On the Paintbrush: Part II

20June 2011

On the Paintbrush:  Part II

In the hope that I won’t bore you to death, I am going to try and keep this interesting; as technical works always seem dry when we read them.  All paint brushes can be used for any purpose that you see fit.  Be it fine detail, soft transitions of color, or painterly brushstrokes, paintbrushes are the tool for you to decide what use they have.  Albeit, all brushes have an intended use, and when used with that intent in mind, the paintbrush can work magic.  
There are a number of paint brush types varying from size, shape, and body for many different purposes in working with oil paints.  The most common brush types are:  flat, bright, fan, filbert, egbert, liner, round, flat wash, mop, and the angular.  They are named for both their appearance and use with paints. 
The flat brush.  With its flat rectangular body and square chisel edge, the flat brush is perfect for applying large amounts of color both quickly and evenly.  Its width is typically half its length.  It holds plenty of paint for applying thick amounts, and it creates long straight brush strokes.  The flat brush is excellent for softly defining compositional elements that have a straight edge to them.  I find the flat brush most useful in applying the underpainting when clarity and precision are not too important, but applying a large amount of paint is.  
The bright brush has the same chisel edge as a flat brush, but with shorter bristle length, and comes to a fine chisel edge when loaded with paint.  Its width is typically the same distance as its length, giving it a relationship with the flat brush.  The short, square head of the bright brush makes it ideally suited for straight lines, applying broad strokes with a controlled edge, and well-defined brush strokes.  The bright brush is capable of finely detailing forms, making it perfect for overpainting and finial editing.  I use the bright brush for all geometric forms and the overpainting of large areas of negative space to redefine positive spaces. The bright brush is my personal favorite, my paintbrush of choice.  I tend to use it for most everything.  The bright brush gives me more control over oil-paint than any of the other brushes.  
The fan brush is shaped into a flat profile with a curved edge spread out like a hand-held fan.  The fan brush is designed for delicately blending color and softening edges, creating dusty-like strokes when painting objects such as clouds and distant foliage.  I consider the fan brush a gimmick, and believe it should not be used by the professional oil painter.  The professional can reproduce the brushstrokes the fan brush creates with a filbert brush.  I say do not buy a fan brush; save your money and buy filberts instead.  The filbert brush has some real purpose to it.
The filbert brush has the body of a flat brush with a slightly rounded edge point.  The filbert is extremely versatile and is used to create long painterly brush strokes.  Just as a flat brush can make broad strokes or more delicate and tapered strokes, the filbert excels in both of these purposes.  I use the filbert brush for softening the edges of forms and fading small areas of change in color value.  The filbert brush is the macro lens of oil painting with its dual ability to focus a finely detailed stroke and fade oil color, softly blurring its appearance. 
The egbert brush is similar to a filbert brush in that it has the same rounded edge, only with much longer bristles.  Its flat ferrule and long bristles can carry more color than a filbert brush.  It is as long as the liner brush and is most commonly used for thick, long tapered lines, and blending value changes.  I have no personal use for the egbert, and I find it lacking in self-control as a result of its unnecessary and excessive length.
The liner brush has a slender round head with very long bristles that comes to a thin tip that makes it ideal for working with tiny details.  The length of its body holds a lot of oil color allowing it to deliver color continuously in a single stroke when painting long lines.  The thin tip creates fine lines like no other brush type.  This brush is commonly called a “rigger” for its common use in painting the thin lines of rope rigging on ships.  I have used the liner brush previously with well worked oil color to achieve the immediate effects of small detail.  I simply do not like this brush type.  Although it has its uses, none of them coincide with what I do.  
The round brush has a thick round head with bristles that taper to a fine point at the end. It is used for precise strokes of fine detail work.  Like the liner brush, the round brush holds a good deal of paint and is best used with slightly thinned paints.  However, thinned oil paints fade away, crack, and slowly become transparent with time.  I have taken to beating down my oil paint on the pallet prior to use with the round brush, so as to make the paint more malleable.  I use the round brush for detailed lines.  It is better to simply work the oil color on the pallet until it is soft enough to achieve the desired consistency so it can flow from the bristles evenly.

The flat wash, flat shader, and stroke brush types are extra-large, extra soft, blending brushes intended for watercolors.  Even though they are primarily used for painting with watercolors, they are useful to the oil painter as a dry brush to remove all trace of brushstroke after the establishment of oil color has been finished.  I use the flat wash brush with oils as a dry-brush for soft surface color blending and smoothing.  The flat wash brush is ideal for blending surface area and applying a smooth transition between color and value changes without disturbing the wet underpainting.  
The mop brush has a large, flappy, fat body and is shaped into an oval or rounded thick edge.  The mop brush is used for delicately glazing, so as to not disturb the underpainting.  It is also useful as a dry-brush for blending large amounts of surface color.  I personally find the mop brush useless, albeit, I have used the mop brush for applying glazes over large surface areas.
The angular brush is similar to the build and body of the flat brush, but with the edge angled at a tapered slant.  The angular brush has a flat edge and a pointed tip, allowing for both wide and thin strokes.  The tip is its most valued feature, as it can easily reach areas within a painting that are between sections you do not wish to disturb.  The tight details the angular brush can reach are virtually impossible to work with a larger brush.  I use the angular brush for precise details in color forms where a mistake, or “coloring outside the lines,” would be nearly irreversible.  I also use the angular brush when I need the flat chisel edge of a bright brush but must fit into a tight compositional element.

Thanks for checking this out…
…part III on the paintbrush coming soon.