I’ve recently started playing with a new brush. Artists tend to get pretty persnickety about the brushes they use and are always on the lookout for new offerings. Even though I’ve been painting for a long time, I’ve always stayed with pretty much the same style of brush, regardless of whether I’m painting with oil, acrylic or watercolors.
However, I was bumbling about on YouTube, watching artists’ videos and happened across a vintage Bob Ross PBS program. It was from his first year of programming, so that tape was originally filmed sometime in 1983.
Bob, as you may know, was famous for his ‘happy trees.’ He also was fond of ‘happy clouds,’ but it was his tree painting technique that got me thinking about trying out a fan brush.
Right now, I’m concentrating mainly on watercolor, so I bought a couple of watercolor fan brushes and have decided to see just what they can do.
Fan Brush Basics
This brush can be used for animal fur, hair or fabric and lots of outdoor greenery. Holding it in different angles and directions allows you to change the thickness, number and diversity of the paint strokes.
Depending on whether you use it for dry brush, wet in wet or fully loaded, you can create loads of interesting textures and effects rapidly and easily.
Double loading with two different paint colors allows you to paint both the highlighted and shaded side of an object at the same time.
A fan brush is also good for glazing and blending. The brush is thin and wide, so you can very gently spread additional color over an area or blend two colors together with few brush marks.
Speed Up Repetitious Brush Strokes
If you’ve ever decided to add blades of grass or clumps of weeds to a landscape, you can spend an immense amount of time tediously creating individual blades with a riggers or fine round brush. Using a fan brush, you’re creating literally dozens of grass stalks at the same time, cutting your job from many minutes to seconds.
You can create foliage or even an entire tree by using the fan brush. Just Google ‘Bob Ross Happy Tree,’ and watch him paint evergreen trees in just a matter of moments.
Texture And Effects
If you’re painting an animal, this brush can create the texture as well as individual hairs by positioning the brush at an angle that produces random marks. If you’re painting a still life that includes fabric, you can use the bristles’ uniform nature to create the illusion of the warp and weft of the cloth.
Do you want to make the waves or ripple in water or variations in a field? Holding the brush, so it’s 90 degrees to the paper, use a side-to-side motion to cut horizontal swaths across the paper. You can vary the motion up or down slightly, or use one end of the brush. This is a quick way to give the effect of undulating, erratic movement, much as the ripples in a pond or wind moving grasses on the prairie.
Another good use of a fan brush is to add realistic texture to a wood object. Use the width of the brush to add a wide swath of lines along the grain of the board, interspersing it with variations using just the tip edge of the brush. This is great for painting tables and floors in your compositions. You can also use it for texture in some tree bark.
Customize Your Fan Brush
If you’re unhappy with the uniformity of the marks you create with your fan brush, one way to overcome that sameness is to keep practicing. The more you use the brush and try various angles and pressures, the better you’ll become at wielding your new brush.
However, I decided to customize one of my new fan brushes, and I really like some of the results I’m getting. I used tiny, sharp cuticle scissors to cut ragged irregularities into the tips of the brush. Cut cautiously and do as little as possible. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a nearly naked brush handle that won’t be good for much at all.
Cut a bit, test it out to see which areas still need a trim and continue testing and snipping until you’ve gotten the irregular kinds of brush strokes you want.
Practice Makes Perfect
Since there are quite a few ways to use the fan brush, it’s a good idea to dig out that sketchbook and see how your new brush behaves. Spend time loading the brush with two colors and applying the paint. Learn how little paint you need to create a dry brush effect and what the brush does when it’s fully loaded with paint.
Vary the amount of pressure you place on the brush as you pull it across the page and change the angle at which you hold the brush. Practice pulling perfectly straight long lines, wavering lines and quick, short strokes.
This little brush has a lot of potential. Add it to your artist’s tool belt and get ready to speed up your painting and simplify many repetitive painting chores.