My family has gotten quite used to the fact that I paint a lot. Because they’re all so lovely, they bought me some new brushes for Christmas. These brushes are unlike the brushes I have used in the past and will, no doubt, encourage me to try new painting techniques.
In particular, I am now well equipped to do a little stippling. Stippling is almost a dry brush technique, in that you don’t saturate the bristles with paint. Sometimes, getting only the bristle tips loaded with just enough paint, but not overloaded, will produce the best effects. Tamping the bristles on some old newspaper, before going near your canvas can be a good safety step, to adjust the amount of paint you will deposit when you stipple.
In stippling, you sort of stab the brush into the canvas to produce the effect of a large number of bristle tips leaving just a tiny spot or very short stroke. You don’t even need to load the entire brush with paint. Often, just using a corner of the brush is best. The effect is wonderful for creating distant foliage, or textures, especially if you don’t mix your colours too thoroughly. Letting each bristle pick a slight variant of the colour you mixed produces a lovely effect on your painting. In fact, it’s worth under-mixing your colours especially to achieve this effect. I paint using acrylic structure gels and heavy structure gels, so I think the stippling technique will complement the effect I get with small palette knives very nicely. I can scumble the paint on, and then stipple into it.
Stippling with a regular artist’s brush will very quickly destroy it. The bristles break off at the ferrule edge. To stipple, you need quite a sturdy, robust brush with fairly coarse bristles. You could get an adequate brush for the task from the local painting and decorating shop. Instead, I received some brushes from the Bob Ross range. They are essentially similar, in design, to painting and decorating brushes, but the handles are thinner (which makes them feel more like artist’s brushes in your hand) and they are made with higher quality bristles. Painting and decorating brushes are usually made to a price, so the bristles tend to be very coarse, very uneven in density and the brushes shed their bristles rather more than an artist would like. Here are the three I got for Christmas:
There are two sizes. The two inch is the workhorse. The one inch is for “finer” work (“fine” is used as a relative term here, compared to ordinary artist’s brushes). There is a round brush in the range, but I don’t have that one (maybe next Christmas). I also have the oval brush (the black handled one) because it makes a different mark, on the canvas, when stippling, compared to the squared off one inch brush. Stippling paradise!
Because I am a lucky old sod, I was also given a new fan brush, which is another from the Bob Ross range. It has a lovely long handle, so you can give the brush a nice flicking action, when putting the paint onto the canvas. It is really good for painting grasses, textures and smaller stippled features. It also does a grand job of blending. You have to handle this brush much more gently than the other three, but it’s a very versatile brush for putting in lots of tiny, longer strokes. I have the smaller number 3 fan brush.
I know that some people turn up their noses at Bob Ross’ painting technique and the results he gets, but if you want to learn how to stipple and blend, using these brushes, the Bob Ross videos (The Joy of Painting) are excellent instructional material, no matter what style of painting you ultimately apply the basic techniques to. Bob is no longer with us to defend his technique, but I am certain that his legacy is a good one, for anybody that is interested in learning how to manipulate paint on the canvas with facility. Unfortunately, his brushes carry a celebrity price tag, but they really are something different in the art supplies market. Other more illustrious brush makers simply don’t make brushes that are similar, in most cases.
I received one more exciting brush, this time a spalter made by Daler-Rowney. Their two inch, Taklon-bristled, Skyflow brush is a delicate, soft, densely-bristled brush with a narrow profile. It is designed for water colour washes, but it has a surprising application in acrylic painting.
The bristles are synthetic, which is a good thing for cleaning out acrylic paint (it has a tendency to dry rapidly into natural bristles and become impossible to shift). At least you have the possibility of restoring these bristles, if the paint begins to get a little tacky in the brush. Acrylic paint adheres less tenaciously to synthetic bristles, I have found and these synthetic bristles are slightly harder wearing.
A while ago, I happened upon this excellent book (it’s available on Amazon, I think):
In this book, there are techniques demonstrated that allow you to create realistic looking fur and feathers. It’s a marvellous book, packed with wonderful ideas and the techniques couldn’t be demonstrated more clearly and explicitly. The effects possible with acrylic paint are just stunning. In this book, the author (an accomplished wildlife painter) uses a narrow profile, wide spalter similar to the one I got for Christmas. The technique is essentially one of acrylic glazing, to let you put down sharp tonal distinctions with the wide brush on the first passes (thereby creating a sort of furry look), but then unifying the tones with subsequent glazes of a more transparent and deeper tone. This tends to give the fur you have painted a decided sheen that looks highly realistic. I can think of hundreds of paintings to do with this technique and few of them would actually involve painting animals. I paint in a somewhat abstract style.
So, I am rather excited and inspired by the thoughtful Christmas gifts I received. I am also very grateful for them. I love my family. I cannot wait until our weekly life classes start up again for the year and I can begin messing around with new brushes and new techniques. Roll on January 4th!