When it comes to art, so much depends advice is dependant upon the artist’s personal opinions and taste. Certain art styles, such as impressionism vs realism, will need different tools and colors. The same is the case for brushes… I have attempted to collect a list of what is most commonly recommended for beginner artists.
Hog Hair and Chungking
Many artists seem to recommend stiffer fibre brushes, such as hog hair or Chungking Bristle. These stiff brushes allow you to put more paint onto the canvas. They are great brushes if you wish to paint in impressionistic and alla-prima art styles. They allow you to do more grunt work, including layering color, scrubbing, scumbling, and more.
These brushes do not allow you to paint in details.
Many artists suggest keeping them in oil whilst painting and not to wash them much (or aggressively) in any solvents as it will destroy the natural fibres.
Synthetic brushes are recommended for blending and special effects. They don’t give you any stroke ridges, thus make a very smooth and flat look to the painting.
If you want absolute control with blending and smoothing then sable hair brushes are great at this. However sable hair doesn’t hold up well against the stiffer oil paint, and thus can break down very fast and easily. Simply put, you gently blend and do not push paint around with this brush. If you do use Sables, use them with very liquid paint that has been thinned with a lot of medium and thinners.
If you don’t thin your paint enough to call for using expensive sable brushes, then consider using mongoose fibres instead. These brushes are still quite expensive, so if you can’t afford the real deal then definitely consider synthetics.
Size is so dependant upon the size of canvas and the level of details that you will be working at. Size can also vary significantly between brands.
Will Kemp suggests that beginners working at less than A3 sized art pieces should buy:
- Round brush 6mm – 7mm in width with a 25mm length out.
- Filbert brush 10mm in width with a 16mm – 20mm length out.
dollardays on WetCanvas used the following sized brushes for a painting sized 11x14in:
I started with a #10 flat bristle, then used a #6 round bristle, a #6 filbert bristle blend, then a #4 round bristle, worked my way down to a #2 round bristle blend and a #6 red sable (the smallest of all) for final detail.
In general the brushes with longer hair will be softer than shorter hair, even if made from the same material; this just has to do with the fibres having more room to manoeuvre and flex.
The most common brush to work with for oil painting. The soft feathering on the tip of the brush makes them great brushes for blending and working on smaller detailed areas. Due to their flattened shape they are also excellent at blocking in areas of color. The majority of artists use filbert shaped brushes.
Another common and versatile brush shape. These brushes will be the most useful to a beginner. A quality round will return to a generally sharp point that allows precision work.
Flat brushes are great for blocking in large areas of paint. These areas don’t necessarily need to be one solid color of paint; you can easily place the color down and go back with a soft brush to make some soft blending effects.
Not very recommended by many artists, though this doesn’t mean they aren’t used; it just appears the rounds and filberts are more commonly recommended for beginners.
Some artists and brands sell speciality shaped brushes. A popular example is a tree brush, which is designed to help you quickly place paint down in the look of foliage.
Instead of buying speciality brushes, many artists will use older brushes that have splayed for this technique and style.
Gunzorro on WetCanvas Forum has created the following list of brands and quality (I’ve edited the list just for readability):
- Isabey Special. Fantastic, especially the filberts – but bristles fall out in larger sizes. They have great suppleness and bristle alignment.
- Raphael. Love the quality, not the bristle shape — bristles tend to splay outward.
- Escoda (just recieved — very high quality!)
- Richeson Signature surprised me with its excellent suppleness and bristle alignment.
- Older Grumbacher brushes – Gainsborough, Degas and Pre-tested. All superb: stiff and excellent bristle alignment. Very durable.
- Simmons Signet. Great brushes: stiff, but slightly less well aligned than those above.
- W&N Rathbone (ditto)
- Leow-Cornell Arttec. Fantastic brushes and possibly the best value – they look identical to W&N Rathbone.
- da Vinci. Simply need more experience with these, what I’ve used have been excellent.
Good to Useful Quality:
- Creative Mark Pro-Stroke. An ASW house brand. Very good brushes, especially the huge selection up to size 24!! Frequent 2-for-1 deals with great prices.
- Johnson Art
- Dick Blick Masterstroke. I was disappointed with the smaller ferrule and shorter handles.
- New Grumbacher – Gainsborough & Degas made in India (no better than Princeton 6200 and 6300).
- Grumbacher Eterna — cheap but useable, the older manufacture.
- Princeton. Just decent brushes, often at a very reasonable price
My Starter Brushes
With a bit of research it seems that the only brushes that I have easy access to in Kuwait are Isabey and the much lesser known Kolibri. It appears that I will be investing in:
- ISABEY Filbert Interlocked Fine White Bristle – Size 4
- ISABEY Round Interlocked fine white bristle Oil Br. – Size 5
- Isabey Round Brush Isacryl – Size 4