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Brushes for Oil Painting

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Oil Painting Brushes

Brushes are an important tool for painting and it is false economy to buy cheap ones. Buy the best you can afford, respect and look after them well and they will last for many years.

hog haired brushes

Bristle Brushes for Oil painting and how they are made.
Artists brushes are hand made and for the oil painter finest 'Chungking' is often the preferred hog bristle, which hold the paint well and has plenty of 'spring'. Natural bristle doesn't come to a point, it actually has two or three splits at the end, these are called 'flags'. This allows the bristle to hold more paint, with use, the 'flags' often change colour after being stained by strong pigment, but this has no detrimental effect on the brush.

The bristle is cleaned, sorted, sized, sterilized and wrapped into bundles for each brush, this is then hand tied and 'cupped' to form the various shapes. The bristle is then set into the metal 'ferrule' using a special type of resin glue. The best ferrules are seamless nickel-plated copper and they contribute to the size, balance and shape of the brush. The ferrule is then crimped on to a lacquered hardwood handle, the handle carries all the information about the size, make and type of brush. Brushes for oil painting, more often than not, are long handled, this helps the balance of the brush and allows you some distance from the work, very helpful when painting large canvases. Hogs are often used for expressive brush work, the imprint of the bristle remaining in the applied paint to give texture.



Standard brush shapes for Oils are ( shown on the right from top to bottom):-
Fan brush - shaped like a fan and sometimes referred to as a fan blender;
Flat brush - flat with long length of bristle;
Bright - flat with short length of bristle;
Round brush - round and shaped like a bullet which comes to a blunt point.
Filbert brush - is a flat brush, the tip is oval shaped like a Filbert nut;
For more information about brushes and brush shapes and where to use them, see the Pro Arte Brushes website, our thanks to them for use of the images.

brush types


sable synthetic brushes

Besides using bristle brushes for oils, you can use Sable, Sable & synthetic mixed or synthetic.

Brush shapes in general use are:- Round, One-stroke and Rigger. Mop and Wash brushes are used for blending.

The effect you wish to create, dictates the choice of shape and filament. The Sable and Sable/synthetic mix will usually give a softer, smoother look to the applied paint. This mixture of filament is also useful for detail work and where finer brush strokes are needed.



The synthetic mixture range from soft to bristle effect and are a good alternative to natural hair filament. Each type has its place and it's important to find which type suites you, the way you work and the effect you wish to create, working with different brushes is the only real way of finding out what is right for you.

The one on the right is a Rigger brush, a mix of Sable and synthetic filament. Loaded with thin paint it is ideal for thin lines and things like twigs.

holding a rigger brush


round and rigger brush

At Art Shows or when you go to an art shop to buy a brush, they will usually have a pot of water available for checking the brush point. Don't be afraid to as for the water to check the pointing of the brush filaments before purchase.
Wet the filaments and shake the water off with a gently flick, inspect the filaments for good shape and no rogue hairs. Also hold the brush as if painting with it to see if it feels 'balanced' in your hand.



Your brushes are the 'tools' of your artistic 'trade', but it is very easy to ruin them, if they are not looked after properly. Brushes need to be cleaned after each painting session, a good routine will pay dividends.
Clean of the worst of the paint with paper towel or similar. Use the Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner, Solvent (Citrus Free) or Washaway to wash and clean your brushes.

oil on brush



Hints and Tips

zest-it oil paint dilutant and brush cleaner

Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner for thinning paint and for cleaning you palette, tools and brushes.
Place a small amount into a container suitable for brush washing, take of the worst of the paint and then wash the brush in the fluid. It is reusable. Allow to air dry.



Zest-it Solvent (Citrus Free) is excellent for cleaning and removing oil paint from surfaces, including your brushes.
Place a small amount into a container suitable for brush washing, take of the worst of the paint and then wash the brush in the fluid. It is reusable. Allow to air dry.

zest-it solvent citrus free



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