Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting

Characteristics - Painting Methods & Techniques - Materials and Equipment - Work Space & Storage - Manufacture of Pigments - Protection of the Picture

Oil Painting - Oil Painting Brushes

For a general guide to brushes see the following link:

In a sense, the brush might be considered the physical extension of the painter's fingers, which should pick up and deposit the paint exactly where it is wanted, in exactly the right amount. If the same job is attempted with a stick or a rag, it will become apparent that the brush is a complicated and ingenious tool, which is remarkably sensitive to the will of the artist. A good brush must be made by hand, of the finest grades of raw materials, and manufactured with a high degree of experience and craftsmanship. A good brush, if properly cared for, will perform well and last a long time. A [ p. 69] cheap brush, mass produced of poor material, will wear out very quickly and, more importantly, will never perform adequately, even when new. Therefore it is more economical to purchase brushes of the highest quality.

For oil technique the most frequently used brushes are made of white hog bristles. The bristles are set into a rubber or resinous compound and enclosed in a metal ferrule, which is then attached to a wooden handle. The bristles have a natural curve, and great care is necessary in setting them so that the tip of the bristles curves in toward the center of the brush rather than straggling out in random directions. Furthermore, the most desirable qualities of uniform resiliency and durability can be obtained only when the tips of the bristles are left untrimmed, the natural ends of the bristles being used to make the tip of the brush. For this reason the hairs must be sorted into batches of uniform size before they are used in artists' quality brushes. In the cheaper brushes the bristles are often set at random and then trimmed to make an even tip. It is possible to distinguish brushes made with untrimmed bristles from those that have been trimmed by looking at the ends of the bristles. The natural ends have a tiny branch, or "flag," which is visible upon close examination.

Bristle brushes are set in varying shapes and lengths, which yield strokes of differing character. Flat brushes with square corners are produced in two lengths: the longer ones called flats, the shorter, brights. Filberts are rather fuller with rounded corners. Rounds are circular in cross-section and correspond in shape to the brushes used before the nineteenth century. Each type is available in sizes running from very small [No. 0] to large [No. 12]. [p. 70]

Softer brushes are available for oil technique and are employed where smoother surface or finer detail is required. They are usually made of red sable and may be purchased in various shapes: rounds, flats, or brights. Other soft hair brushes [ox hair, squirrel hair, and so on] are considered by most artists to be inferior to the best red sable brushes and should be less expensive. Soft hair brushes may be set in quills as well as in metal ferrules.

The best brush may become completely useless in a short time [!!! in excessive use] if not cared for properly. At the end of a day's work, the paint-filled brush should be wiped on a rag or newspaper to remove excess color....

It should then be rinsed in mineral spirits [or in water if the brush has been employed in water technique]... Finally, it should be well washed in soap and water in the following way:

l. Wet the brush in warm [never hot] water.

2. Rub it lightly on a cake of white or yellow laundry soap

3. Rub the bristles on the palm of your hand until a lather is made and the color in the brush is carried out by the soap.

4. Rinse the brush thoroughly in warm water.

5. Repeat the whole process as many times as is necessary, until the lather remains white and untinged by color and the brush is as clean as when new. It is especially important that no oil color dry out at the base of the bristles near the ferrule. Finally, take care to rinse the brush very thoroughly to remove all traces of soap. [p. 71]

6. Squeeze the damp, clean brush lightly between the thumb and fingers to shape up the bristles so that they dry into the correct form.

This should be done at the end of each working day to keep the paint from hardening in the brush. Attempts to salvage brushes in which paint has dried are usually unsuccessful. The paint may be softened and removed by high solvents, but the bristles usually do not recover their resiliency. Occasionally, if it is inconvenient to wash out the brushes, they should be left suspended in turpentine, mineral spirits, or oil in a container designed to keep the weight of the brush from resting on the bristles. Such metal-spring rigs are available in art supply stores. However, this procedure of leaving dirty brushes to soak overnight in turpentine, mineral spirits, or oil is not recommended as a habitual practice, since the rubber or compound in which the bristles are set may be affected. A brush of good quality that has been given good care can be expected to give excellent service through many years of painting.

[pp. 69-72]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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