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What brushes should you choose for oil painting?

What brushes should you choose for oil painting?

"I use all sorts of things to work with: old brooms, old sweaters, and all kinds of peculiar tools and materials... I paint to excite myself, and make something for myself." Francis Bacon

The bristles

There are two main types of hair used to create oil brushes, hog and sable. Hog hair provides a strong and flexible brush, whereas the sable is more suited to finer detail. There is another type, synthetic, a cheaper substitute but it should never the less be considered of a good standard.


The shape of a brush is an important factor when deciding on the right brush to buy. Oil brushes come in four main shapes round, flat, Bright and filbert. Rounds are good for detail and for creating continuous lines. Flats and Brights are known more for making square or rectangular marks, the latter consisting of shorter bristles. The filbert brush is another flat brush with tapering at the end, making it perfect for leaving a softer edge. A fan brush may also be favoured, as it is very good for blending colour.


If you are drawn to detail or large expressive marks there will be a brush size most suited to you. Brushes come in a range of sizes and are based on the width of the brush and ferrule, often ranging between 00 – 14, depending on the range. Conventional sizes of brushes are not always suitable if working on a larger scale and some artists therefore turn to household brushes as substitutes.

Application of paint

The style you wish to create should play a contributing factor to your choice of brush. If you are just setting out and are unsure about a style, think about an artists' work you respect and wish to aspire to. The application can take many forms: fat over lean, blending, dry brush, scumbling, pointillism or stippling, impasto, spattering, glazing and many more so, consider a brush for each.

Painting surfaces

Oil paint can be applied to almost any surface providing it has been prepared adequately. A tooth is very important to a surface when applying oil paint for you want to have full control of your brush. Whether canvas, board, cardboard or a found object this will play an important role in your brush choice.

How many?

To start with only invest in a limited number of brushes to reduce the expense on the pocket. It is a good idea to start with a couple of varying sizes and shapes, this will then enable you to experiment with different techniques.

Care of brushes

Maintenance and cleaning is an investment and one area we often ignore when painting. Allocate time to clean your brushes, as this will ensure the brushes remain of a good standard. To clean your brushes use turpentine and a rag to get the oil paint out of the bristles. Once the brush is clean, rub a mild soap into the bristles and rinse in warm water, not hot as this can expand the ferrule.

A personal choice

The oil brush most suited to you is as you can see a personal choice so, please avoid being swayed by the most expensive or what somebody else believes is the best option. Consider your style and budget and whether you really need hundreds of brushes when you are setting out on your artistic journey.

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A qualified art teacher, Lisa completed her teacher training qualification from Westminster College, Oxford in 1999 and worked in a number of reputable private schools before leaving to pursue her own work. Since leaving her last art teaching role as Head of Art at Rye St Anthony in 2007 she has continued to personally conduct art lessons at her beautiful, converted stable studio in Oxfordshire. Over the years her students have recognized her ability to identify and harness the natural creativity within everyone.


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Guest Wednesday, 08 February 2023