How to Buy Brushes

Small FilbertThere are two schools of thought when buying brushes: buy cheap brushes and don’t worry about ruining them or buy expensive brushes and take care of them. I fall in the later category and I’ll explain why as I go through this tutorial.

First of all, let’s look at the anatomy of a brush. They are not that complicated, a handle, a brush head (the artist term for bristles) and that thing that holds the brush head onto the bristles, the ferrule.

The ferrule in cheap brushes is…CHEAP and therefore does a lousy job of keeping the bristles on the brush where they belong. The results, a hairy painting. There is nothing more annoying.

The ferrule has another use. It measures the size of the brush (the exception is the fan brush which is measured at the widest point of the bristles.) The size is then stamped on the handle in most cases. But, there is a problem; there is no standard numbering system. A number 10 brush in one brand could be a 15 in another brand. So, when you are building a brush collection, use the three bears as a guide – a big one, a small one and a middle size one of each of the main types.

Most brushes come in long and short handled versions. Because you should stand away from your work as you paint, if you have to make a choice, choose long handled brushes over short handled. Also, cheap brushes have painted handles. Trust me, eventually this paint will flake off of the handle and end up on your painting – just as annoying as hair!!!

Finally, the most complex part of the brush, the brush head.

Brush heads are made of all types of materials, squirrel, hog and the very expensive sable (which is mink). The good news is that I have found that the best brushes for acrylic paint are the least expensive synthetic brushes, however still purchase the artist or professional quality synthetic brushes. By the way, never mix media on a brush – have separate oil, watercolor and acrylic brushes.

Finally, what I call the “starter” set of brushes. The must-haves. You will need a bright brush – it has short flat bristles, a Filbert brush (my favorite), it is rounded on the edges, a small detail brush and a large 2″ or 3″ brush.

After you have small, medium and large starter brushes, start increasing your collection by trying a new type of brush each time you go to the art supply store.