Above: Rosemary & Co. Eclipse brushes – one of my favorites for a refined paint application.
Okay, so, brushes. As many of you know, I’m a brushaholic. Few things get my blood pumping as much as a shiny row of neatly displayed brushes at the local art materials store. I just can’t help myself. I have to touch them and feel them and commune with them and decide if I’m gong to blow another 8 bucks on yet another brush. Yes, I’m a junkie when it comes to paint brushes. Not good for the pocketbook.
Maybe this post is a bit therapeutic for me. Here I would like to outline what kind of brushes I like and that there really isn’t a need for a huge amount of brushes. I guess I’m partly trying to convince myself, and in the process make it simple for the learning painter.
What type of brush? This will depend on several factors, the most important of which is what do you want the character of the paint film to look like? Smooth and silky? Chunky and organic? And of course, you may want a variety of brush character in your painting. This question has really been central to my more sensible brush buying decisions.
A second and perhaps equally important concern is what are you painting on? Do you like toothy canvas? Smooth canvas? Panel? Your support will have a lot to do with what your paint application looks like.
The third item you may need to consider is what is the size and subject of your painting? If you are doing a small highly detailed still life on panel your choice of brush may be different than if you are doing a larger figural piece on canvas.
I like to have two types of brushes on hand at all times.
I mostly paint small to medium sized paintings. I like a smooth support whether it’s canvas or panel. I do not like toothy or overly absorbent supports. This suits my expression and temperament. A smoother support offers me the opportunity to leave behind subtle brushwork. For my usual work I don’t go in for a bravura, Sargent-like paint application. But I do like to show some mark making, much like subtle cross-hatching in pencil drawing. Clean, but not too clean. So my brush of choice is going to be either a sable or softer synthetic. These brushes are firm enough to grab some paint and lay it on when fully loaded. And I do like to load my brush. I enjoy an opaque but controlled application of paint as I build each form.
But there are times when I want a little more brush character. A little more impasto, or sculptural quality. For this I turn to Chungking hog bristle. There’s nothing quite like a loaded hog bristle brush. I love the raking lines left behind by the bristles. To me it gives a delicious tactile quality to the paint film — something I can “feel” with my eyes. Yummy. Also, I’ve been trying to paint larger lately. Canvases size 36×24, 30×40, something like that. For this size painting hog bristle brushes are my choice. I can lay down paint much faster and there is a more interesting character to the paint film. Not that I’m slopping the paint on. It’s still controlled, but the bristle just seems to be much more satisfying on a larger piece than my soft brushes.
What brands? This is really an important consideration. You need to buy quality. You need a brush that is going to hold it’s shape and not splay out after a few usages. Here are some brands I use that I highly recommend (though there are other good brands as well):
Sable or soft synthetic:
Rosemary & Co. Eclipse (synthetic) – I prefer the long filberts…just perfect!
Rosemary & Co. Pure Red Sable
Trekell Legion Synthetic Mongoose
Trekell Red Sable
Robert Simmons Sapphire (sable/synthetic blend)
Chungking Hog Bristle:
Rosemary & Co. Chungking Bristle
Trekell Hog Bristle
Robert Simmons Signet Series
And, oh, I prefer rounds and filberts for the most part. I do have a few flats and brights but they don’t get much use. Rounds and filberts are my shapes of choice.