Brush Basics and Buying

I’m a brush collector. I have all types and sizes. I even have some for oil painting, which I’ve never tried. With each purchase, I feel that brush will be my best brush for it’s intended task. If that’s true, why do I keep going back for more? Why do I have so many?

Brushes are tricky to select. There are many options in type, shape, fiber, manufacturer, cost, and wear-ability. 

Most scribes begin with a friend or teacher’s recommended brush. That’s how I started. I bought and used that same brush, in different sizes for years. 

I still like Winsor and Newton Sceptre Gold II watercolor round brushes. (Round brushes come to a point.) I like the way they feel on the paper, their spring. They are a less pricey artist grade brush because they blend red sable and golden synthetic fibers. I have them in the smallest 101 series round size, 00 up to a 4.

I prefer to buy an illumination brush I can see and feel. When buying a brush, I first go to the section for the medium I’m intending to use. When doing a traditional illumination you want a watercolor brush. They are softer than oil/acrylic brushes and come in smaller sizes. You might also consider decorative detail brushes for their micro size.

Most of my brushes are round pointed brushes, with average length hair. I also like the short haired, round brush, some call spotted round. I do have a few small flat brushes, with a broad flat edge. I like them, but I don’t often use what I have. They can be useful for underpainting or brush lettering.

Multi-use artist brush area
at Hobby Lobby 

When shopping in the watercolor brush area, you’ll find sections of brushes by name that are based on their fiber composition and handle design. Manufacturers give them fancy names to attract your attention. There are sable, squirrel, and synthetic blended fibers. The selling price depends on the rarity of the fiber. Premium pointed-round watercolor Kolinsky sable brushes are treasured because they keep a fine point, and are long lasting. I choose the W&N Sceptres as an intermediate option that combines sable hairs with synthetic fibers for less cost. 

Looking at a watercolor section with round short handled brushes you’ll see they are stocked by size. The larger the number the bigger the size, the more 0s the smaller the brush is than a size 0. The very tiny may say 20/0 because there isn’t enough room to write 20 zeros on the handle. I pick the size I want for the size paint stroke I expect to make. If I’m underpainting I use a 2 or 4. For outlining or highlighting I use 00 or smaller.

No point on this brush tip.

When I find the fiber, size, and cost I want I pick a brush and slightly wet the tip with water from my drinking water bottle I carry. Don’t lick it. Some manufacturers coat the tip for shipping with a bad tasting “fishy” oil. After moistening, I point the tip by pulling it between my index, middle finger and thumb. Then I closely check that it comes to a crisp, sharp point, without stray, outlying fibers. If there are I pick a different brush.

I’ve tried plucking out bristle stragglers of brushes I own. That never works well for me. Most of the stragglers happened when I placed the plastic guard tube over the bristles to transport my brushes somewhere. I like guards, but I must look very close to use them or the thing I’m trying to protect gets damaged.

When you upgrade from brushes like ox-hair, squirrel, or synthetic, student brushes are still useful for loading dip pens, mixing colors, and odd jobs. I save my best brushes –newest, most pricey, or just plain favorite — for the finest work. 

While a good brush should last you years, to ensure longevity clean them after using them. When I use a watercolor medium I wash them with cool running water and mild soap, gently pressing the bristle hairs in the palm of my hand. After washing, I gently “wring them out” using my fingers and pressing them together around the brush base and moving toward the tip. I let them dry flat.

My home-made brush storage.

In my studio, I store my brushes upright in a home-made tray that separates them from each other. Upright is what’s important because their shape keeps them away from their neighbors. My home-made system helps me organize them by size. You can use any container, a mason jar or empty tea bag tin. 

Beware, brushes are like potato chips. It’s hard to stop with one.

You May Also Like These Other Blogs’ Related Post:
in bed with Mona Lisa/Painting Materials
Picking a Brush–Guest Post on Scribe Scribbling

Categories: Materials And Tools

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