What Size Brush Should I Use?

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Just as a scalpel is the surgeon’s main tool, brushes are the basic tools of a painter.

Surgeons need more than one size and shape of scalpel to complete their job. Artists are no different and tend to become quite obsessive about their tools.

If you’re like most artists, you’ve amassed quite a collection of brushes over the years.

If you’re a novice and you haven’t yet started an embarrassingly large collection, you don’t need to worry. You’ll catch up quickly to the rest of us.

What Size Brush Should I Use?

You should always use the largest brush possible to properly accomplish your task. You wouldn’t paint a wall with a trim brush. You also wouldn’t cut your lawn with a pair of garden shears.

There’s no need to be ridiculous either. Occasionally, you’ll hear of an artist who paints with large house brushes. This may be an advertising ploy or used in demonstrations for publicity purposes. He certainly doesn’t do his finest work with a four-inch wide brush on a 16” x 20” canvas.

However, using a large brush that’s suitable for the size and style painting you are doing will speed up your painting process and ensure that you won’t become overly concerned with piddly details. Becoming consumed with details can take a successful, painterly work and turn it into a neurotic piece that’s so full of detail, you can’t enjoy the overall art or the message that it portrays.

Does Size Really Matter?

Regardless of the size of the support, you will employ several different sizes of brushes. The size you use depends on what stage of the painting you are working on and what technique and style you are employing.

After drawing your composition, you begin laying in some background color or blocking in the lights and darks of the composition. Use your largest brushes for this step. You may use a two-inch or even larger brush. It’s important to get something down on your support. All that white staring back at you can sometimes be unnerving. A flat brush, used in a loose fashion is a good choice. Slop some paint around to give yourself an idea of where you’re going with your composition. At this point, one generally doesn’t worry about perfect lines and edges. A big brush and a few choice brush strokes are all that is needed to get the ball rolling.

Now that you’ve settled in and have some lights, darks and color masses on your support, it’s time to go back and add definition, shadows and contouring to characterize the shapes in your composition. You’ll probably switch to a smaller brush and perhaps a different shape. A round is a good all-around choice, as it is versatile and used for many painting chores. The point can be used to create a sharp edge. Use the side to sweep a swath of color. Draw a crisp line or an undulating wave of color.

A smaller brush doesn’t mean a tiny detailing brush. It just means a brush that can more easily work in the areas that need definition, add another glaze to enrich or alter the color of an area or add new elements to the composition. If you used a two-inch brush for your initial layout, perhaps you’ll try a one-inch or ¾-inch for this next segment of your work.

When you finally get down to the finishing touches, you may get to use those little brushes. You may need to add a few grasses to the foreground, paint a small reflection of light on the pond’s surface or darken the center of the sunflower blooms. Unless you’re painting miniatures, your small brushes are used less than any others in your horde of paint flinging devices.

What Shape Brush Is Best To Use?

Every shape of brush has its own unique features. Some brushes are general purpose and can be used for a multitude of brush strokes and effects, while other brushes are very specific for doing one job.

You need an assortment of brushes to perform the different brush strokes and techniques associated with the painting style and the medium you are using. Not only do you need a few different shapes, but also you will need those shapes in several different sizes.

Should I Purchase Long Or Short Handle Brushes?

If you’ve browsed around a craft store or artist supply shop, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the same brush may be available with either a long or a short handle. Why would there be a choice in handle lengths?

The reason has to do with whether you stand or sit to paint. Acrylic and oil painters typically place their support on an easel at which they stand to create their artwork. By using a long handled brush, they are able to use their entire arm and easily move across the painting surface. This longer handle gives them more freedom and a greater range of motion.

Most watercolorists and craftsmen typically sit while painting. Using a short handled brush is most convenient for this style of painting. Watercolorists don’t stand their support on an easel, as their paint is watery and would be a runny mess. They sit at a table with the paper lying flat or at a slight angle. Crafters generally work with small objects, and they are also seated at a worktable. A long handle would only impede their work.

Painting with a large brush is a very liberating experience. Rather than the individual brush strokes, you’re concentrating on the flow of the color and the overall impression. You’ll also speed up the painting process, which means you’ll complete more work in less time. If you have visions of making money with your artwork, you have to consider the time you spend on each painting. Using large brushes allows you to work smarter, not harder.

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