Paintbrush Selection and
Introduction A paintbrush is probably the most
important tool that you will purchase in helping you bring a
miniature to life. With proper selection and care, a good
quality paintbrush is an investment in the miniature-painting
hobby, and can make the experience all the more enjoyable.
With a fine tip, you, the painter will have more control in
the application of paint, exactly where you want it to be. So
take extra time in choosing and caring of your brushes, as
they will result in your best possible work. Anatomy
of a paintbrush In general most paintbrushes are still
assembled by hand with brush tips made from either natural or
synthetic hairs. These hairs are bound together with cord or
nylon rope and then set into the metal ferrule with a wax
based adhesive. The wooden or plastic handle is then pushed
into the back of the ferrule and held in place with a crimp.
Knowledge of how a paintbrush created is important, because it
allows you to properly care for your brush. Because the
adhesive that holds the brush hairs is wax based, you should
never rinse your brushes in hot water. This can melt the
adhesive, causing the hairs to unseat themselves, losing the
valuable pointed shape necessary for fine control. Also, the
contact point between the handle and ferrule is not
waterproof. Any moisture that collects within this area from
indiscriminate washing will cause a wooden handle to swell and
then contract, resulting in loose paintbrush handles.
Brush hair types Traditionally paintbrushes
were made with natural hairs. Today we have synthetic nylon
bristle brushes specifically designed for use with acrylic
paints. Sable brushes are generally regarded as the best
material for natural hairs. Red sable is considered a good
grade of material obtained from weasels, and the type of hair
most novice painters are familiar with. Kolinsky Sable is the
most expensive and highly regarded natural hair from tails of
weasels found in Northeast Asia. It has an almost unnatural
ability to hold a pointed shape due to the natural taper of
the hair fibers. Paintbrushes made from ox, badger, goat,
horse, or mongooses are not suitable for use in miniature
painting, mainly due to their inability to hold a fine point.
Synthetic hair paintbrushes are a more recent
innovation, made primarily from nylon or polyester fibers.
They can also be manufactured with a tapered shape, and can
have a stiffer feel compared to natural hairs. They are also
more resistant to solvent damage, and do not wear out as
easily as natural brushes. Low grade synthetic brushes will
eventually curl at the tip, forming an annoying hooked shape.
Regardless of what kind of brush hair you choose, make
sure it is the best quality you can afford, and be prepared to
spend some time picking and choosing the best brushes
available to you. Where to purchase brushes
One of the best places to purchase paintbrushes is
your local art supply store. Invariably they will have a
larger selection of brushes, allowing you to choose from
handle length, hair type, hair style, etc. I'm not trying to
put your favorite hobby shop out of business, but if you are
serious about painting to the best of your abilities, you owe
it to yourself to broaden your horizons. One benefit of an art
store is that you can actually "try out" the brushes. Better
grades of brushes will come unpackaged, point up. A good art
supply store will have a pot of water, and special brush paper
for you to test the point of the brush. By dipping a brush in
the water and painting several lines onto the paper provided,
you can accurately judge if the brush has characteristics you
desire. Dont worry, the water evaporates off the brush paper,
and can be reused. In addition most art supply stores offer
frequent sales and discounts if you have a student ID.
Brush selection When purchasing a paintbrush,
you have to keep in mind what you are really paying for is the
brush tip. This is really important because you are looking
for a brush that comes to a fine taper, with no frayed hairs,
and a sharp firm point that doesn't waver when you apply a
brush stroke. When you find a brush without any visible
damage, (such as bent hairs, etc.), dip it all the way to the
ferrule into the water, flick off the excess, and form it to a
sharp point with your fingers.
(Left to Right) pointed, "fishtail",
stray hairs, hooked tip
Now test the point: 1) "Paint" several
straight lines on the paper provided. Does the tip fishtail or
break up? 2) Now paint little swirls on the brush
paper. Any problems yet? If not you probably have a good
brush. 3) Finally lightly "stab" the tip onto the
paper, as if you were painting many tiny dots.
Does the brush still have a good point? If so, perfect!
You now have a brush that exhibits good snap(ability to retain
a pointed shape), a quality much desired by artists in their
brushes. Now make sure you find another paintbrush with
similar properties and purchase the best one. Dont forget to
pick up a few caps to protect the brush hairs.
Care of your brushes during use There are a
few rules that I follow when using my paintbrushes. I never
use the brush tips to mix paints. I never dip the tip of the
brush into paint so deep that it gets into the ferrule. Any
buildup of paint in the ferrule can cause the brush hairs to
splay out, ruining a fine tip. If I notice paint
collecting near the ferrule, I stop painting immediately, and
rinse the brush in warm water and soap. This is inevitable,
because capillary action will draw paint up into the ferrule
no matter how careful you are. The key is to stop and clean it
out before paint has a chance to dry inside the ferrule. You
can use this time as a break to change your water pot, and
stretch out you back. In addition, wash your hands frequently
when the brush feels slick after hours of painting.
Brush cleaning After each painting session,
take the time to carefully inspect your brush. Look for frayed
hairs, and carefully tease them out if necessary. Purchase
specially prepared "brush soaps". Various manufacturers sell
these, and they safely remove the rings of paint under the
ferrules easily. In addition they replace natural oils removed
in most cleaning processes. Use brush soap to remove any paint
you find between fibers and under the ferrule according to the
instructions. If you paint frequently, condition your brush
one a month or so. I use shampoo with conditioner on them.
Swish your brush in some hair conditioner, wipe off the
excess, shape to a point then leave it upright for an hour or
so. Rinse off well with lukewarm water, then with a little
brush soap, shape to a perfect point. Let it stand upright
with a cap on them. I actually put my brushes in the same
cabinet as my miniatures, so they will remain dust free!!!!!
A newer product you should try is liquid brush cleaner.
Liquid brush cleaners do an even better job than most bar or
tub style brush soaps. Being quite viscous, liquid brush clean
actually works its way up the bristles into the ferrules,
dissolving trapped paint. Even previously cleaned brushes
(using brush soap) will rinse out with dirty paint flecks.
These days, I clean my brushes with liquid brush soap, and
condition and shape the tip with bar style brush soap to get
the best of both worlds.
My Favorite brushes My preferred
brushes are the vaunted Winsor and Newton Series 7. The are
alleged to have been commissioned by the queen of England
herself back in the late 1800s. I've been using these brushes
for 3 years now, and haven't found any better for my painting
style. Be warned, they are extremely expensive. A 3/0 can run
$14USD or more. But are certainly worth their price. They hold
a fine point, have the desired "spring" when laying on paint,
and are very resilient to wear. They have the right balance
between a fiber that is too limp (cheap nylon) and too stiff
(hog hair bristle). I heartily recommend them if you are
willing spend the money. I have also tried various brands of
fine sables with success from Raphael and Isbly.
Regardless of the of the brushes I prefer, every miniature
painter should find a brand of brush that suites their
particular style of painting and requirements. If possible,
experiment with different manufacturers and hair types; I'm
currently trying out various synthetic/natural blends to test
their suitibility for my purposes.
I hope this article
has been of interest to you. There are many more articles on
the Internet that deal with brush selection and care; I hope I
have succinctly provided all the necessary information to help
you choose and protect your investment. Proper care of your
finest tools is not a guarantee for painting excellence! It
can certainly make things easier while painting; for you can
now concentrate on technique, rather than make due with a
poorly maintained brush.