Great Art Blog: January 2015

Great Art Blog: January 2015


Hello and welcome to this month’s materials blog for GreatArt!

This month: I Love Art Acrylic White Brushes

I’m often asked about brushes; especially which to choose for a particular medium, not to mention which shapes to go for and which sizes! As it’s a big subject, I’ve decided to focus on a small range of acrylic brushes this month, which would make an ideal starter set: consisting of three ’round pointed brushes’, three ‘filberts’, and three ‘flats’.

* There are more brush shapes and variations- look out for more information and examples in future blogs.

ILA Acrylic White Brushes

ILA Acrylic White Brushes

 First a quick look at the structure of a brush:

Structure of an artist's brush

⇧Bristle  ⇧Ferrule  ⇧Crimp       Handle⇧
Just a couple of things to look for when choosing brushes:-
Bristle: These can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both…and most brush ranges label their suitability for specific media very clearly. Both natural and synthetic brushes can be stiff or soft and as a rough guide, soft brushes are ideal for watercolours and inks, whereas stiffer brushes are perfect for oils and acrylics. Natural hair types include; Hog, Sable, Squirrel, Mongoose, Ox, Pony, Goat and Camel. Synthetic brushes have bristles made from nylon or polyester fibres which are specially treated to mimic the properties of natural hair brushes.
Kolinsky Sable is usually regarded as the best bristle for watercolours, although there are also excellent soft synthetic brushes which work extremely well, and are very durable.
Natural brushes work very well with oil paints as the oils in the paint actually help to keep the bristles in good condition, although good quality synthetic brushes are also very effective.
Modern synthetic bristle brushes are excellent with acrylics as they are tough and durable and stand up really well to  the regular cleaning required when working in acrylics.
Choice is also very personal, coming down to the feel of the brush and how it works for you…ideally try out various types over time, to discover the variations that suit you best. Most artists use a mixture of brushes of various types, but rely particularly on special favourites. If you look after them carefully they will last for years and years…in fact I’m still using a flat wash brush that my Dad bought and used regularly about 40 years ago!!
Ferrule and Crimp: The Ferrule is important as cheap ones don’t hold the bristles effectively, leading to shedding of hair which is very annoying. They can also rust which can stain work and become uncomfortable to use. Look for well made, ideally seamless ferrules and keep your brushes in good condition by avoiding soaking them bristle down for long periods which can affect the glues, and sometimes lead to the ferrule becoming detached from the brush handle.
Handles: Look for handles which feel comfortable in the hand, and for brushes that feel well-balanced. Long or short handles are down to personal preference, but longer handles are ideal if you like to stand to work with your piece in an upright position, especially if you like to stand back a little. Shorter handles are particularly good for close up work and for working flat. Handles can be acrylic or wood, just check they are well finished…


The brushes I’m looking at this month are from Great Art’s, ‘I Love Art’ range. They have high quality synthetic bristles, seamless ferrules and particularly comfortable handles…they are especially suitable for working with acrylic, so I’ve been trying them out with Daler Rowney System 3 paint. If you are just getting started with acrylics these are a fantastic choice, as they handle really well with a nice thick and creamy consistency, a very good colour range and they also produce rich opaque colour…ideal for a wide range of techniques. These brushes are stiff but really springy and very responsive to the way you work…they also hold up very well to extended use. They are easy to clean, but  do note that the bristles will stain, although this does not affect the performance of the brush at all.
Brushes next to a range of marks to show how they work

Brushes next to a range of marks to show how they work

I started by experimenting with each of the brushes…as you’ll know if you’ve been following the blogs, I tend to do this with all new materials and equipment; partly to get the measure of how they work, but also because I find the experiments and tests are really useful. I keep them in sketchbooks, and look back through them frequently as they make an excellent source of reference.

Let’s have a look at each shape separately in turn:-

Round/ Pointed Brushes in sizes 4, 10 and 12-This is probably the most familiar brush shape; the one people think of when asked to describe an art brush.

Experiment with Round/Point Brush-size 4

Experiment with Round/Point Brush-size 4

Round/Pointed brushes are ideal for sketching in paint media and for outlining.  They carry quite a large amount of paint, but as the name suggests, work to a good point which means that even a largish brush will actually produce a fine line. They are ideal for adding detail using short brush strokes to create the shapes, patterns or detail required. A good exercise is to practise starting with a fine line and adding more pressure gradually to flatten the brush to make the line wider and wider…Round/Pointed brushes are also perfect if you need to make delicate corrections or retouch a piece, and can be used for creating tiny spots of colour.

They are also ideal for filling in small and tricky areas as they give you great precision and control.


Experiments with Round Pointed Brush size: 10

They work well to create small controlled areas of wash and for making expressive directional brush strokes. If you want to maximise control and create smooth accurate edges, work with your paint slightly diluted as this will reduce the ‘hairy edge effect’. However they also work really well with undiluted acrylics which can be layered to create a textural effect as seen above on the R.H. side of the test.


Samples at the bottom of my page created with a size 12 Round/Pointed brush

Above you can see all three brushes and my experiments- note I keep a wad of paper towel to hand for wiping brushes and removing excess paint. On the right hand side is a pot of soapy water which is vital for regular brush cleaning-more of that later!

'Round/pointed' brushes used to add detail and to fill in small tricky areas

‘Round/pointed’ brushes used to add detail and to fill in small tricky areas

In the detail above, ‘Pointed/Rounds’ were used to add detail, including fine lines and also to fill in small areas with fine control.

Flat Brushes in Sizes 2,4, and 6

‘Flats’ have a slim flat profile and can have short, medium or long bristles. They are square shaped, and ideal for working accurately up to straight edges in a piece of work. Large Flats are brilliant for wide areas of wash, and for really bold brush strokes.

web-DSCF3990 Flat size 2 copy

The sample above is made using a Size 2 Flat- You can see it is ideal for filling in areas with flat smooth colour and also overlaying vigorous strokes to create depth and movement. I also used the size 2 on it’s edge to create a linear effect, overlaying many strokes of thick undiluted paint.

web-DSCF3990 Flat size 4

For this next sample, I used a size 4 ‘Flat’ which blends colour wet into wet nicely and also creates a nice dappled effect with contrasting overlaid colours.

web-DSCF3990 Flat size 6

In the sample above I created a block effect using the brush flat to the paper, and overlaying colour in layers, using a number 6 ‘Flat’

I find myself using ‘Flats’ a great deal in my work, and a really wide ‘Flat’ is perfect for varnishing a finished piece.

Detail from still-life sketch-Flats used to blend colour on jug and create vigorous brush strokes in the background.

Detail from still-life sketch-Flats used to blend colour on jug and create vigorous brush strokes in the background.

In the still-life acrylic sketch above, I’ve used ‘Flats’ to create loose textured marks in the background and to blend the rich brown and rust colours on the body of the jug.

Filberts in sizes 6, 8 and 14:

‘Filberts’ are an interesting half way house between a ‘Round’ and a ‘Flat’ brush type. They are a sort of flattened oval shape, and are particularly good for blending colour and softening edges, especially when working wet into wet. They give a distinctive rounded edge and can be very effective used to suggest natural forms like leaves on a tree or petals etc…

Experiments with 'Filberts in 3 sizes

Experiments with ‘Filberts in 3 sizes

The experiments above show a page from my sketchbook using just ‘Filberts’ in all 3 sizes. You can see that they are very versatile; creating effects with both glazes( diluted acrylics) and also textural effects with overlaid thick paint colour. ‘Filberts’ create strong broad brush strokes, always with the distinctive rounded edge.

Filberts used to create overlapping directional strokes on the base of this sketch

Filberts used to create overlapping directional strokes on the base of this sketch

I used ‘Filberts’ in the detail from my sketch above, to create an overlapping pattern of criss-cross marks at the bottom of the piece.

Filberts used to create dappled light under the trees in this semi-abstract sketch.

Filberts used to create dappled light under the trees in this semi-abstract sketch.

In the detail above, from a semi-abstract landscape sketch, I used ‘Filberts’ to create the effects of dappled light and a textural feel with many layers of overlaid opaque paint.

Water Pots and brush cleaning- and why I always have 3 on the go!

3 pots of water including a soapy one

3 pots of water including a soapy one

I always have 3 water pots on the go when working with acrylics; two with plain water and one  ideally with warm soapy water. I use one of the pots for diluting my paint and you can add a couple of drops of acrylic flow improver to the water if you like… the soapy water is for washing brushes, and the other plain water is for rinsing. This might sound like a bit of a performance but it really is worthwhile as it helps keep your colour very clean, and also helps you look after your brushes, thereby saving loads of money in the long term!

Jo’s Top Tip: With any brushes keeping them clean and storing them carefully is crucial to ensuring a long life. When using acrylics this is absolutely vital-acrylics have been around since the 1940’s and developed out of advances in plastics…acrylic paint left to dry on a brush, will set like concrete and leave you with a totally ruined brush.

Wash brushes often, and every time you’ve finished with a particular brush. Wipe off excess paint on a pad of paper towel or rag. Wash with water and specialist artist’s soap, or I like to use liquid hand wash which I have by the sink anyway, and I find works just as well. Rinse quickly and blot dry. Reshape bristles carefully using your fingers according to their original shape; flat, round etc… finally putting brushes bristles upwards in a pot to finish drying. Store brushes like this or flat, never bristle downwards as this will spoil the shape of the brush forever.

Some further experiments using System 3 acrylics and different brush shapes

Some further experiments using System 3 acrylics and different brush shapes

I played around with some further experiments on the sheet above, including textured and smooth base layers or ‘grounds’ made with gesso, which I worked over in a variety of techniques.

Semi-abstract acrylic sketch

Semi-abstract acrylic sketch

The semi-abstract sketch above uses all three brush types, ‘Round/ Pointeds’, ‘Flats’ and ‘Filberts’, as does the still-life sketch shown below.

Still-life sketch

Still-life sketch

My Equipment List:

  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Round/Pointed Brush: Size 4      code: 44881
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Round/Pointed Brush: Size 10    code: 44884
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Round/Pointed Brush: Size 12    code: 44885
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Filbert Brush: Size 6                       code: 44873
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Filbert Brush: Size 8                       code: 44874
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Filbert Brush: Size 14                     code: 44877
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Filbert Brush: Size 18                     code: 44879
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Flat Brush: Size 2                             code: 44862
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Flat Brush: Size 4                             code: 44863
  • I Love Art – Acrylic White Flat Brush: Size 6                             code: 44864

 I also used:

  • Daler Rowney System 3 Acrylics in a range of colours as liked.
  •  Sketchbook or paper-suggest heavy weight cartridge paper pad               code: 16536

All available from great on the link below:

You will also need:
  • 3 pots for water
  • Liquid hand wash for cleaning brushes
  • Paper towel or kitchen roll
  • A palette or old plate for mixing colour

Top Tips!

  • Hang on to some old worn out brushes as they are great for ‘scrubbing’ techniques that add texture to work, but would damage new brushes- most artists have a strange selection of brushes with dodgy bristles, splayed ends and ones with only a couple of bristles left in tact. They look very sad, but can be really useful!

  • If you find you have a few brushes whose bristles have gone a little stiff, despite careful handling- try a tiny amount of hair conditioner on your fingers when you reshape the brush, as this is very successful for re-conditioning.

  • *SIZES- Just a quick cautionary note-there is no standardised system for brush sizing between manufacturers, so there can be quite a big difference between brushes of the same ‘size’…best advice is to get to know the manufacturers, ranges and sizes you like and keep a careful note of them.

Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Please share this page