Picking the Right Paintbrush (Part 2)

Picking the Right Paintbrush (Part 2)

So you’ve decided on the type of bristles you want for your paintbrush. (If not, click here to read part 1!) But now what? There are still so many different shapes and sizes of paintbrush. How do you choose from there?

Shape Before Size

Shape Before Size

Let’s take a look at the different shapes of brushes available. While there are certainly a few funky-looking ones, I’ll just give a short intro and demonstration on what the main types can do. Anything outside of the most commonly shaped brushes will be a bonus!

Round Brush

Round Brush

These are the most commonly used paintbrushes, and for a good reason. Round brushes are extremely versatile and a must-have for any artist, as they can give you both thin and thick lines. You can get a great line variation, simply by adjusting the amount of pressure you put on the brush! 

While they’re not as good for something flat and rectangular (such as painting buildings), they’re pretty much good for everything else. Just make sure the tip comes to a sharp point when wet! You can see the line variation and smooth edges you can create with a round brush in the picture above.

Flat Brush

Flat Brush

Speaking of flat rectangular shapes, the next brush – the flat brush – has got you covered there. It can give you very thin and straight lines if you just use the edge of it, and can even give a “calligraphic” feel when you try writing with it.

The upside is you can cover a larger area in a shorter amount of time with a flat brush, which is great if you’re trying to get a flat wash. Otherwise there’s not much the flat brush can do that a round brush can’t.

Cat’s Tongue (or Oval Wash) Brush

"Cat's Tongue" Brush

No cats were harmed in the making of this brush! So-called because of its flat but rounded shape, the cat’s tongue brush is a more specific type of brush used for painting large washes of paint while also creating more rounded edges. Best for landscape painters, or when painting a sky or sea! 

You can fit it in the same category as a large flat or round brush, a.k.a. a mop brush. Basically any brush thicker and/or wider than your thumb has the same function: to cover a very large area with paint in the least amount of time possible.

Angular, Filbert, and Dagger Brush

Angular Brushes

These next three brushes are quite similar in shape and function, but the slight variation in their tip shapes means creating slightly different paint edges. You can see them demonstrated in the picture above – similar to the flat brush, yet each with a unique feeling.

If you’re ever interested in getting one of these, I’d recommend getting one that suits your subject and art style the best: angular for a sharper style, filbert for a softer one, and dagger for something in between the two.

Rigger (or Lettering) Brush

Rigger Brush

You’d easily mistake a rigger brush for a round brush, as they’re pretty much the same, except the bristles are much longer (a paintbrush’s size affects the amount of bristles, not their length). They’re often made to be quite thin, and for good reason – they’re used to produce very thin lines, which are good for lettering (hence the alternative name).

Longer bristles enable the brush to hold more paint, so you can “write” for longer without having to replenish, but this also means the brush is harder to control. Best to have a steady hand when using one!

Fan Brush

Fan Brush

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the fan brush (heh), but I’ve included it on the list since they’re still a common sight in any art store. 

Best for painting a furry or grassy texture, this brush is like the lazy version of a round brush. You have to be very careful though – if you use it too much or without careful placement, your fur/grass can start looking too regular and unnatural.

Bonus: Miscellaneous Brushes

Misc. Brushes

You pretty much will never need these brushes, but I just happen to have a few that I got for fun. They’re a little gimmicky, but you can decide for yourself if this is something you absolutely need! (Hint: you don’t. Just get a round brush instead.)

Paintbrush Size

Last but not the least, we can take a look at a paintbrush’s size, which corresponds to a number found on the handle of a brush. A larger number means a larger brush. As mentioned already, size affects how “large” the paintbrush is. So if it’s a round or rigger brush, the brush gets thicker. If a flat brush, the brush gets wider. And there’s really no “correct” size for a paintbrush; it all depends on how large your painting is. The general rule of thumb is: large area, large brush. Small area, small brush. Pretty self-explanatory, no?

But let’s say that hypothetically, you can only buy one paintbrush. In that case, go for a round brush, size 6 or 8. Just make sure it comes to a sharp point when wet! Then you’ll be able to paint tiny details, in addition to painting larger areas that a size 2 brush won’t be able to handle. A round brush is very versatile, so you can’t go wrong with at least one in your collection! 

Final Thoughts

In any case, I hope you’ve found these articles on paintbrushes useful in some way! There are no absolutes when it comes to paintbrushes, since each artist is unique and will have their own preferences. So feel free to explore and find what suits you best! That’s the most important part: to keep trying, experimenting, and growing as a creative.

Have you tried any unusual paintbrushes? What’s your favourite brush to use? Let us know in the comments below!

Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy.
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