Painters in watercolour use soft sable-haired brushes, which they often very expensive. Oil painters also use them
sometimes for fine detail, but the workhorse of the painter in oils is the hog-haired brush. Hog hair is much stiffer
than sable or squirrel hair and has a noticeable "spring" to it. This stiffness helps to control the paint and push it
into the textured surface of the canvas.
Flats - The most
purpose bristle brush.
'Flat" refers to the
flattened ferrule. Used
for "blocking in" colour
but versatile and
capable of a wide
variety of brush marks
Filbert - Provides some
of the characteristics of
both flats and rounds. A
favourite with portrait
Rounds - More often
used in the smaller sizes
for detailed work
Brights - Same general
shape as Flats but with
shorter bristles. The
shorter bristles may
provide more control,
but brushmarks tend to
Given the punishment I
inflict on my brushes,
my 'Flats" become
"Brights" only too soon!
These are the more common brush shapes. Others you may encounter include the "Rigger", a fine, very long-haired sable,
apparently so-called because it was once used to paint the details of rigging on old sailing ships. Now it is often used to paint any
fine tracery - e.g., twigs, branches etc.
Another brush you will see is the fan brush, which looks just llike it sounds. At the height of academic painting in the 19th
century painters made every effort to disguise their brushmarks in an effort to produce a "realistic" image, and the fan brush was
a tool they used to smooth out their brushwork. Since then, largely as a reaction to the introduction of photography, artists
have tended to want to emphasize rather than disguise their brushwork and so the role of the fan brush has diminished
significantly. Nevertheless, some painters still use it to obtain certain effects such as foliage and grasses, etc.
How many brushes do I need?
Although I have a box full of brushes, I use as few as possible in a painting. The fewer brushes you use, the more unified your
work will appear. Conversely, the more brushes you use, the greater the risk of your painting appearing fussy or laboured.
Another good rule to follow is to use as large a brush as possible for any given task. This will also help keep the work "fresh".