More on brushes

Brushes at Jackson’s

The overwhelming variety of artist brushes we sell at Jackson’s Art Supplies for painters who work with oils, acrylics and watercolour is unrivalled. Over the years we have had the privilege of being sent samples of brushes from the world’s leading brush manufacturers, and the ones we are most impressed with, we sell! Our brush section is divided into those for use with oil and acrylic paint, and those for watercolour paint. Below is an explanation of why and what brushes will be best suited to your painting approach.

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What are the best Oil/Acrylic and watercolour brushes and what are the differences?

There are 2 general differences. One – The length of the handle, which compliments the painting approaches most associated with the medium the brush is being used with. Oil and acrylic painting tends to be larger scale than watercolour, and often is more gestural. Oil and acrylic brushes have a longer handle so that one can work with a greater distance from the canvas, making it easier to see the progression of the picture as a whole. Watercolour painting tends to demand more control, and is usually worked with on a smaller scale. Shorter handles are more comfortable for working with this approach in mind.

The second difference is the hair used in the brushes. Conventionally oil and acrylic paint is applied with a thicker consistency than watercolour paint, and is also less delicate. This means that brushes used with oil or acrylic tend to require more thorough cleaning after use if the brush’s lifespan is to be prolonged and the condition of the brush is to be maintained. Oil and acrylic brush hairs are coarser than watercolour brush hairs to withstand the thicker paint. Many artists that use oils or acrylics like to work with impasto paint, and the coarser hair brushes allow brush marks to show. The most commonly used natural hair used in oil and acrylic brushes is hog hair. In watercolour painting the generous liquid holding capacity of a fine haired brush is often sought after so that large washes of colour can be applied to paper in a single stroke. Sable is the most common hair used for natural watercolour brushes, but squirrel hair is also brilliant for mops and wash brushes thanks to the way that the hairs taper to a fine point. They are exceptionally fine, absorbent and resilient, as well as versatile.

Synthetic hair brushes are available for all painting, and these tend to replicate the qualities of the best natural hair brushes available. Generally synthetic hair tends to have more spring or ‘snap’ (when one pushes the head of hair to one side and then release, the hairs ‘ping’ back into place more quickly than most natural hair brushes), which is sometimes favoured by artists because the marks one can achieve with a springy brush tend to be more expressive and punchy. Because they are not natural the hair tends to also have a greater lifespan. All brushes, if looked after, can last a very long time with careful cleaning and storing, and care advice is given further on in this article.

Because there are no absolutes in art, Da Vinci also offer sable hair brushes for oil and acrylic, which are ideal for thin applications of colour, and really, with the right care, watercolour brushes can be used with oil and acrylic paint as oil and acrylic brushes could be used with watercolour paint. We do advise however that you separate the brushes you use for specific media from one another, as this will avoid any compromises in the performance of your brush.

Caring for and cleaning your brushes

The lifespan of a brush is prolonged if it is kept clean and cared for.

Both natural hair and synthetic hair brushes benefit from being cleaned with artist’s brush soap, as it contains natural oils which help to moisturise the hairs, which help them to keep their strength and shape. If the hairs are not sufficiently moisturised with oils (and this is especially true of natural hair brushes) then the structure of each filament becomes brittle, and the hair is more susceptible to breaking, or splaying, damaging the shape of the head of the brush. Therefore it is a very good idea to get into the habit of doing the following at the end of each painting session:

Remove the excess paint from you brush. For watercolour and acrylic painters, rinse in a jar of cleaning water or under a running tap and then blot on a clean rag or kitchen towel. For oil painters rinse in a jar of solvent (turpentine, white spirit, low odour solvent or Zest-It), then blot on a clean rag.

Once your brushes are well rinsed, with the majority of the paint having been removed from the hairs, gently rub the head of the brush on to your brush soap. Work into a lather with your fingers. You may find that the lather turns the colour of the paint you have been painting with last!

Rinse under running lukewarm water and repeat until the lather remains white. Remember to work the lather with your fingers right up against the ferrule, as acrylic and oil paint are particularly good at getting lodged up there and if the paint is not washed away, the brush is likely to lose its shape and splay.

Once the hairs are clean, blot on to another clean rag and shape the brush head with your fingers.

Leave to air dry, ideally by hanging the brush from its handle somewhere reasonably well ventilated. This will allow any water in the ferrule to leave the brush, preventing any rotting of the handle to occur.