Monday, March 21, 2011

Tips and Tricks #1 - Brushes

-By John Jude Palencar

Tips and Tricks #1 - Brushes
There have been a number of requests in regard to “tips and tricks”. Let me first start off by saying that “tips and tricks” are a presumed method in which an artist can produce, in part, satisfactory results. This is partially true. If an artist places too much importance on a specific trick/ technique the the work of art will suffer from an overt use of that particular technical approach. Simply put... there is no easy way to achieve a true qualitative visual statement. As an artist becomes more aware and practiced in their approach there will be a sense of control. They will be able to set goals for their work. Most of the tricks that I had once learned and adopted have been left behind as stepping stones to my current approach and philosophy to painting.

I think it’s about boiling things down to their purest methods. The only way to produce good work is to work. The dexterity of the mind/ hand connection is the first challenge. After that you have to develop a personal knowledge of various mediums, then you can move on to concept. Looking at a piece of art is easy but really seeing the art is hard. Being able to technically dissect a painting will only come with personal observation and self awareness of one’s own work. Personally acquired knowledge and thoughtful practice will make for a successful end result.

For this first installment of a multipart post I will address: Brushes
These are my opinions and may differ with your preferences and practices.

Brushes - Over the years I’ve used many types of brushes. I used to spend unheard of sums of money on brushes. At the American Greetings Card Company studios I once got to use a Windsor Newton Series Seven #12 (?). The requisition department brought it to me in a velvet lined walnut case. I think the brush cost as much as a automobile back in the Seventies! This brush had to be kept in my locked side work table. Like so many art materials the reason for liking one brush over another is personal. In the past I use to purchase pure sable brushes for finer work. After wearing down countless brushes and going slowly broke I have settled (for now) on using certain brushes for my detailed work and other brushes for developing large areas of the painting.

There is a price you have to pay for quality so I would suggest spending a little more on the larger brushes that will last longer and finding cost effective alternatives for the brushes that you put a lot of wear and tear on. That being said, only you can find what feels comfortable cost-wise and will work for your artistic needs. Remember use professional materials to get professional results. Quality always rules.

Windsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II - Series 202.
This series of brushes are a blend of sable and synthetic. There are affordable and come in a variety of sizes from 0 -15 (I think). The other brushes in this series are 101 and 303. I chose the 202’s because they have longer hair and carry a decent paint load. The other brushes in this series have shorter and longer hair respectively. I still go through them like french fries but they are affordable. Their lower cost and sharp point can render fine detail. I have to mention that they are fairly inconsistent in quality. So grab a handful of this brush and check them for overall form of the brush hair, the point cut and taper as well.

Mid-size Brushes, sizes 5 - 10 etc.... As far as other brushes... I don’t have a preference. I usually inspect the quality and “spring” of the brush as well as the shape of the end hairs. This is achieved by splaying out the hair with the thumb and forefinger. I look to see is anything doesn’t look right. There should be an even contour of shape, The hairs should have a consistent taper. No hairs should be bent or mashed by those protective plastic tubes. I usually keep a variety of shapes and a variety of animal hair/ synthetic brushes within easy reach. Each type of brush has positive and negative attributes.

Large Brushes - For my own preference I prefer the “Hake” brush. It’s a Japanese brush, usually goat hair, sandwiched and sewn between a split piece of wood. They come in a variety of sizes with the largest being around 7.5 inches wide. I have used these brushes for years with watercolor, oil and acrylic. Some of the brushes I have are over twenty five years old and are still going strong. One of the best brands is made by Yakamoto, Japan. They are great for washes or blocking in large areas. Scumbling and glazing are easily accomplished with them.

Weird Brushes and other Mark Makers - The other avenue to consider are found objects or brushes not meant for artistic work. This is an area to use your imagination.

Case in point - I was at garage sale and found a great beat-up wallpaper paste brush that I use to develop uncontrolled washes and interesting marks on the canvas or panel.

My dog’s old wire hair brush (cleaned) - great for etching-like marks.

Sponges, palette knives, sticks and stones, shredded cloth, sheets of plastic. Your hand!

The oldest brush I have is a high quality squirrel hair watercolor wash brush. I bought it for twelve dollars when I was fifteen years old back in 1972 and it’s still in great shape. Twelve bucks was a lot of money in those days.

In Conclusion
Having a good selection of brushes and mark makers is essential. Filberts, rounds, sharps and flats... kinda sounds like music. If you are to be the conductor of your painting having the right notes makes the symphony worth listening to.


  1. Great post John. There's no way of saying one type of sable, hake or hog brush is better than the other brand you just have to try them to see which works for you.

    One of the best discoveries I made was using a toothbrush with masking fluid for a speckle effect. It's ideal for star constellations and sea spray.

    Looking forward to the next post!

  2. As good as the more expensive sable brushes are, I actually prefer the points that the cheaper synthetic blends give me for my detail work. I'm in the habit of assuming I'll go through at least one of these on a painting since, as with you, they tend to get a lot of wear and tear. Just goes to show that more expensive isn't always better... it's a matter of what works for you.

  3. Damn - I forgot the famous toothbrush... "all hail the toothbrush"!


  4. I tried the toothbrush thing but it really played hell with my teeth the next time I brushed them. I'm going jump on the synthetic brush wagon. Painting with acrylic on gesso wears most anything down so I buy brushes in bulk for detail stuff. If I were a washy watercolor guy then sable might be the way. Thanks for this post John though I was really hoping for that magic Palencar texture brush.

  5. I used only series 7 rounds until about a year ago... some paintings were only with a #2.

    I do not recommend it.

  6. Hey Scott - I found that the W&N Series 7 brushes go fat/ round and lose their points very quickly. They are good for blending gouache and watercolor after this rounding occurs. They are also a bit pricey in my opinion. Art Sign or S+S used to make a decent sable brush that lasted much longer. I never throw out a brush until it is completely unusable.

    Oh Bill - you could not look upon the magic Palencar texture brush lest you be torn apart and melted by protective angels that guard it's secrets!

  7. I use round brushes. For inking, I have a cheap round size 5 brush for masking in big black areas and I keep a size 1,3, and 4 Winsor Newton Artist Watercolor Sable. Those brushes have NEVER let me down.

    For gouache and acrylic, I just use synthetic watercolor brushes from Blick Art Supplies. While I don't think you need the most expensive gear, I agree with DC Comics pro Klaus Janson about having good quality brushes even though a genius can create with a stick and pudding.

  8. My favourite tiny brushes are Dynasty Micron synthetics. They have one that is bent like a dental tool, almost acting like a wee mahl stick.

    I sometimes paint with oil on slate or shale stone though, and it's murder on brushes. Cheap synthetics for me.

  9. Thanks a lot for the tips, when i started painting of course i didn't know anything.. i just took any brush and start painting also i never get a tip for someone but is really nice to have internet.