Saturday, February 22, 2014

Attributes of an Artist's Paintbrush

Allegory of Painting,
painted by Jean Restout II
If you are a painter, brushes are essential. Whether you use watercolor, oil, acrylic or anything else, paintbrushes are the tools of the trade and can become like the tips of your fingers when manipulating paint.

Starting out, I used to purchase expensive brushes thinking, the higher the price, the better the quality, right? Sadly that was not the case at all and most of those brushes are either long gone or have since been retired.

Expensive brushes do not necessarily equal good quality however knowing some of the attributes of an artist's paintbrush will help you make better choices when purchasing brushes.

In general most brushes are still assembled by hand and when it comes to quality, the brand is extremely important. Look carefully at the quality and craftsmanship before you purchase the brush. A dozen inexpensive brushes is sometimes more expensive than the price of one good quality brush that will last for years.

When a brush is manufactured, the hair or bristles are bound together using a cord or nylon rope and then glued with an adhesive. The bound bristles are then set into a metal tube and the handle is then pushed into the back of the metal tube and held in place by a crimp, created from a special tool is used to bend the metal. The crimp grips the handle and holds it in place. The bristles are then trimmed or cut into various shapes (i.e. round or flat), lengths and sizes.

  • Attributes of an Artist's Paintbrush
    Attributes of an Artist's Paintbrush
    Brush Hair or Bristles 
    - made from natural animal hair or man-made synthetic fiber. The type of hair used determines whether the brush is soft or firm
  • Brush Shape or Tip - top of the bristles, tips are cut into various brush shapes. The shape effects the stroke and effects how the paint is applied to the surface. (i.e. the tip shown in the figure is a "round", smaller sizes usually have pointed tips that can be used to make tiny details)
  • Tuft or Belly - the part of the brush that is used to pick up paint and apply it. The "belly" of the brush actually holds the paint, they comes in all sizes from small to large and various lengths from short to long 
  • Roots - bottom part of the bristles bound together inside the ferrule
  • Adhesive - wax based glue, epoxy or substance used to keep the roots together
  • Ferrule - Metal component that wraps around the roots and handle. It keeps the bristles attached to the handle and protects the adhesive from damage
  • Handle - used to hold the brush while painting, carved from wood or molded from plastic, they come in various lengths and sizes
  • Crimp - where the metal of the ferrule is compresses into small folds or ridges, a triple crimp is the most reliable if you can find it

If you are purchasing brushes online, know the brand before you buy a whole set. Start with one or two first, test them out then buy more. When shopping in person, look for: 

  • A crimp in the ferrule, at least a double crimp or a triple is the most reliable if you can find it
  • Run the bristles back and forth over your hand, any loose or uneven hairs? If so don't buy it, it will get worse over time
  • Check to see if the handle is loose or firmly attached to the ferrule. If it even slightly wiggles, don't buy it
  • If the handle is wooden, make sure it has a protective coating of paint, do not purchase ones that have raw wood exposed

To determine what's needed for the task, download free handouts from They have tons of useful information to help you choose what shapesize or hair.

As far as specific brands, I love Rosemary & Co. So far, I have found them to be the best quality brushes on the market versus the money spent. I started using her brand in the last couple of years and never looked back. You can also see images of how her brushes are made here. Yes, they are amazing!

So what kind of paintbrush brands do you use or suggest?
Leave your comments or suggestions below.

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