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Your tools will make a difference

There are many tools to apply paint onto surfaces. Almost every object imaginable has been attempted  including sticks and parts of plants, feathers, rags, sponges, hands and other body parts,  palette knives, sprayers and the most common used tool a brush.

Good advice passed down through the generations truly applies here. “Your work will only be as good as the materials and tools you use to create it “. If you find yourself having problems achieving that perfect line, or the exact results you have anticipated, chances are it has something to do with your brush. You’ll achieve the best results investing in the highest quality brush you can afford. If taken care of properly, it will most likely out live your less expensive version considerably. I have personally kept brushes as long thirty years.

Available in a variety of shapes and sizes to achieve various painting techniques and textures, artist’s brushes are made of natural hairs from animals such as the hair from hogs, sable, squirrel, wolf, goat, or badgers and synthetic materials such as Nylon and Taklon. Natural and synthetic blends were also developed where the synthetic bristles are used for strength. Below are the general types of brush bristle configurations available on the market today. There are many more specialty brushes available depending on the application required.


  • used primarily where the flow of the paint is important while it is applied. Easy to shape into a fine point and favored for water coloring, this brush  holds large qualities of paint and can create a variety of shapes and line sizes.


  •  is much like the round except the length of it’s bristles are shorter. It usually comes in much smaller sizes  to be used for fine detail and it doesn’t hold as much paint.


  • also resembling the shape of the round except the end of it’s bristles are are domed,  this brush is used for washing large areas with paint.


  •  self descriptive this brush flows a fine  line and is used frequently for sign painting.


  •  or “Shader” is a favorite for oil and acrylic painters for it’s versatility and ability to assist blending color on canvas. When placed on edge paint can also be daubed to make straight lines.


  •  also known as the “One Stroke” or  “Flat”,  many different versions of this brush are used for lettering due to it’s square edge and ability to hold paint making it perfect for the job.

Angular Bright 

  •   is used for defining and blending detail lines, curved shadows, etc.


  •   works much like a Bright for blending and shading. This is also a great brush to use for the daubing technique that leaves behind a uniform defined stroke.

Oval Wash 

  •  also used as a Filbert, is great for multiple layered transparency washing techniques such as those used to create skies, reflections or fog.


  •   is a light blending dry brush for areas where the paint has already been applied to streak or smear in areas such as hair or reflections on water.


  •   often used for faux finishing wood grains and noted for it’s appearance, there are gaps purposely left in between the bristles to create multiple lines with each stroke for special painting effects such as hair, grass, etc. The bristle size and shape varies.


  •  large full chiseled edge bristles with a round ferrule favored for it’s ability to hold large quantities of paint.

Stencil brush 

  • is used to daub paint or to used in stenciling. This brush only uses the paint from the tip of the bristles.

Stencil Brush 

  •  possessing the appearance of a barber shop shaving tool, this brush is utilized similar to above for larger projects.


  • Because of it’s ability to hold large amounts of paint, this brush is perfect for gesso, gilding and varnish applications depending on what bristle is used. It works much like a stroke with a shorter handle for large painting areas.
  • Because of it’s ability to hold large amounts of paint, this brush is perfect for gesso, gilding and varnish applications depending on what bristle is used. It works much like a stroke with a shorter handle for large painting areas.

Brass Filament

  • Designed for the traditional encaustic painter who prefers to work with molten wax painted on a heated palette. Supplied in various shapes and sizes.

There are also different handles designed for specific tasks using wood, metals, and plastics but almost all good brushes have brass or nickel plated brass ferrules. Most canvas painters use long handle brushes designed to allow the artist to stand back from his work to apply paint. Detail work such as ceramics, striping, and stencils are often done with a short handle brush. There are no set rules in regard to what brush to use for a specific task. For example: I prefer to use short handled Red Sable or Squirrel hair brushes with most of my detailed work regardless of medium. However, your understanding of brush properties can make a noticeable difference in the quality of your work.

What brush to use ? It’s simple to just adhere a few basic rules:

  • Always make certain to use the right size tool for the job. For example you would not attempt to paint a sky with a striper brush unless you had a considerable amount of patience. Don’t be afraid to use larger brushes such as a Hake, or even a good utility style brush, to get the larger areas of color on the canvas.
  • Brush sizes are determined based on their width where the bristles and the ferrule meet in inches or metric equivalent. In other words a #10 would be roughly 10 mm or 3/8″ and a # 12 would be 12 mm or roughly 15/32″ and so on.  The length of the bristle is also considered. Handle lengths are usually determined by the brush style or to complement the painting task.
  • Synthetic bristles are not compatible with oil solvents and/or cleaners. Synthetic Bristle Brushes and Golden Taklon Brushes are designed for and work best when used with acrylic latex or water based/soluble paints such as egg tempera and casein. Regardless of claims these brushes will rapidly disintegrate in contact with oil base chemicals and/or solvents. Only natural bristle brushes should be considered for use with oil base paints. Kolinsky Red Sable and Siberian Squirrel natural bristle brushes work best with oils and watercolor. Squirrel is also favored for applying  varnish finishes and gilding because of the smooth texture it leaves without brush marks. Hog Hair Brushes also work well with oils depending on your painting style. However, in most cases only  Natural hog bristle brushes are made to withstand the alkalinity of lime and work well with frescoes. Brass Filament Brushes are specifically designed to work with the higher temperatures of encaustic painting.



Loew-Cornell  Web Site

Winsor & Newton’s   Brush Products Information

Kolinsky Red Sable Brushes

Siberian Squirre Brushes

Natural Hog Bristle Fresco Brushes

Enkaustikos Encaustic Hot Tools Wire Brushes


”When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.” — Marc Chagall.


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