Video Library


Brushes for oil painting. Solvent free tips and techniques explained. Water-Mixable and Traditional differences and how to use them together. Example of brushes in action.


Details On My Favorite Oil Brushes

Read on for why I choose my brushes, how they perform, and cleaning tips. See 'Assigment' tab for ideas and tips to find your own favorite brushes. In general I keep my brushes in very good shape (sharp edges or tips) and replace them if they get worn out. Well cared for brushes last for years.

I think it's important to not just have one type of brush - even if some do 90% of the painting. I use synthetic brushes the most (Rosemary Ivory brushes, Silver Bristlon, or a home store house-paint brush). Over time these might splay or fray, these can be good 'old' brushes for drawing and toning, or for grasses - smash them to further splay - then they become more like a fan brush, but irregular and 3-D. They are beefy brushes that can really push on paint, but sometimes they don't have the finesse I need, this is where other brushes come in.

Bristle brushes (hog hair) are second for use. Avoid water with water-mixables as it makes these brushes floppy like a dishrag (for traditional oils use any way you like). Bristle brushes can lose some hairs and over time get worn down by scrubbing on the canvas. This is normal wear and tear.

Next for usefulness are the specialty or soft brushes that are small, whip, or very soft such as Rosemary Long Filbert 278 and Comber. I rarely use sable brushes in oil (for portraits occasionally).

The Rosemary Comber and 278 (badger hair) can be used with or without paint to manipulate edges and quality of paint on the surface of the canvas. I like the Comber for blending sharp edge transitions such as for a highlight, and clouds in the sky. See my sunset video in Landscape for this. I don't use this often but when I do it's very useful. The 278 is essential for buffing away chunky slabs of paint and easing the marks left behind by Ivories or a housebrush (which I use sometimes in very large paintings). I have several sizes of 278, you can see me using a big one in the sky after I use the housebrush to pile on paint in the Art Process/ Marsh 2 Oils video. The 278 series is best used with the brush tips for cloud highlights, or just to blend and soften existing paint on the canvas (more like a drybrush - there is no paint on the brush but you can manipulate wet paint on the canvas well with this method). This blending use is also excellent for portraits and smooth skin. I'm careful to not over-blend as I don't like a 'flawless' or airbrushed look.

Both Comber and 278 will gently place paint on wet prior layers, so this is a fantastic way to 'stack' wet paint layers and not disrupt prior layers. The Ivory brushes can etch into prior paint layers.

The Ivory brushes sometimes leave a 'chunky slab' look on a canvas - like crushed velvet with a nap that catches the light and is distracting. The soft brushes (278 and comber) blend and disrupt that, thereby making the painting look less equal in surface treatment. Once you paint with these you will find your own uses. The Ivory flat and 278 are radically different in what they do to paint. You will see. They make a better painting because they add variety even if used in small bits.

To some students, this might seem like a lot of fuss over brushes. But did you know, most of the questions I get are about brushes? (not paint, design or value!). Isn't that interesting. Brushes are not magic. (Value is magic however, but much more on that elsewhere). In many videos I paint with a paper towel, so use what you can and be mindful of what you like for moving paint to suit your needs. Try new brushes on occasion and always seek variety of marks.

Rosemary Lashley Set

You do not need this set to participate in my program, I offer alternate suggestions in my supply list. Rosemary makes exceptional brushes and is what I primarily use.
Ivory Long Flat 2, 4, 6, 8 Versatile marks including thin edges
Ivory Long Filbert 4 Foliage, water
Ultimate Bristle Filbert 8, 12 Glaze, scumble, skies, foliage
Ivory Short Flat 6, 8 First darks/design, pushing paint
Long Filbert Series 278 6 Soften edges/blending
Eclipse X Long Comber 5/8" Sky, cloud wisps/blending
Ivory Rigger 6 Tree branches, grass, city lines
Ivory Egbert 0 Varied nature textures, water

Extra cleaning notes: Bristle brushes can be hard to clean, it's best not to let paint linger on these in the freezer for a long time. Clean with oil and then Master's soap. Paint or oil left to fully oxidize will make the brush stiff and unusable (this will take a few weeks). Old color or oil can hide out in the ferrule of what looks like a clean brush (but it was only clean on the outside surface!). Oil in the brush (walnut) to clean it works very well if you can remember to do this often (but I forget sometimes). See below for more rigourous cleaning tips.

There are times when I use a metal brush or comb to clean brushes gently (available on Amazon or at a home store) with Master's soap. Do not use this with the soft brushes - only with the Ivory or bristle brushes. This gets right near the bristle/ferrule junction (stroke a soapy brush with the metal comb from ferrule to brush tip in one direction, never scrub). This is a trick I learned from my mural painting days when we'd use paint that coated our brushes to the ferrule and beyond. Metal brushes to clean is not recommended by Rosemary, as it can be a harsh treatment, but over time I've found it necessary if I wait too long to clean these and so far my brushes stay more clean and not damaged.  

How will you use your brushes? What is going to be good for your style?

Over time you get a feel as to what you like for brushes. Brushes work in partnership with surface, paint and the skill level you have attained. If you want to use all of water-mixable or a hybrid with traditional oils this is something to discover about your preference. In this video we look at brushes and how the paints interact based on how I choose to work. Remember this is my prefference, it's good to note yours as you progress with your art. Don't just use any brush that is in front of you. Be mindful of which ones you use often and which ones you don't like. Try same marks with different brushes - which do you like? What feels nice? What looks good? What was easy to use? Over time your choices might change as you add new techniques (glazing, scumbling, etc). New brushes are fun, but they are not toys... be mindful of how you use them (edges, layers, direct painting, etc.) they need to serve a purpose.

What size brush is that? Every demo I've ever done contains this question. Often multiple times. Sometimes I'm asked to repeat the answer and elaborate (brand, style, where I got it). Yes, brushes are important, but they don't hold the key to making a painting. Brushes are not as important as ample paint squeezed out and feeling confident of the big shapes and value. In general I think most students are too dependent on eeking out the paint due to many factors: stingy blobs placed out on the palette, fear of mixing 'wrong' color, worry about how to re-mix a color, and not knowing the value plan. You can see all the pressure place on size and style of brush: but instead the solution is value plan, knowing how to mix and use the paint, and ample paint blobs on the palette.

My method (water-mix to start, then traditional oil paint, solvent-free) feels really comfortable to me now. I've tried Gamesol at a friend's studio and it was awful to work with, so I like my method much better. This is why new artists to oil can easily adapt to my method of all water-mixable or a hybrid. Old-timers not as easily because they are used to the solvent. Sadly many artists react very poorly to the idea of water-mixables without taking time to understand them, and I've heard comments about water-mixable paints as 'garbage or student grade paints', which they are certainly not. So there is a lot of mis-information and prejudice out there.

You can use a lot or just a little traditional oil paint. Check out the Oil Basics video to see what 'full' paint should look like in simple form. For new painters I suggest water-mixable to start, then branch out if you want, maybe try a few wonderful Vasari paints.

After a time painting, you will be able to discern the 'feel' of each type (water-mixable/traditional) and sometimes brand differences, even though it can be slight. These nuances are lost on the beginner... if you are a beginner, just keep it simple for now. Beginners can start with a few sythetic brushes, and then branch out to other types.

No items found.