Brush Basics!

by djinn24

Before we get into what to look for in a brush, let talk about what composes a paint brush. There are 4 major components to your standard paint brush, the brush head (or tuft), the roots, the ferrule, and the handle. All of these different pieces can have an effect on the price. Normally the quality of the bristles will direct what materials the rest of the brush was created from.

The Brush Head: The most important part of the brush, because ir carried the paint to the model. The widest part of the brush head is called the “belly”–it is the are that carries color. The fatter the belly, the more color it will hold generally

Roots: The root of the hair can be as important as the tip. Make sure that paint does not dry in or around the ferrel as this will damage the roots and, untimately, the whole brush. Allowing paint to dry in the roots will pry the hair part ruining the tip.

Ferrules: Ferrules are far more important than most people understand. After all, they hold the hairs in place. No matter what the ferrules are made of, always inspect the furrule once you purchase a new brush to make sure that it is on securely (where it is crimped), because if it is not you will always have problems.

Handles: Always look for a balanced wood handle that has a hearty painted and varnished finish on it. The finish helps keep water away from the wood when painting. PLastic handles are better for folks that are a little harder on their brushes.

The typical brush that we as miniature painter use is a round from from size 10/0 to size 3. Speciality brushes are made in sizes as small as 30/0.


Many other type of brushes that can be used for different effects, below is a list of these:

o Round: Long closely arranged bristles for detail

o Flat: For spreading paint quickly and evenly over a surface. They will have longer hairs than their Bright counterpart.

o Bright: Flat brushes with short stiff bristles, good for driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as thicker painting styles like impasto work.

o Filbert: Flat brushes with domed ends. They allow good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work.

o Fan: For blending broad areas of paint.

o Angle: Like the Filbert, these are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.

o Mop: A larger format brush with a rounded edge for broad soft paint application as well as for getting thinner glazes over existing drying layers of paint without damaging lower layers.

o Rigger: Round brushes with longish hairs, traditionally used for painting the rigging in pictures of ships. They are useful for fine lines and are versatile for both oils and watercolors.

Artists’ brushes are most commonly categorized by type and by shape.

Types include: watercolor brushes which are usually made of sable, synthetic sable or nylon; oil painting brushes which are usually made of sable or bristle; and acrylic brushes which are almost entirely nylon or synthetic. Turpentine or thinners used in oil painting can destroy some types of synthetic brushes. However, innovations in synthetic bristle technology have produced solvent resistant synthetic bristles suitable for use in all media. Natural hair, squirrel, badger or sable are used by watercolorists due to their superior ability to absorb and hold water.

Bristles may be natural — either soft hair or hog bristle — or synthetic.

Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair (sabeline); or more rarely, squirrel, pony, goat, mongoose or badger. Cheaper hair is sometimes called camel hair, although it does not come from camels.
Hog bristle (often called china bristle or Chunking bristle) is stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached.
Synthetic bristles are made of special multi-diameter extruded nylon filament.
Artists’ brush handles are commonly wooden but can also be made of molded plastic. Many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood; better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood. The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling.

Metal ferrules may be of aluminum, nickel, copper, or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules are also found: these give a different “feel” to the brush. The top of the range brushes, however, usually have ferrules made from transparent plastic tightened in place by thin wire.

When shopping for a brush look at what you are buying, who made the brush, and honestly the cost of the brush. Many larger art stores have a large selection of brushes of all types.

Kolinsky Sable: This is the top of the line, premier natural hair for watercolor artists. They love it because it is soft, points well and carries tons of color. (This is helpful for artists so they don’t have to continually go back to the palette to recharge their paintbrush.) When you paint with Kolinsky sable watercolor brushes you can just paint, and paint, and paint. Kolinsky is actually the tail hair from male sables from the Siberian region of the former Soviet Union. Male animals generally have thicker hair than females and sables raised in this cold environment have even thicker and stronger hair.

Red Sable, Black Sable (a.k.a. Fitch): Red or Black sable is a natural hair that is also derived from sables, but not necessarily the hardiest ones. Red and Black sable brushes have many of the same characteristics as Kolinsky, but not as pronounced a performance.

Squirrel: Many times you need to visualize what each hair will look like to understand how it will perform. A squirrel hair watercolor brush is very absorbent, probably the most absorbent that you will find. It is also very soft-bordering on floppy. Bit, if you have a soft, very organic painting style and love creating large washes of color in your art, then a squirrel hair watercolor paint brush may be for you.

Ox: Ox Hair is pretty coarse and is great for oil or acrylics because it can handle t he punushment. It is often dyed to make it more forgiving and softer.

Goat: Goat hair is pretty soft, pretty absorbant and generally used in Oriental brushes. It isn’t the most durable of hairs and does require some care to have it last for several years.

Mongoose: Also a favorite amoung oil and acrylic painters because of its durability along with its forgiving feel. It is much less coarse than regual bristle and makes for a much softer brush.