to know. i can kind of figure out other things out, but brushes . . . there's so many kinds and types. i am excited to be able to references this! now i just need to learn how to take care of them better!

Diana said...

Wow, this is such great information! I'm terrible about using the correct brush, and also a bit intimidated by oil paints -- tutorial on that next please? :)

Kira said...

So interesting. I used to paint a lot when I was younger, but I've actually never used oil paint before. And haven't painted in probably like 10 years. Yikes. I just realized I'm old.

Rossart said...

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this tips. Great post.

Eva said...

It's very interesting, I always use the acrilyc pencils but is a great info!

Fiona said...

even though I have a million brushes I really never knew the different types, so this was super informative, perhaps now I want be so confused next time I go into an art shop :)

JaneA said...

This is fascinating! I've never painted with oils, but I paint with watercolour. Brushes are so important; they can make or break a painting. Thanks for sharing. X Jane