Hannah Ivory Baker is a busy oil painter in London. Her landscapes and seascapes, often painted in Cornwall, are full of energy and atmosphere.
She is in a number of shows at the moment. She is participating in a charity auction organised by artist Tim Benson for Ebola survivors & health workers in Sierra Leone 10th December at the Mall Galleries. She is in Beside the Wave London’s Christmas Show on until 9th January. She is in ‘Noel Noel’ at Highgate Contemporary Art on until 9th January. She will be in a two-person show at Highgate Contemporary Art with Piers Browne 13th January – 6th Feburary next year.
In addition to painting well Hannah is good at thinking about her process and writing well analysed findings. If you follow Hannah’s Twitter feed you may know that she doesn’t like washing brushes (but really, who does) and admits that she can be hard on her paintbrushes.
So I thought she’d be a good choice to give some feedback on the Jackson’s range of oil paint brushes.
Jackson’s Oil Painting Brushes
A review of Akoya synthetic hog, Black Hog, Shiro Hog & Procryl brushes
These past few months I have had the pleasure of using some of Jackson’s brushes. Needless to say I was not at all disappointed with the quality of any of them. Writing this review has been a good exercise in considering exactly what I look for in a brush and hopefully, will provide some ‘food for thought’ to those of you that are considering trying other brands and types of brush.
When choosing brushes for oil colour you need to think about what you want to achieve in your painting; impasto style marks with clear retention of each brushstroke or whether you want a smoother finish. Do you need hairs capable of moving thick, full-bodied colour or do you use more fluid paint mixed with thinners or mediums? Your general painting style and technique needs to be considered.
In the past I have steered clear of synthetic brushes (unless wanting to blend areas of paint or apply thin glazes) as I favour the bold marks of hog brushes and knives but, given all sorts of advancements in the preparation of bristles and the technology behind them I increasingly feel that my view was far too general. Many synthetic brushes are increasingly robust, capable of withstanding thick paint and some serious manhandling.
I received 12 pristine brushes from Jackson’s in varying shapes and sizes.
This review essentially aims to consider the brushes in the following areas with a general note on the kind of mark that can be achieved using the different shapes of brush.
• Spring/snap – How springy the hairs are, do they retain original shape.
• Holding capacity – How much paint the hairs hold and how absorbent they are.
• Stiffness/softness – Do the hairs leave brush marks (stiff) or are they better for blending (soft)
• Smoothness – Are the hairs slippery? I often find a smoother bristle easier to clean and they seem to stain less.
• Durability – Do the hairs breakdown when used with solvents or when scrubbed on canvas. How well do they stand up to ‘abuse’?
Hog bristles tend to break off into the paint much more than synthetics. I personally don’t mind this but some do.
Some brushes almost require a small mortgage in order for them to be affordable; I am always on the look out for something that is long lasting and is good value for money.
• Natural or synthetic hairs – Natural hairs are more absorbent than synthetics, but a good quality synthetic comes a close second. The fibres used in a top quality synthetic have micro-pores that simulate real hair as well as a variety of widths and thickness of fibre (like the Akoya brush) making them more absorbent.
All these factors affect the control and feel of using the brush as well as the appearance of the brush marks.
The handles also make a difference to feel. Is it balanced, is it easy to control?
The length of handle is also important as a longer handle will allow you to stand back from the painting whilst you paint and if well balanced will allow both expressive and controlled mark making.
If you leave it in water, does the handle peel or ferrule rust.
The image above shows the different shapes of brush I used.
• Bright (short flat) – produces bold, defined marks expected from a flat brush. Shorter bristles give greater control.
• Filbert – Oval edge combines control of the bright but with the softer edges of a round. Flat brushes will give you sharper edges when you paint, while Filberts will create softer more rounded strokes because of their shape.
• Long flat – Longer bristle length gives greater spring and freer marks. I have found that increased flexibility works best with more fluid colour.
• Round – Mainly used for details, lines and highlights. A quality round is able to maintain good shape even after many hours of continuous use and cleaning (or in my case abuse).
So, without further ado my findings are as follows…
Akoya brushes have been developed to match and build upon qualities offered by the leading natural hog brushes. For me, this is the closest synthetic brush to hog hair I have ever used and is arguably my favourite of the 4 brushes (again this is based on my style and technique). As shown in the photo above the brush is able to create good texture and really build up the paint. Colour and liquid absorbency is maximised by craters in each hair that gather pigment and replicate natural hairs in a way that other synthetic brushes are not capable of. In addition to this, the Akoya brushes maintain the excellent spring and shape that one would typically expect of a synthetic brush.
These brushes are clearly designed to last, due to the way they are made and the strength of the filaments themselves. This durability means that you won’t have bristles breaking off in your paint in the same way that a hog bristle does. The Akoya brushes are slightly stiffer hair than the Procryl series. The hairs are smooth to the touch, durable; the handle is well balanced, comfortable in the hand and as a result easy to control.
The painting below was done using the three Akoya brushes I had.
I was able to control fluid colour well and build up texture with ease, creating a variety of different marks.
Another great plus that definitely deserves a mention, is that they clean unbelievably well. After a couple of week’s worth of dried paint they came out looking almost unused with very little staining. After a few months of continual and rigorous use they haven’t lost shape and not shed one bristle. The Akoya exhibits the best characteristics of both the highest-grade natural brushes and the finest synthetics and I would highly recommend them to any oil painter.
These Jackson’s Black Hog Bristle brushes are truly beautiful. With light pressure produces some lovely scumbled marks as well as fine blended areas.
I would recommend to those that like a mixture of light texture and soft blends. They have great absorbency, hold a sizeable amount of paint and work very well with more flowing colour. Again, the handles are beautifully balanced and the brush is easy to control. The bristles are soft to the touch, which translates into an effortless application of paint despite being slightly rougher and stiffer in feel when compared to the Procryl brush.
The bristles have started to loose some shape but that is after having endured some heavy duty scrubbing and cleaning and having been soaked overnight in solvents on a number of occasions.
The Black hog brush does not feel quite as durable or hard wearing as the Shiro brushes but are lovely to paint with and will no doubt last well with slightly ‘lighter’ treatment.
Hog brushes are what I typically go for, as I’ve always felt that one can achieve painterly, expressive brush strokes with ease. These brushes essentially force the use of liberal paint and bold, confident mark making and really enhance one of the key attributes of oil paint, texture!
The Shiro brushes are tough and full of spring. Many lower cost bristle brushes are boiled to straighten hairs and bleached to uniform the colour, Shiro brushes do not undergo boiling and have only minimal bleaching which prolongs the lifespan of the brush considerably and maintains excellent strength of hair. As a result, they retain the natural curve and cuticle, essential in achieving good shape and spring.
Whilst I have noticed a couple of rogue bristles on the canvas, it has been nowhere near the same level of loss as in other Hog brushes I have used and the shape even after flicking paint and heavy duty cleaning has been very well retained. They hold a good amount of paint but it is definitely best to replenish the brush in generous amounts, often.
Obviously, the stiff nature of the bristles means that if you are looking for subtle blending of colour or the application of thin glazes, then this is not the brush for you as its strengths lie in the ability to create texture and bold marks.
These brushes rival any of the top quality (and very expensive) brushes I have used. An absolute delight to paint with and a brush I would recommend to anyone wanting to be bolder in their painting.
The Procryl brushes are moderately springy and absorbent, and smooth to the touch. They do seem slightly softer after repeated use and cleaning and aren’t as robust as the others. I feel that they are perfect for use with acrylics as the paint is able to move more freely. They were great for blending and smoothing out areas of thicker paint and were able to cover a surface very well when oil colour was mixed with mediums that made the paint looser.
I found that thicker paint needed to be loaded on to the brush more frequently as they were not able to spread the pure colour very far.
Like the Akoya brushes they clean up remarkably well but there has been a small amount of shape loss and there are now a few rogue hairs sticking out of each of the brushes.
Still the feel of this brush is great and with a bit of light handling appears very durable.
So far there has been no rusting of ferrules or peeling of any of the handles. I did leave all the brushes in water for 24 hours or more on a number of occasions during their use. All of the brushes feel incredibly comfortable in the hand and are perfectly weighted. None of these brushes feel like hard work to use.
One thing I have found using Jackson’s own brand products, that applies not only to the brushes, but their mediums, canvases, boards etc. is that the quality and cost of the product really does show that, good quality art supplies don’t need to cost a fortune. These brushes are genuinely all fantastic in their respective areas. So, if you’re looking to replace old brushes, add to your selection or you’re simply putting together a Christmas list, I would suggest, think about your style, really consider the type of brush you are looking for and what effects you want to achieve and try one of the above. In my opinion you will not be disappointed.
I have used and will continue to use Jackson’s products. There is often a wealth of information available on each item either via the blog or on each product page and they are great value without compromising on quality, something that I feel is a rarity in this day and age.
If anyone wants any more information or has any questions about the brushes in this review then please comment below or feel free to tweet me @hib31_art.
You can see more of Hannah’s work on her website www.hannahivorybaker.com
Click on the underlined link to go to the current offer on Jackson’s Artist Brushes on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.