Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Artist's Guide to Brushes

A professor and his wife visited my studio last year. He stared at my brush collection and was appalled. “You paint with those?” I told him some of them were over 20 years old, and his wife chided him, “See, honey, you don’t need to spend so much money on brushes”.

I’ve accumulated a sad set of brushes over the years. None of them cost over $10. Some were purchased at an auction 5 years ago in Boston. It was an artist’s estate and I bought his used easel, paints and brushes for $15. Lucky for me, his brushes were much higher quality than the ones I purchase. I still use them, though they are beginning to disintegrate.

I purchase a new brush every few months, use it until it’s a stump, then buy a new one. The way I figure it, if I can paint this well with crap brushes, life will be a whole lot easier when I get some good ones. Good brushes are a distant dream, lumped into my hopes of someday taking a vacation, or buying new clothes or a fancy new van to take me to shows. Until then, I’ll make do with what I have.

Some old relics

The three stages of a detail brush

Most of my brushes are synthetic. I’ve been told oil painters should only use natural hair brushes, but they cost 3x as much. You don't need them. I use flats and filberts, in different sizes. Fans, angle brushes and mops are useless. I rinse them with turpentine, then soap and warm water. When I accidentally let paint dry on them, a brush restorer works magic getting them back in order. Over time, a flat brush turns into nice, bushy blending brush. A new detail brush eventually becomes a stump that can be used for applying little spots of paint.

Having quality brushes will make painting easier, but if you are on a budget, I suggest spending money on quality paint. Below are my latest paintings, all painted with my beat-up brush collection.

Billy Holiday, commissioned portrait 30x40"


3 new Mini paintings, 4x4" available for $55 each plus shipping on Etsy.


Amariah said...

I agree totally! Good, quality paint is waaay more important than a good brush ;-)
I love your blog and thanks for following me♥

Heather said...

hehe, Im right there with ya. Im totally cheap on brushes. I've got a little girl, and its not uncommon for me to have to just up mid-painting to see what she's yelping about or have to go do something really fast. Ah, its ended the quality of many a good brush...but I'd be even sadder if I spent a lot of money on it!

Fantastic Figments said...

I hear you on the brush thing I have some that are close to 10 years old and they are my fav. it takes forever to get use to a brush!

Love Love Love your art I can't say it enough!


sarah said...

funny, my teacher just gave me a lecture on why make a difficult thing (painting) harder by using crappy brushes. i just buy really cheap brushes and replace them often. i too dream of having expensive, beautiful brushes someday. probably like some women covet shoes

Andrew Kottenstette said...

I have a twenty-year, maybe more, familiarity with brushes, starting as a son of a housepainter. It's been an interesting life learning more and more about them in any size. A good brush can be as responsive as a guitar when it comes to expression, and well, those become special brushes. One takes care of them or has to break in a new one.
I'm surprised brush manufacturers don't have some kind of product survey in exchange for free brushes. That would be sweet! I mean they advertise the heck out of it for iPods and stuff.
I tried Daniel Smith pigments a long time ago and got spoiled. So spoiled that I'm working more with clay and sculpting.

Gemma Mortlock said...

I agree with you completely. My array of art brushes are all moth bitten and thready, it does make me feel a little self conscious and think hmmm should i invest in some super brand new ones? but its exactly true what you said, if they paint perfectly well why buy new ones? Why fix something that isnt broken? haha! by the way your work is amazing you are very very talented and i wish you a world of luck in the future