The true origins of the paintbrush are not known as there is evidence that they were used in some way more than twelve thousand years ago. It was China though that made them become a normal thing and really used. A Chinese man by the name of Meng Tian, who was a general during the Qin Dynasty, is reported to have invented the paintbrush to use for writing with ink.
The first versions were made using bamboo for the handles and different kinds of animal fur, which animal fur depended on the sturdiness wanted. The paintbrush was introduced to the Western world thanks to a Tuscan painter by the name of Cennino Cennini. Over the years, the paintbrush has evolved, and now there are so many different kinds available for people to choose from.
It is no surprise that artists can often feel overwhelmed when trying to pick the right one to use. It really depends on what type of paint is being used and what styles of brushstrokes are desired. When I first got started, I struggled to find the right one and could have used someone walking me through the process of picking the right one.
How Do I Choose An Artist’s Paintbrush?
There are a lot of different things that can play into picking out the right paintbrush and some very important things that should be considered before buying any. I never fully realized how important using the proper paintbrush was until I started getting into painting. I was amazed at how much easier it is to paint when I have a paintbrush that does more of the work for me.
Below is the things that I found are most important to keep in mind when picking the right kinds of paintbrushes to use.
1. Shapes of Brushes
There are four different shapes that the bristles of the brushes can be found in. Each shape has its own look and works best for different types of brush strokes. It is important to pick the right shape for what is being painted.
- Square (Bright)
- Script (Line)
The round shape has a circular base and usually ends in a fine point but can end in a broken circular point. The square shape looks like a square when looking at it from one side and thin from another, and a filbert brush has the same look as a square brush just with a rounded top end instead of straight. Script brushes are the skinniest ones that are basically one long thin point.
The fan brush I have found is perfect for creating texture on trees because of the bristles being so spread out. An angled brush is made similar to a square brush but instead of a square end, it is angled in towards the handle, making it great for curved lines.
2. Brushes for Detail Work
When I am going to be doing anything with a lot of fine details, I prefer to use round and script brushes in different sizes. The shape of them makes it easier when I want to create a small detail, such as simple dots for freckles on a person’s face. Also, a lot of shapes can be made from a simple brushstroke of a round brush.
A script brush is perfect for creating those thin eyelashes or a sparkle in the eye.
3. Brushes for Edging
The only brush shape I will use when it comes to edging is a square brush. That means I tend to use a square brush when I am creating things such as houses or geometric shapes. Making a straight line is always hard, but this brush helps a lot.
4. Brushes for Blending
Blending is a great way to add some more dimension to a painting, such as shading. Now, there are a lot of mixed opinions when it comes to the right kind of brush for this. I personally prefer to use a filbert brush when it comes to smaller areas.
If I happen to be painting a larger area, I tend to use a chip brush, which artists usually stay away from because of its size and sturdy bristles. These bristles are what helps me create a smooth blend in my art.
5. Paint Choice and Bristle Type
The types of bristles can be broken down into two simple types: natural and synthetic. The type of paint that is being used will play into the type of bristles that should be used, which I will touch on further down. To put it simply though, oil painting involves chemicals that will destroy synthetic brushes quickly.
Natural bristles work better at absorbing the oil paint and then transferring it onto the canvas smoothly. Where acrylic paint is thicker, synthetic bristles are better because they will not absorb the paint. This makes it easier to transfer the paint to the canvas.
When I am talking about size, I mean the size of the bristle end, not the size of the whole paintbrush. I will say though that I do not like using paintbrushes that have wide or thick handles though because they are harder for me to hold for long periods of time. The bristles are the part that matter though.
When it comes to painting, the right size of the bristle end will make the task easier. When I am priming a material or painting the background, I will use a thick ended brush. On the other hand, a large end makes it impossible to create fine details, such as shading.
7. Brush Care
This is the least important thing but still important enough that I am going to mention it. I found it surprising how much goes into maintaining good paintbrushes. For example, brushes for oil paints have to be washed in a certain way.
The types of bristles matter as well because natural bristles can frizz easily if not washed properly. Synthetic bristles are by far the easiest to clean as all they require is a rinse in some soapy water.
What Are The Best Paintbrushes For Artists?
There are so many different sets of paintbrushes that can be bought, that I felt overwhelmed when I was first shopping. I quickly learned though that there are different levels when it comes to paintbrushes. By this, I mean that some work better for beginners while some are best for professionals.
Now, it is important to know what set is recommended for each level as well as what the different levels are. Below is a quick list of some of the best choices and what they are best for.
Student Brushes: Blick Scholastic Golden Taklon Brushes, Set of 5
Affordable Acrylic Brushes: Liquitex Basics Brushes, Set of 6
Hog Bristle Brushes: Utrecht Natural Chungking Pure Bristle Brushes, Set of 4
Best Oil Brushes: Richeson Grey Matters Bristle Oil Brushes, Long Handle, Set of 6
Best Value Pack of Craft Brushes: Blick Essentials, Set of 25
Best Travel Set of Brushes: Richeson Plein Air Travel Brushes, Set of 7
Best Luxury Watercolor Brushes: Da Vinci Casaneo and Cosmotop Spin Synthetic Brushes, Wood Box Set
Best Sable Brushes: Old Holland Kolinsky Sable Brush Easel, Set of 12
Best Natural Handcrafted Brushes: Escoda Gradilo Kolinsky Tajmyr Sable Brushes, Set of 6
When it comes down to it, there are a lot of different things that can play into picking the perfect paintbrushes to use. It all depends on what the artist needs and what works best for them. I have worked hard to find what works best for me, but I am also always trying new kinds and falling in love with them.
As long as there are more advances made, there will always be the possibility of something better out there. I hope that this helps an aspiring artist or even a professional pick the best brushes for them, but I would always recommend doing some thorough research before ever buying.