So you’re feeling inspired and gathered your paints and painting surfaces together. Maybe you have a competition you’re entering or are just making a gift for a friend. The right kind of brush can make all the difference in your final product. Different brushes work best with different kinds of paints and its critical to chose the right one. As an artist, teacher and former art store manager, I have a lot of knowledge on brush types. Follow this easy guide to determine what type of brush is right for your project.
Natural bristle brushes are brushes made from animal hair such as horse, ox or squirrel hair. They vary in price from the quality and rarity of the brush hair. Most inexpensive natural bristle brushes are made from ox hair. There are varying textures in natural bristle brushes from soft to coarse. Natural bristle brushes show brush marks as you paint, and are suited well for oils or acrylic paints. They soak up some of the paint as you work and can help you layer paint thickly.
A disadvantage to animal hair is that it is not animal friendly, so that may discourage you from using natural bristle brushes. I prefer to not use natural bristle brushes whenever possible, but do use them for some projects. They can tend to be a bit pricier if you want a higher quality brush as compared to higher quality synthetics.
Synthetic brushes are made from nylon made into fibers. They are suitable for all types of paint and watercolors do especially well with synthetic brushes. Synthetic brushes are usually soft and typically inexpensive. They work great for moving fluid paint along your surface and mixing colors easily. They do not tend to show brush strokes and can be easier to clean. Synthetics also tend to be relatively inexpensive, even for high quality brushes.
However, synthetic brushes are not the best for layering paints thickly and sometimes have a lot of splitting of the fibers. I avoid using synthetics when I need to build those layers or am trying to achieve texture. They are good, however for when using mixing mediums in acrylic paint, because they do not tend to hold onto tiny particles that add texture.
With any brush, keeping it clean is the best way to improve longevity. Use a brush soap to clean your brushes and if using oils, an appropriate paint thinner to remove excess paint. Always dry brushes with the bristles facing upward to keep them from getting smashed and bent. I always recommend to my students to have a selection of both synthetics and natural bristle brushes so that no matter the project they are always prepared for their best work. The right brush can take your project from boring to truly breathtaking. And as always, make sure you practice and have fun as you create art.