Studio Materials: Brushes That I Use
The second most popular question I receive from students is, "What type of brushes do you use?" So, this post is all about the brushes. For those new to acrylic painting, there are three major bristle materials that brushes are constructed with: nylon, natural and a blend of natural and nylon. I use mostly brushes with natural bristles, but I do use a few nylon bristle brushes.
I use many brushes when I paint (sometimes 25-30 brushes per painting). I do this because I use a brush per color - this keeps my colors pure and fresh, and keeps me in a constant flow in my painting process so that I don't have to take the time to clean out brushes while painting. I simply paint with a brush until I finish with that color, set it aside and pick up another brush for the next color. For me this is an essential component of my painting process. Needing so many brushes then demands that I utilize fairly inexpensive brushes. My favorite brushes are made with natural China bristles that are typically made from Ox hair. They are usually sold under the heading of primer or gesso brushes. These have good, thick bristles, a nice wood handle and only cost between $4.00-$8.00 each. These work well when dry but get a bit spongy when wet. Nylon bristles on the other hand, perform perfectly when wet, however they cost more than the natural bristle brushes that I buy - typically 2-3 times the price - that is the main reason I don't use many of them. For me the feeling of the natural bristle brushes is supperior to that of nylon - but that is merely personal preference.
Brushes also are made in a variety of shapes, with the most popular falling into the flat or round category. I use almost exclusively flat brushes in 2", 2.5", 3" and 4" widths. I prefer the marks made by a flat brush and I like the ability to apply more paint that the flat brush affords me. Also when painting with acrylics you must be aware of the stiffness of the bristles. Acrylic and oil brushes are typically constructed with stiffer bristles than their counterparts in the watercolor brushes. Acrylic paint can be fairly thick and a certain stiffness in the bristles is what I prefer to really move the paint around. Again, this is personal preference from 25 years of painting. You may have different preferences. I use what works for me.
I encourage you to purchase round and flat brushes in nylon, natural and blended bristles to see what works best for you. Experimenting with each type is the only way to know what you like and what will work for you. Feeling comfortable with the right type of brushes will make you a better painter.