First of all, let me preface this by saying I’m no artist so if any of you out there are artistically inclined, feel free to chime in anytime. My few futile forays into the art world usually occur when I’m bored out of my mind at meetings and I’m just trying to look busy. The result is a bunch misshaped triangles with goofy little faces in them or things that resemble circles with a bunch a bunch of squiggly lines all around them.
On the hand, my darling little one seems to have a knack for the trade and somewhere along the way her innocent sketches on a napkin at the bar caught the eye of a friend of mine and he bought her an artist kit for Christmas. Thus far, it remained pretty much unopened but a week or so ago, in a fit of boredom, it was opened and revealed about sixty tubes each of assorted oil and acrylic paints, another fifty or so colored pencils and what looks like oil based crayons. I guess this was truly feast to behold when you’re eleven and you’re bored.
Now, like I said, I’m no expert on the subject but since I had the good fortune to date an artist, albeit briefly, I swallowed a bit of pride and picked up the phone to ask some advice about what kind of brushes a novice should use when the creative urge strikes.
As with most things I encounter, little did I know there was so much to know…
Soft or Hard?
It seems there are two basic kinds of brushes. They can be categorized as either being stiff or soft. (Get your mind out of the gutter). Stiff brushes are mostly used when working with paints that are thick and are much better for creating brush strokes and marks on the work in progress. Soft brushes are much better for doing thinner paints that spread easier on the canvass and when attention to detail is required.
Are Those Real or Fake?
Once again, lets try and keep it clean, okay? Brushes made of synthetic fiber have come a long way over the years. Beside being cheaper than those made from natural hair, they might keep members of PETA off your back. Most aficionados and true craftsmen will probably tell you that that’s a bunch of bull and will recommend brushes made from natural sources because of their softness, flexibility and strength.
When it comes to Mother Nature, these are the most popular animals whose hair is used in making a paint brush come to life.
Sable – This is the top of the line, most expensive brush you’re likely to find. This is especially true if the hair is from a sable in Siberia. The hairs on this baby seem to taper into a fine point automatically and are famous for being soft and flexible.
Squirrel – Who knew that pesky or cute little critter romping around your backyard would play such an important role in the art world? I know I didn’t. These are usually soft in nature and work better with a large brush.
Hog - Sooeey! These are used in hard brushes because the hair on the future slab of bacon is very strong but has some bounce to it. They also have the advantage of having natural split ends and thus can hold more paint than their contemporaries. Ideal for both oil and acrylic.
Camel - Guess again, brushes that are labeled as being made from camel hair really aren’t. Call it a case of false advertising but camel hair is too wooly and would soak up way too much paint to be effective. Chances are it’s made from a host of other creatures who have soft tresses.
Oxen - The hairs from an ox are pretty long and durable. The bounce back pretty quickly and are considered a middle of the road kinda brush
Pony - Whoa there fella, probably one of the cheapest sources of natural paint brushes on the market. Even with proper care, doesn’t; have a long life and doesn’t form too good of a point for more detailed work
Does Size and Shape Matter?
Why do I seem to invite trouble? There’s a whole host of different brush types that an artist uses to craft their trade. The following is just some suggestions about which type of brush to use for the effect you’re going for. Naturally this isn’t etched in stone and since art is by nature a subjective kind of thing, feel free to experiment and do what works for you. Remember folks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the most important thing is to have some fun while you’re at it. Unless of course you’re doing that whole starving artist gig, that’s whole ‘nuther can of worms.
Angular - Just what is says, short hairs at one end and tapered towards longer hairs at the other. Can be used for both watercolor and acrylic and is usually made from some type of bristle or synthetic.
Bright- A short haired brush where the length and width are of the brush head are nearly the same. Better with thicker paints and is usually made from sable, mongoose or badger.
Fan- No mystery here, the hairs on the brush resemble a Chinese fan and is mostly used for smoothing out or blending of colors. Suitable for both oils and acrylics.
Filbert - No, not the tasty little nut. A Filbert brush is sort of shaped like an oval and has long hairs. Mostly made from natural sources and used mostly for blending.
Flat - Square brush end with medium to longer hairs. Mostly used for longer strokes or for doing edges and works in all mediums. Can be made from just about anything.
Hake - Oriental style with a wide brush. Usually used for covering large areas and is usually made from natural sources.
One Stroke- Medium to long haired brush that is capable of carrying a lot of color. Used mostly in oils and ink.
Oval Wash - Sort of a round brush that comes in many sizes. Used mostly for watercolors when you need to lay down a lot of paint.
Round - A round brush really isn’t round but tapers to a pointed tip. The length of the hairs varies depending on the degree of detail needed. The shorter the hair, the more detailed the work.
So, at least from my limited perspective, that’s enough to get Anna started. Will she turn out to be the next Picasso or Pollack or will her work linger on the walls of my home or the door of my refrigerator?
Only time will tell…