Alternative Views on Artists Brushes for Oil Painting

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This article describes some unorthodox methods for using paint brushes when painting in oil. None of these are intended to replace traditional advice. It is more a list of additional things to consider when painting, and hopefully get results from. It may or may not be relevant to your method, but I hope for some it is interesting, and even useful to consider. This article is perhaps more relevant to artists working in a relatively uncontrolled and rough manner.

Cheap brushes are often dismissed for failing to retain their shape, and leaving loose bristles behind in the paint. I have found most cheap brushes are ok, although some I admit are useless. Being so cheap, it is affordable to experiment with different brands and throw bad ones away, taking note not to buy them again. I have some expensive brushes that I keep separate, and use when required. But for the most part, I use cheap ones.

I'm not sure what the difference between oil and acrylic brushes is, but my favourite brushes for oil painting are acrylic brushes. They seem to last just as long, cope with oil paint fine, and are an inexpensive brand.

It is often advised to only lightly dip the end of the brush in paint, so that none clogs up the ferrule. It is also often advised that after dipping the brush in paint, any excess should be wiped off the brush, and the bristles moulded into shape if necessary. These recommendations make sense, but I would find taking this level of care all the time too annoying and sometimes restrictive. As important as looking after your brushes is, I would advise artists not to let it take over, or compromise their natural and/ or most successful process. At the end of the day, it's only a brush. Enjoying painting, and producing the best art work possible is the priority.

Having the bristles up towards the ferrule clogged up with the previous colour, can sometimes be a good thing. I usually create my current colour using paint from the previous colour. This is a very useful piece of advice I was given a couple of years ago, and has helped harmonise my colours. If you use this method, and push the brush relatively hard in to the canvas, so the previous colour towards the ferrule is applied alongside the current, the colours can later be worked in to each other to good effect. A lot of my shading has come about by doing this. It isn't very controlled, but even if it doesn't work, oil is quite easy to correct.

Rinsing the brush in turpentine between colours in only partially successful in removing the previous colour, even if you don't clog the bristles up. You will notice the turpentine itself gets cloudy very easily. I always have plenty of each type of brush to hand, so if I want to start painting in a new and lighter colour, I can use a different brush.

Don't automatically throw a brush away if paint has dried in the bristles. Try it, and see if it leaves a useful effect or texture. If not, try manipulating the bristles. Try cleaning it, soaking in turpentine, cutting with scissors, rubbing with sandpaper. If after several attempts, it appears nothing good will result from the bristles, attach a piece of rag to the end, and try painting with that. Consider all the crazy things guitarists do to their effects pedals, tunings, amplifier settings, and so on. Only throw a brush away once you've run out of ways to rescue it.

Clean your brushes properly after you've finished painting for the day. The instructions for doing this aren't covered in this article, but it doesn't take very long, and is worth doing.

One last tip. If you visit China, or someone you know does, and offers to bring you back something. Consider asking for paint brushes. They are amazingly cheap over there, and are easy on the baggage.

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