Do You Really Need All Those Paint Brushes?

Do You Really Need All Those Paint Brushes?

with 14 Comments
Hog Bristle Round -- I find this brush unnecessary since I can make detail marks with the corners of a Hog Bristle Flat.
Hog Bristle Round — I find this brush unnecessary since I can make detail marks with the corners of a Hog Bristle Flat.

How does one go about choosing brushes for oil painting? Perhaps you’ve noticed that the search can be daunting. One visit to an art supply store or online retailer reveals the almost endless brushes from which to choose.

Hog Bristle Filbert -- I find that I don't need to buy these because Hog Bristle Flats turn into Filberts with use.
Hog Bristle Filbert — I find that I don’t need to buy these because Hog Bristle Flats turn into Filberts with use.

I discovered a few things early in my painting journey that have helped me keep my brush choices simple. Perhaps they can help you too. (It should be noted that I prefer to paint wet-into-wet whenever possible, so that has influenced my brush decisions.)

Hog Bristle Bright -- I find that the bristles are too short to hold much paint.
Hog Bristle Bright — I find that the bristles are too short to hold much paint.

Stiff vs. Soft: One thing I learned is the difference between stiff bristle brushes and softer sable or mongoose brushes. Bristle brushes offer more durability and can put up with a bit of abuse. They’re great for filling in large areas quickly and for scrubbing, scribbling and scumbling. Softer brushes tend to be more fragile and must be treated with more care. They excel in smooth paint application, glazing and softening effects.

Brush Shapes: I also discovered some things about different brush shapes. And my experience revealed that flat brushes offer a full range of application possibilities without the need for other brush shapes. Using just a flat brush, a painter can make a surprising number of different marks including:

  • filling in large areas with the wide flat side
  • making thin lines with the long narrow side
  • sharply dividing shapes with the narrow flat tip
  • making small detail marks with the corners

You may ask, “Don’t you need other brushes like rounds, filberts and brights?” In my opinion, the detail marks that can be made with the corners of a flat brush eliminate the need for a round brush. I don’t need to buy filberts because my flats eventually turn into filberts as they wear down. And brights simply don’t hold enough paint for me and also lack the bounce of longer flat brushes.

My Brush of Choice: As a result of these discoveries, the flat has become my brush of choice and the majority of my paintings are completed with just two types of flat brushes: the flat hog bristle and the flat mongoose.

The Flat Hog Bristle

Hog Bristle Flat -- one of two brush types that I use most often due to its versatility.
Hog Bristle Flat — one of two brush types that I use most often due to its versatility.

The flat hog bristle is quite versatile. It can hold a lot of paint for thick impasto work or be used to paint thin washes. It has a nice springy quality. For years I used this brush exclusively, but at this point I do about 80% of each of my paintings with flat hog bristle brushes. I mainly use sizes 2 – 12 but occasionally use larger sizes for larger paintings (my largest is a size 35!). I’m currently using Creative Mark Pro Stroke Series 77F, but the brand doesn’t really matter as long as the bristles don’t fall out too easily.

The Flat Mongoose

Mongoose Flat -- one of two brush types that I use most often due to its versatility.
Mongoose Flat — one of two brush types that I use most often due to its versatility.

I’ve since added a flat brush made with mongoose hair by Royal & Langnickel. However, these brushes have been discontinued due to the endangered status of Indian Mongoose. Happily, Rosemary & Co. offers a high-quality replacement made with a blend of badger hair. The softness of these brushes offers the ability to lay down thick paint on top of an already thick stroke without digging into the lower thick stroke the way the stiffer hog bristle would. They’re also great for softening edges and for detail work. I mainly use these for finishing effects as I approach a painting’s completion. I use sizes 2 – 12 in these brushes as well. The remaining 20% of each of my paintings are done with these brushes, as well as a few other tools for special effects.

Hog Bristle Egbert -- I use this brush for certain special effects.
Hog Bristle Egbert — I use this brush for certain special effects.

Special Effects: Occasionally, I employ a brush called an egbert. It’s an extra long filbert that can hold a lot of paint and has an extra measure of bounce. After a lot of use, egberts also develop a ragged character that makes for some fantastic brushwork. I mainly use them for a few final, strategically-placed strokes of thick impasto.

Used Hog Bristle Egbert -- a well-used Egbert can be used to make some very interesting brush marks.
Used Hog Bristle Egbert — a well-used Egbert can be used to make some very interesting brush marks.

I’ll also occasionally use a palette knife or paper towel for certain effects, but I’m admittedly mostly a brush painter. (Although you’ll often catch me at plein air painting shows touching up paintings with my fingers after I’ve put my brushes away. But I usually end up just getting them out again because I haven’t figured out how to make convincing brush strokes with my fingers.)

Do you have a favorite brush or two to recommend? Leave a comment below!

14 Responses

  1. Rusty Jones
    | Reply

    Thanks for the post Dan. Learned something about mongoose brushes being able to pull paint over wet paint. I will give it a try at the first opportunity.

  2. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Glad it was helpful for you, Rusty!

  3. Julie Evans
    | Reply

    Thanks, Dan, this is great! When I was in art school they were more interested in concept than technique. As a result, I learned next-to-nothing about the different types of brushes. (Art supply stores will be disappointed, because I’ve bought whatever someone recommended as the latest-and-greatest. Now my art supply dollars will last longer. hahaha!)

  4. […] Dan Schultz’s breakdown of his brush choices to see some of the best paintbrush characteristics to look […]

  5. Jim Wood
    | Reply

    Thanks for articles like this, Dan. As you know, I am not a painter or an artist of any type, but I am always fascinated to learn and to watch how art is created. I’ll read an article of yours any time!

  6. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Glad you enjoy the blog, Jim — I appreciate your comments!

  7. Susan Harris
    | Reply

    Dan,
    Do you think they kill the mongoose to make the brush or just cut it’s hair? Now I have to google mongoose to see what they look like.

  8. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    I actually don’t know how they get the mongoose hair, Susan. But evidently it’s not allowed anymore. The synthetic and badger blend brushes are good replacements though.

  9. Tom Johnston
    | Reply

    Hi Dan
    Enjoyed your column on brushs. I keep most of my brushs even when they’re worn to a nubin. They come in handy for that special scrumbling effect or to remove extra paint you dont want in the painting and a million other uses. A good use for a round is to buy a cheap one and when you get home take it and distort the brush end to where it’s all awry. Makes interesting bushes. I seen Richard Schmid use a brush with a bad hair day in one of his videos. Keep the great articles coming. Your Friend Tom

  10. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Thanks for your comments, Tom. There is definitely nothing wrong with using your brushes as long as you possibly can! As I said in the article, I like using those worn, ragged egberts for creating some unique brushwork.

  11. Laurie Hendricks
    | Reply

    Thanks, Dan, for the interesting article on brushes! I couldn’t agree with you more about flats (which become filberts) being the main brush one needs! I’ve been wanting to try Rosemary brushes, and now know which one to buy. I always enjoy learning something new, so I really appreciate your blogs. Happy Painting!

  12. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Glad to be of help, Laurie. Thanks for commenting!

  13. Rob Impellizzeri
    | Reply

    Thanks, Dan for excellent discussion on your choice of brushes. I plan to try using my Rosemary badger hair brush to lay down thick paint as you suggest, though I’m curious how you use these brushes for detail work, since they are softly splayed at the end(?).

  14. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    I’m glad you found the article helpful, Rob. Without any paint on the badger hair brushes, they’re very effective at softening edges. But if you have enough paint on the brush, the hairs hold together which is what helps with the detail work. You’ll see when you give them a try.

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