Art Brushes for Oils

There is a vast array of oil painting brushes on the market, confusing the beginner into believing that lots different types of oil painting brushes are required for every technique.  But this is not the case.
Types of Paint Brushes for Oils
Indeed, there are many different types of paintbrushes in the shops that might confuse the beginner, but really there are only really two types of art brushes for oil painting: soft brushes and bristle brushes.
Soft brushes such as sable brushes and sable substitutes are springy and silky to the touch, each strand converging to a fine point. These brushes are good for applying detail and for smooth brushwork. The kolinsky and cirrus ranges are two examples of sable brushes designed for oil painting.
Stiff brushes such as the ox or hog hair brush are more resilient for impasto techniques and for the application of broad brushstrokes in landscapes or sky sketches. The ends of the bristle are split, called "flags," which help the brush hold more paint. Winton and Georgian hog brushes are two notable examples.
The Best Art Brushes for Oil Painting
Sable brushes cannot be compromised on quality, so a recommended brand is important. Sable substitutes or a blend of sable and a synthetic fibre yields good results. Brushes for for oil painting and acrylics are interchangeable, as both require as certain amount of springiness that watercolour brushes lack.
Stiff brushes can be purchased from DIY shops, as the requirements are not so exacting. However, it is important to avoid cheap brushes that might moult onto the painting.
Both types of brushes are sold in various shapes and sizes (shown opposite). Rounds and flats are the most commons shapes used in painting. A round brush converges to a point. The flat brush converges to a wedge.
Numbers are allocated to each size, the larger the brush, the higher the number. Sizes 00 to 6 are quite thin and are good for detail. Anything above 10 is good for larger areas, such as skies and fields. The beginner might venture for the following selection of brushes before trying other brushes.




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  • Size 3 and 6 round sable brushes. Good for detail such as painting eyes, twigs, hair and small objects.
  • Sizes 6 and 10 flat bristle brushes. Good for large areas, such as skies, landscapes and trees.
Types of Art Brushes
Round brush: These brushes taper to a sharp point and is designed for detail such as hair.

Rigger: These are like the round brush, but the bristles are much longer. This brush was originally intended for applying detail to the rigging of ships.

Filbert: these brushes end bluntly like the flat, but the ends are more rounded off for soft strokes.

Flat: These brushes end bluntly for the application of thick strokes of paint.

Bright: These brushes are like the flat, but the bristles are shorter.

Fan brush: The bristles fan out. These brushes are designed for the application of thin washes and for soft blending.

The illustration also shows palette knives.

Care of Art Brushes

A selection of good oil painting brushes is vital for oil painting. Some can be costly, so it is important to take care of them. Never use turps for cleaning the brushes, as it emits powerful odours and is harsh on the brushes. After each painting session, clean the brushes in artist’s spirits, such as Sansador or Turpenoid. Clean in neat washing up liquid up to the Ferrell. Rinse under warm tap until the water runs clear. Apply a little Vaseline onto the brush and press the hairs to a point. Leave to dry pointing upwards in a jar.

This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my 2 art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010