When I first started painting with acrylics, I had a few disasters. I had been told to get hog bristle brushes and I did. I had also been told to scrupulously wash my brushes at the end of the session to prevent them from gunking up and hardening. I did that religiously. Unfortunately, hog bristle brushes do not work for me. In the first place, clean and clean as I do, they still gunk up and harden. Also hog bristles swell in water, so I have had more than one brush actually split its ferrule. Finally, they seem to wear down very quickly, but that’s probably more down to my exuberant style of painting, than a fault of the brushes.
I’m probably not kind enough to my brushes.
Happy painting requires fuss free brushes. Hogs were not doing it for me at all.
I did find the answer, though. Now, I prefer to use either Pro Arte Sterling Acrylix series 20x (the ones with the silver handles and clear nylon bristles) or else I use Rosemary and Co Ivory series (the ones with the black handles and white bristles). I have them in all sizes and they are virtually indestructible. They may harden a little, even after thorough washing, but a bit of working of the bristles between thumb and forefinger is all that is usually required to get them back to perfect working order. They hold their shape well and have good spring. They wear slowly. The bristles do not swell up in water.
I like to paint with several brushes of the same size, but one per colour, to keep the colours fresh on my canvas. Sometimes, I will use a single brush and let it pick up colours as I go, if that is the effect I want, but usually I keep the colours clean – particularly important to avoid mud mixing, when you work alla prima, like I do. There is barely enough time to dry the paint before I am applying another contrasting colour (another subject for another blog).
On the subject of brush shape, you simply cannot beat filberts, in my opinion. Brights come second, but filberts rock.
Rosemary’s company makes beautiful brushes and I also have some tiny little sable brushes for extremely fine detail as well. Reasonably priced, charming customer service and the brushes are always best quality. Highly recommended.
Larger brushes (beyond size 12) are harder to find. I did find some larger Pro Arte hog brushes, but the best large brushes I could find, and which I use all the time, come from a company in France. In fact, they’re the largest I could find too, without resorting to spalters (these look like house painting brushes)!
I bought a large order of them wholesale, direct from the manufacturer (merci, Lionel!), but they are available in French art supply stores (if somebody knows one that delivers to the UK and who I can order from on-line, please tell me!). The brushes are called Manet and they are just gorgeous to use. Their catalogue is full to the brim with all manner of unusual brushes. Here are the ones I use:
These ARE hog bristle, so I have to take special care of them, but they are so beautiful that I do not mind. Because I block in very quickly with the huge brushes, but use the nylon bristle brushes for the bulk of the work, these brushes (my very large ones) are not open long enough, or exposed to water and paint with anything like the intensity of the smaller brushes I use. So I get away with it.
I’m still looking for some more unusual nylon fan brushes and the extremely long handled type that Whistler famously used. I think you can get them online, but so far I have had little luck.
Happiness is a good brush.