Choosing the right brush



Imbiss in Spring by Steve Johnson

Choosing the right brush for your project can take a lot of research, trial and error. Artist Steve Johnson provides his advice within this guest article.

 The correct brush depends on three considerations:
1) What media? (Oil, acrylic, water colour, gouache or ink).
2) What surface? (Canvas, board, paper).
3) What marks?

The variety and 'character' of mark making is virtually limitless and unique to the artist. Marks are like a signature of the artist.

In general, water colour, gouache and ink are painted onto paper with soft hair brushes. Oil and acrylic are painted onto primed canvas or board with bristle brushes.

Soft hair brushes hold a good volume of liquid and come to a point when painting. With additional pressure a wider mark is made. They create delicate, smooth marks and can be used for detailing in any paint media. They are made from sable, squirrel and ox hair. Japanese brushes made from deer, goat and rabbit hair are best for ink compositions.

Bristle brushes are stiffer, courser and tougher with a good spring. They are designed for the sticky viscosity of oil and acrylic and for spreading, dabbing and generally 'pushing the paint around'. Paint can be applied straight from the tube and can be 'scrubbed' and thinned out across the surface when sketching out a composition. Bristle brushes are made from hog hair. Both types are manufactured from synthetic soft hair and bristle and all come in different sizes. Soft hair brushes have shorter, lighter handles, facilitating delicate painting from the fingertips and wrist.

Hog bristle brushes have a longer heavier handle for an increased physicality of paint application. Long handles are useful when painting a landscape, still life, or portrait when using an easel. They allow the artist to stand back from the easel to view a subject and to apply paint from that observation point.

Below you will find a table showing the benefits of each brush type for different categories of paint. 

Water Colour, Gouache and Ink

Oil and Acrylic

Soft Hair/Round:

An excellent all-rounder with a good volume of hair ending in a point, facilitating both coverage and detail.

Hog/Long Flat:

A long bristled, flat-ended brush for covering large areas, blending and glazing.

Soft Hair/Pointed Round:

An extended point allows for extra fine detailing.

Hog/Short Flat:

Also known as a 'bright'. A flat-ended brush with short bristles for short dabs of paint and extra control.

Soft Hair/Rigger:

An extra fine point and long hair for lines and detail.


A tubular shaped brush ending in a point for detail and line.

Soft Hair Short Flat/Bright:

For blending, good coverage and glazing.


Combining the characteristics of flats and rounds, this oval-ended flat brush makes a broad mark and is used for painting into irregular edges and contours.

Soft Hair/Filbert:

With a flat head and oval tip, this produces a broad mark with soft edges.

Hog/Short Filbert:

Similar to a Filbert, but with shorter bristles for extra control.

Soft Hair One Stroke/Long Flat:

Ideal for one long, clean edged stroke.


Soft Hair/Fan:

For blending and softening edges.


Soft Hair/Mop:

For making and mopping large pools.


Soft Hair/Wash:

An extra wide head for covering large areas of wash and extra broad strokes.



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