Art Technical Q&A: Brushes

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on 10 Mar 2009 12:53 PM | Locked

Can you give me basic information on different brush types? I don’t know whether to use synthetic brushes or invest in high-quality sable brushes. Is there anything in between?

Brushes, the principal tools of the painter, are made in a variety of shapes and sizes and from different types of hair. Soft-hair brushes are best for thin paint, including tempera and watercolor, and for fine details. Hard, stiff-hair brushes are generally used to cover large areas because they hold a heavier paint load and can withstand rougher use.

The best, and also the most expensive, of the soft-hair brushes is the red- and yellow-haired sable. The sable brush is preferred for its strength, durability, and springiness, and its naturally tapered point makes it excellent for fine details and for delivering a long, fluid stroke. Sable blended with kolinsky hair is a very good alternative to the costly sable. Other soft-haired brushes include squirrel, ox, and camel. In terms of quality, these brushes vary from country to country and must be tested by artists to assess their performance.

Of the stiff, hard brushes, the white-hair bristle brush is the best, with its natural curve, strength, resiliency, and strong capacity for carrying paint. The bristle brush is endowed with these characteristics because of the unique way the points of the bristles split like a branch into many smaller points called flags. Bristle brushes are set into different shapes and lengths that determine the type of strokes they yield. Long, flat brushes with square corners are called flats. A similar-shaped brush with shorter hairs is called a bright. Filberts are fuller and have rounded corners. Rounds are circular in their cross-section. These different-type brushes are available in sizes ranging from size 0 (small) to size 12 (large).

Synthetic-hair brushes as well as blends of natural- and synthetic-hair brushes that imitate bristle and sable have been developed to overcome the expense and rarity of exceptionally good natural-hair brushes. These brushes are increasingly attractive for their quality and because they are far less expensive than their natural counterparts.

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