Project: Basic Paint Application – Exercise: Getting to Know your Brushes


Getting to Know your Brushes

Start by exploring the range of marks and shapes that can be made with your brushes. Make marks with brushes of different sizes, using flats, rounds and filberts.

Mark making with flat brushes

Mark making with flat brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Flat brushes are currently my most frequently used due to their versatility.  Many marks and effects can be created with these from flat blocks of colour, swirls, scumbling, thin straight lines (using the flat on its edge), precise marks (using the corner edge) etc.  In my experiments here I have used:
Size 12 Black Hog bristle – softer than the white but still stiff enough to show some brush marks
Size 8 White Hog bristle – stiffer than the black, hard-wearing and forgiving, good for textured brush marks
Size 12 Monarch (synthetic mongoose) – size 12 in this range is significantly smaller than the hog and much softer. It can provide all the same types of marks, however is better used for more subtle brush work.
Size 4 Monarch (synthetic mongoose) – As above and best suited to either smaller images or detail. The Monarch flat brushes are particularly good for “printing” straight lines on their edge, useful for highlights.


Mark making with filbert brushes

Mark making with filbert brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Currently I rarely use filbert brushes so I only have two for oil painting. However, after playing at mark making with them, I have discovered that they are particularly useful for natural subjects or more organic effects.  They are similar to flats except their tip is a rounded shape and I have heard them referred to cat’s tongue brushes I seem to recall.  They can be used similarly to flats except for printing small straight lines with the tip, they can however, be dragged along on their tip to make a fairly convincing straight line. I did notice that when loaded with paint and pulled down a way that the top of the line is curved and where the brush is lifted off of the paper there is a reverse curve imprinted – rather like a long finger nail tip.  They can be loaded with paint and dabbed on the support in different directions and I succeeded in making a fairly convincing fir cone shape.
Brushes used were: Size 8  and 4 both Monarch ( synthetic mongoose).

Mark making with round and fan brushes

Mark making with round and fan brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Again, round brushes are rarely used by me, as are fan brushes – therefore I only have two round and one fan brush in my possession.
Round brushes: As well as sweeping and drawing type strokes, my natural inclination was to stipple with these.  They also made nice, regular circles when pivoted in one spot, although the most useful I found was the twisting and turning of the brush as it travelled over the support.  This seemed a natural solution for tree trunks and branches.
I used Size 4 & 6 white hog bristle.

Also on this page, I decided to try out my one and only fan brush, size 4 white hog bristle. People have suggested that I use one for grasses etc, however, I find the result a little too regimented and uniform to use them too much.  I did like the visible brush strokes, however, and using for both curves and straight lines on its edge and then sweeping down as if mountain peeks was interesting.  I also tried using it dry to blend other marks together whilst paint was still wet.

Conclusion: Step out of my comfort zone and think about utilising brushes other than my trusty flats!

From memory, paint a small and simple landscape (about A4). Use large brushes so you won’t be distracted by the urge to include detail: instead, concentrate on the possibilities and patterns made by the brush marks.

Simple imaginary landscape to experiment with mark making using a large brush

Simple imaginary landscape to experiment with mark making using a large brush – oil on mount board approx A4

Used large-sized brushes: 12 flat hog, 6 round hog, 12 monarch flat, 8 monarch filbert and 4 hog fan.
Techniques and marks used:
Scrubbed in basic shapes with 12 flat, and scumbled the sky, making marks in different directions to achieve texture and clouds.
Made directional marks with 8 flat for corn fields and hedgerows.
Stippled with 6 round for near hedgerow.
Straightish lines with 12 monarch flat, printed broken lines with brush edge.
Softened far hills with filbert.
Flicks and drags of paint for foreground corn with stiff hog brush.

Once you’ve experimented, paint a piece of fruit using these techniques, taking care to set the fruit in direct light to help define the form.

A piece of fruit using techniques learnt

A piece of fruit using techniques learnt – oil on mount board approx A4

I managed to employ several techniques learnt in my experiments.  Broad strokes and chiselled marks with the flats, softer edges and blended with the filberts, twisting and turning the round brush to help make the grain on the table which were then softened with the dry fan brush. Of particular use were the softer flats to describe the shadowed edges of the cardboard box.  Very enjoyable exercise.