Getting Started: A Quick Way to Understand Brushes (video)

Getting Started: A Quick Way to Understand Brushes (video)Mink, Squirrel and Pig

This may sound like the beginnings of a fairy-tale but it’s a quick and easy way to think about brushes. Most traditional brushes are made from animal hair and the quality of the brush – its bounce and feel, is dependent on the quality of the hair used.

Mink hair makes ‘Sable’ brushes and pig hair makes ‘Hog’ brushes…

Are you matching the right brush to the right medium?

By thinking which of the three animals have a softer tail, you will understand one of the most important things about brushes, which hair is best for which medium.

  • Sable (Mink) is soft, holds loads of water and has a great spring making it ideal for watercolour, also for fine finishing with oils. It returns to its natural point after use.
    These are the most expensive brushes due to the rarity of the hair, pound for pound it’s more expensive than gold! Most manufacturers make sable brushes with a short handle because artists mostly use them for watercolour on the flat, no poked eyes here!

Pro Tip: There are some specialist brush manufacturers that give you the choice of a long or short handle.

  • Squirrel is super soft, holds a lot of water and has some spring. Due to the longer length of squirrel hair, it’s great for big watercolour washes. It returns to its natural point when dipped in water. This is priced much more reasonably. Again, usually available in a short handle.
  • Hog (Pig) is a lot stiffer, holds little moisture but has strength and resilience. It’s great to stand up to the thinners used in oil painting and also great for moving thick paint around the canvas. As these are generally used with oils they tend to have long handles allowing you to work upright at an easel and stand away from the painting.
  • Synthetic the vast majority of synthetic brushes are a blend of synthetic bristles and natural hair (Mink, Squirrel or Pig). This enables the manufacturer to produce a good priced, fine tuned commercial brush perfect for beginners.
    For painters who object to using animal hair, there are pure synthetic nylon brushes available. For watercolours, you’d notice a big difference between natural hair and synthetic because they just don’t hold enough water but maybe useful for the larger washes. However, for acrylics and oils these can be fantastic and a good alternative to pure natural hair. They come in both long and short handles depending on the medium you want to work with.

The tone is in your fingers

You could have the most expensive Kolinsky sable brush available but if you use it to scrub in the under painting of your oil painting the brush will be ruined in no time and it will be very hard to move the thick paint around. It’s like trying to mix custard with a piece of paper. The custard won’t move easily, the paper will get wet and disintegrate.
The same thing would happen, albeit at a slower rate, to your brush. If you try attacking a watercolour scene with a pig brush ‘hog’ you’re destined for trouble, you’ll run out of water in your first stroke.

The joy of natural brushes, especially sables, are their ability to hold a lot of water in the ‘belly’ of the brush.

parts of a paintbrush

What shape do I use?

round flat filbert

  • Rounds are commonly used for watercolours because the fine point allows precision work and the belly of the brush holds enough water that you can still paint quite large areas.
  • Flats are good for blocking in and large areas of colour, usually oils and acrylics, but in watercolour there is an equivalent called a one-stroke.
  • Filberts are just great for oils and acrylic. They have a feathered top to them so are great for blending and can be used to block in areas as well as detail work for portraits. I use filberts in 90% of my paintings.

As a general rule of thumb, I use:

  • A square-tipped flat 2-inch decorators brush for applying a coloured ground to my canvas.
  • A medium sized synthetic blend filbert shaped brush for most of the painting
  • A small round brush for details.

I love my brushes, in fact, it is astonishing how attached I can get to them. I haven’t started sleeping with them under my pillow but I do get slightly edgy if I misplace one.
There’s something about an old brush that remembers how you work, how much pressure you put on the canvas if you’re scratchy or have a feather touch.

How does brush sizing work and where do you start?

Selecting the right painting brush size can be very tricky as every manufacturer’s sizes are different. There isn’t a universal sizing system, so a size 10 in one brand can be completely different from a size 10 in another brand.

Confused? Here is a quick painting brush guide to keep in mind next time you visit the art store:

  • All brushes increase in size depending on the number, so a size 14 will always be larger than a size 12, whatever the brand.
  • There are other numbers on the brushes that indicate the series number (often abbreviated to SER). This is usually 4 digits long, for example: SER 6474. This helps to identify a brush correctly when ordering.
  • Brushes can come in short and long handles. Short handles are best for detailed work or painting on the flat. Longer handles are best if you intend to stand at the easel.
  • The longer the length of bristle, the more flex there is in the brush. A short length of brush hair will appear to be much stiffer and coarser than a longer length– even if the bristle is the same softness of hair. This length is called the ‘length out’ and a long length out was favored by the Old Masters.

Pro tip: When you are next in the art store, flick your thumb from left to right over the edge of the brush. This will give you a feel for the ‘snap’ of the brush. The brush will ‘crack’ when you first flick it, this is the gum arabic that has been used to set the head. It’s advisable to rinse the new brush before use to remove any excess gum arabic.

So the ultimate question is, which size should I buy?

I tend to go by the width of the brush and the length of the bristles, rather than the size or number.

To get started with a small acrylic paintings or oil painting art piece (under A3), I would recommend:

  •  Round brush 6mm – 7mm in width with a 25mm length out.
  •  Filbert brush 10mm in width with a 16mm – 20mm length out.

Of course, to find the perfect brush for each person can take a little while but this should point you in the right direction.

In the video below I assess the different qualities of choosing a brush for painting an acrylic landscape painting.

Now you have a better understanding of the different brushes available which paints are you going to choose? I always believe in starting simply and building from that solid foundation.

Below are a few articles to point you in the right direction:

1. How to choose a basic beginner acrylic palette
2. The 8 key differences between student grade & artist quality paint
3. Getting Started: Choosing a Painting Surface for Acrylics – Getting your Absorbency Right 


This Post Has 106 Comments

  1. My favorite at this time is my Loew-Cornell American Painter Angular Flat Brush 4250A! I purchased this brush two weeks ago (I was starting a painting where I needed to do some straight line work and shading/blending). I absolutely love it! My painting was inspired by a photograph I took 2 years ago of a ranunculus in our local flower fields, with the background containing flowers and grass. It has really helped with some detail work! I also have a simmons titanium long handled filbert. I like that too.. I’m fairly new, so I am just experimenting and trying to find my style. :o)

    Will, I know you might probably object (from what I read online, a lot of purists balk at “slavishly copying a painting”..) but since I’m not a great drawer, I’ve used my amateur photography to actually help teach me about coloration, tone, and value, etc… and to help me create my paintings. It’s been really fun and neat to see the art (that I’ve been better at in photography) come to life in a new format in my paintings!

    1. Hi Christiane,
      The purists haven’t studied their history!
      Classical techniques involved copying images from the flat to get your ‘eye’ accustomed to drawing and painting.
      Master copies are one of the best ways of rapidly improving your painting techniques, so snap away and enjoy, what sounds like, great results!

      I’ve written a post on the benefits of Master copies that you might be interested in.


  2. You have such an amazing talent in explaining things with plenty of detail, and still keeping it short and sweet. I appologize for this elementary question, but do all brush manufactures use a “universal” sizing system? And if so, does the number correlate to the diameter of the brush tip?

    1. Good question! sadly brush manufacturers all use a different sizing systems, which can be very confusing.

      There is little consistency, so a number 10 in one brand can be a different size to a number 10 in another brand, also the length of the brush hairs in particular seems to vary from company to company.

      All you can be certain of, is that a size 4 from one manufacturer will be smaller than a size 5 from the same manufacturer.
      The bigger the number – the larger the brush, so it doesn’t correlate to the brush tip, more the belly of the brush.

      What tends to happen is you find brushes that suit you and your style but it might take a couple of goes.



  3. Where have you been all my life!
    I just found your wonderful website and already my painting has improved. I have been self taught over the years and I know that I have large gaps of knowledge that keeps me from getting the results I would like. I am going to work my way through everything you have to offer. Thank you for putting your knowledge here for the rest of us to learn from!! I may have specific questions later. For now I just wanted to say how happy I am to have found you.

    1. Hi Vivian,

      Great to hear from you and really glad you’re enjoying the website.

      Just post a comment when you come up with a question, happy painting!


      1. It’s funny but here it is over 3 years after this comment, and I was just thinking the exact same thing! I have learned more in 20 minutes on this site than I have in 2 months of watching various youtube videos and other random websites. Thanks so much for the awesome tips, not just in this article but in many of them!!

        1. Fantastic to hear Deanna, really pleased you’ve been enjoying the video lessons and articles.

  4. I have just completed my very first painting but it still has an edgy look to it. It is from the 4 part series of the cherry that you uploaded on youtube. I found it immensly helpful considering I have never touched a paintbrush before. Please could you assist me with some pointers on how to achieve a more refined look.

    1. Hi Sam,

      Great to hear you found the cherry painting videos useful, is the ‘edgy look’ mean that you have a hard edge to the acrylics? If so I usually use a little bit of glazing liquid ( I prefer the gloss version from Golden paints) just to help keep the paint wetter for a little bit longer to get a softer blend.

      Hope this helps,


  5. Hi Will,
    By pure chance I discovered your website..truly brilliant. instead of watching Murray vs Federer, I am working my way through all your articles. I started drawing about 9 months ago and have recently started painting with acrylics which i am finding very nerve wracking. Your website is going to really help. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the comment, hope your find the articles and videos helpful in starting with acrylics. I think I am as nerve wracked with watching the tennis! ( currently 2 games all!)


  6. Hi Wil

    Just a question,what do you prefer for beginners in acrylic and what shape? Another good article.Keep it up!


    1. Hi Carl, thanks for dropping by. I usually recommend starting with a filbert brush, these brushes have a slight curve to them which allows subtle blending aswell as nice gestural marks. A synthetic brush works well because you want a bit more absorbtion than a hoghair because you are dipping the brush in water all the time. The Isabey Isacryl range of brushea are nice.


  7. Hi Will,
    Thank you so much for these tutorials and videos. I have been wanting to get into painting for a long time now and just never found the time to (plus it all seemed a little daunting). But after finding your site, you have inspired me to start now! I have a quick question though. How many and what sized brushes would you recommend for a total beginner like me (I would like to work with acrylic paint)? I’ve been looking on websites and the different sizes are very confusing.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Sophia,

      Really glad you’re finding the website helpful and you’re feeling inspired!

      Brushes are really confusing, there is little consistency, so a number 10 in one brand can be a different size to a number 10 in another brand. All you can be certain of, is that a size 4 from one manufacturer will be smaller than a size 5 from the same manufacturer.The bigger the number – the larger the brush.

      For a total beginner I would recommend starting with just a couple of brushes and I favour Isabey Isacryl Acrylic brushes

      From Dick Blick you can get:

      Isabey Isacryl Filbert
      6572 Filbert, Size 6 Long Handle 11 mm (for more detail, smaller work on a canvas under 12″ x 12″)
      6572 Filbert, Size 8 Long Handle 14 mm 25 mm (if you decide you prefer to try medium size work)

      Blick Master Short Handle Synthetic Round
      05833-1008 Round, Size 8 Short Handle 4.4 mm (for more detail, smaller work on a canvas under 12″ x 12″)
      05833-1010 Round, Size 10 Short Handle 5.7 mm (if you decide you prefer to try medium size work)

      These are a great starting point and when you’ve given them a try, you’ll know if you need to add to your collection and get a smaller round or a larger filbert, depending if you find you like working more detailed or more gestural and painterly.

      Hope this helps,


  8. I have tried so many different brushes.  Every time I borrow a new art book from the library I’m told that I need this brush or that brush and of course I go out and buy one, usually a cheaper version of the one they recommend.  Some times they are nice to use, like some of the short System 3 brushes (I find the long System 3 brushes too soft and “flicky”).
    But in the short time that I have been painting, about 6 months, I find that the brush I go back to most is a Winsdor & Newton hog filbert.  When I use this brush I feel the urge to plunge it in to a thick puddle of paint, where as with other brushes I just want to dab timidly.
    The brush strokes are also more satisfying with the hog brush.  I suppose that for finer work hog bristle isn’t suitable (tell me if I am wrong), but for the pure pleasure of putting paint on to canvas I love my hog!

    1. Hi Gary,
      The Windsor & Newton hog is a lovely brush, especially for a gestural, painterly approach. You’ll find (as you suspected) that the more detailed you go the softer a bristle you’ll need.

      If you are working on smooth transitions often a hog is too stiff and drags the paint rather than subtly blushing it.

      For this you would use a sable (the softest hair available) so you can blend soft edges. Synthetic brushes are in-between the two, so the Isabey Isacryl has a stiffer consistency than a sable but is slightly softer and more absorbent than a hog. But if brush strokes are you thing a hog is the way to go!


  9. Hi Will, I really appreciate all the information you provide on your site. I am a beginnner, just want to try my hand at acrylic painting and all your information on mixing colours, brushes to use plus all the other info I find on your site is wonderful. Thank you, (Ms) Bodil

    1. Hi Bodil,
      Thanks for your kind comment, really pleased that the site is helping you to navigate starting acrylics for the first time.


  10. Hi Will,
    Today was day 1 of 3 of instructional Plein Air abstract/impressionistic painting with a local and renowned painter. I wish I had found your school sooner! Your color mixing instructionals are fantastic and your Monet series was so very helpful. I am cramming tonight and hopefully will have better technique tomorrow for the waterfront! I plan on following your videos and taking online courses whenever I can.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Kara,

      Thanks for your kind comments, hope the midnight cramming has helped with your plein air course!


  11. Very helpful video!

  12. New round brushes sometimes have a plastic tube around the bristles. Is this just protection for shipping or is it something I should keep and put back on the brush after I’ve used (and cleaned) it? Every time I put them back on I seem to mash a couple bristles.

    1. Hi Clint,

      So pleased your enjoying the videos and started your acrylic journey!

      The plastic tube around a new brush is just as you thought, protection for shipping, so you don’t need to keep putting it back on after you’ve used the brush.



  13. Hi Will
    I’ve recently taken up painting (acrylics) for the first time ever and enjoying it immensely. I’m also really enjoying your site, as you have generously provided so many helpful tips and advice to help a novice along.

    I initially bought some cheap brushes – mainly because I did not know what I was buying, and whether my art interest was just a fad, however these brushes are already splayed and useless!

    Anyway, I’ve bought your suggestion above of the Isabey Filbert (size 6) and enjoying that brush immensely.

    I would like a round brush too – however your suggested brush of the Blick Master Short Handle Synthetic round size 6 , only appears to be available from the States, hence the shipping costs make it expensive.

    Are you able to suggest a decent comparable synthetic round please, that is available in the UK? Hopefully your advice will save me from a buying mistake.

    Many thanks, Will

    1. Hi Sue,

      Pleased to hear you’ve been enjoying the site and the Isabey brush.

      Rosemary & co make a nice range of sythetics called Golden Synthetic. You can order a free catalogue which has true to scale photos of the brush range, they are based in the UK and make some fantatsic brushes.

      Hope this helps,


  14. Thanks Will, that’s really helpful and particularly knowing about the catalogue. There are lots of great reviews about the brushes, and they appear very reasonably priced for the quality. I shall get ordering!!

  15. Hello Will – I’m enjoying the tutorials and insights immensely. Thank you so much – the site is non-intimidating and packed full of useful exercises and approaches that give me more confidence with each lesson. I’m a beginner but am working with both acrylics and oil, and I use different brushes for each. However, it seems very difficult to get my oil brushes clean in comparison to my acrylics brushes. I’m using turpenoid natural to clean the oil brushes initially (after wiping as much of the paint off as I can) then using soap and water for what seems like a very long time (5 minutes or more per brush) and they’re still not entirely clean, meaning there’s still a blush of red or streaks of burnt umber or blue that remain. I don’t leave them sit – I’ve actually started washing brushes before switching to another paint in the same session. While I love oils more than acrylics, because of the washing issue, oils are becoming more of a chore than fun. I’m not a neat freak, by the way, at all, but I’m just not sure how clean is clean. What does ‘normal’ look like in a cleaned oil paint brush? Is there something I may not be doing correctly or is there a different method or product I might try to clean them? I’m using lovely Rosemary & Co Ivory filberts and Eclipse rounds in preparation for trying my hand at the black & white portrait lesson. Thanks again, I’m looking forward to continuing my lessons!

    1. Hey Heidi,

      Really good to hear you’re enjoying the tutorials and blog.

      When cleaning oil out of brushes, it can be quite a bit harder than cleaning Acrylic brushes up, this is usually because of 2 differences.

      When working with acrylics you feel really comfortable filling a big pot of clean water and swishing the brush around, and very easily replacing it with clean water to get all the final traces of pigment out of the brush.

      If you used the same amount of Turpentine, it can feel very wasteful and it’s expensive! So what tends to happen, coupled with the fact that oil paint is more difficult to remove anyway, is you dip the brush into some turps, swish it around a bit then discover loads of paint still in there. I do this too and my acrylic brushes always last longer than my oil brushes!

      What I’ve found works well for me, is removing most of the paint like you are doing, then dip the brush into some turps scrub it onto some old rags/ kitchen roll, making sure to squeeze the bristles tightly close to the ferrule (the metal part of the brush) dip it in the turps again and repeat the scrubbing until it looks pretty clean, but now we need a special brush cleaner to get the final traces of paint pigment out of the paint bristles.

      I use The Masters Brush Cleaner, here is a video demo showing me using it on Acrylics, but it’s exactly the same process.

      If I do it this way the oil brushes are as clean as my acrylic brushes, but they might not look it, due to staining if I’m painting with a natural bristle brush and I sometimes am guilty of not spending as much time as this process needs, it can be a bit laborious!

      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks, Will – I used a bigger pot of turpenoid last night and followed the video instructions (LOVE the painting in the video, by the way – such beautiful colors). Along with the Master’s brush cleaner, which I already had on hand, it really made a huge difference! Thank you! Heidi

        1. Good one Heidi, pleased it helped your quest for clean brushes!


  16. Hi Will!
    I just recently began teaching acrylic painting. I am confident with my beginner class, yet painting for years using Golden’s acrylics and teaching students is very different..
    I really appreciate your tutorials,,they are wonderful..and I enjoy your personality and painitngs..

    I noticed that when you use your heavy body tubes, you are not adding any mediums for binding with them,,what brand are you using? I was taught to include a medium with my heavy body tubes for archival reasons. The fluids are premixed so I do not worry about longevity..Thank you..I appreciate learning about different brands..


    1. Hi Peri,

      Glad to here the tutorials are helping and great you’ve just starting teaching acrylics.

      I personally don’t add any mediums to the Acrylics specifically for archival purposes, as the binder already in the heavy body paints does the job.

      It’s only when you add lots of water to the paints that you weaken the paint film and might need a bit of extra binder, usually when I use them for thin glazes I add Glazing medium, but as you mentioned, if you’re working a lot with thin applications the fluid acrylics are good to go straight from the tube.

      I hope this helps,


  17. Hi Will,
    I just got through having seven major lower back surgeries,and it looks like my life I was living is over,so now I am trying to start living my life being totally I have always wanted to be a artist I want to learn everything I can starting from scratch. thank you Rick

    1. Hi Rick,
      Learning to paint needs a mediative type state, and it sounds like you’ll benefit a lot from the process. Starting with the basics and a few colours really is the best way to learn. Enjoy exploring the tutorials.


  18. Hi Will

    My question was about brushes for acrylic paint, which numbers and shapes I should buy for my acrylic brush set to be perfect for any kinde of techniques?
    I use in the mean time non professional acrylic paints like Reeves brand and winsor & newton Galeria sometimes maries.
    I want to start painting again but now in another level, I hope you can help me with the brushes and maybe a brand you suggest to buy from.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Ty,

      All brush manufactures sizes vary slightly (see this but a size 10 flat or filbert and a size 8 round are a good start.

      I prefer a filbert shape brush for portraits, abstracts, landscapes. But if you paint architectural townscapes a flat brush is preferred.

      The Isabey Isacryl are a nice brand, as are any of the brushes from Rosemary & co.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi Will

        Thanks for your help it was very helpful !!!
        I went to the closest art store and after I saw your videos
        and your message I choose the Winsor & Newton Galeria series , I hope I choose a good brush set, I bought 5 brushes
        2- round long handle #8 and #2
        1- filbert long handle #8
        2- flat long handle #8 and #2

        I hope I made a good combination , the flat you suggested size 10 it’s not exist in the Galeria series just 8 or 12 , I checked the flat 8 Galeria with other brands 10 size brushes and I saw that the Galeria 8 flat is same size with the 10 flat from other brands.
        I bought a box of 10 X 60 ml Galeria acrylic color set too , now I would like to have your opinion about the brush and color sets and maybe you have some suggestions
        how to use them some special painting technics for this series?

        1. Hi Ty,

          Sounds a great choice.

          The only other thing I would invest in is an Artist quality Titanium white.

          It will make a massive differnce in the opacity of your mixes, and the successof your painting.

          Then have a go at one of the free tutorials.


          1. Hi Will

            Love your tutorials I can’t wait to make them. Thanks the suggestion about the titanium white, in the set of the 10 colors I already have titanium white but I will check if they have something in the artist category .
            I have some more questions if its ok , I am thinking to buy this products can you check them out and give me an opinion I am sure you already know them.
            1) Galeria Structure gel
            2) Galeria Gloss Medium ( good for glazing as well)
            3) Galeria Extender
            Pls let me know asap what you think about buying this products , I will be in the art store tomorrow .
            Thank you so much you are realy helping me !!!

          2. Hi Will

            I bought a titanium white from Old Holland I hope this quality is what you meant.
            I think in the mean time I will buy the Galeria gloss medium because this is good for glazing as well and after the Extender and structure gel, it is a bit expensive this series , and I am ready to go to your tutorials :-)

          3. Hi Ty,
            Old Holland is a great choice.
            Enjoy the tutorials.

          4. Hi Will

            I hope in this weekend I can start one of your tutorials , very exited :-)
            I will try to add a shortcut to the painting when I finish it.
            Best regards


  19. Dear Will,

    I am a beginner and paint with acrylics. I bought a couple of relatively large brushes of brands such as Winsor Newton and Pebeo. But when I load my brush with paint and start painting, the brush hairs form a comb (fork-type) and this leaves comb-type pattern on my canvas instead of having smooth finish. I like to paint with thin paint (mixed with gloss or matte mediums) but am frustrated because of my cranky brushes.

    I hope you can help and provide a solution to avoid having sticky-hair-brushes.

    Thanks and kind regards,

    1. Hi Murtaza,

      For larger brushes (about 2inch) I often use high quality decorating brushes. I like the Purdy brand, they stay in shape and have very little brush loss. The Purdy Monarch Elite are nice, look out for multi buys as these are the best value

      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Will for your suggestion. Although we get very limited brands of brushes here in Kuwait and most of the time there are a lot of restriction for even online purchases (i face such problems with Amazon a lot), I will try if I can get my hands on Purdy brushes.

        Meanwhile is there any home-grown solution that I can try. Because the brushes I have are meant for Acrylic colors and despite that I have forky hairs….is it because I keep them too dry or too wet (with mediums)…..

        Thanks again for all your help.

        1. Hi Murtaza,

          I can see the issue with tracking down particular brands of brushes as there are alot of import restrictions for you.

          For a homegrown solution, try wetting the brush and then taking off most of the moisture with some paper towel, just leaving it down rather than wet. You can also try taking an elastic band and placing it around the middle of the bristles, this will give you a shorter depth of bristle and will help to keep them altogether rather than forking out.

          Hope this helps,


          1. Hey Ty,

            Nice work! you’ve managed to balance the greens really well, and the different hues and shades in the trees work very well. Also, having the road really draws the viewer into the painting. One thing to watch is the brightness of the sky as it gets closer to the horizon, ypu can often make it slightly duller and it can give more of an effect of going further into the distance.

            But great work Ty, thanks for sharing.


  20. Dear Will,
    I have been very frustrated in the process of finding a decent detail brush for acrylic paints. I can no longer read the label of the ones I have had for 20 years that have been my favorites. I am a full time artist and need a brush that will hold up under constant use with acrylic paint. Some of the brushes I have tried recently, that I have not been pleased with are…
    Simply Simmons oil & acrylic 4 bright, same make, 0 round,
    a da Vinci 2/0 Kolinski Marder4 0175050076061 series 1610 Germany
    a 0 isabel 6512 iscryl,(I think it says Artrec( maybe aefrac)White Nylon 525R Round,
    plus several from Princeton Art and Brush Co(I have been happy with their larger brushes,down to I think a 6, but not the smaller ones.)
    The da vinci lost it”s bristles I think it was 100% sable, and the Princtons and simply simmons were golden taklonn and won’t hold their shape. I usually paint with blickrylic paint for the sheer volume of paint I use, but occasionally use the heavier body paints too Like Liquitex or Grumbacher.. I will buy a new brush and be thrilled for about a month, and then it looses bristles, looses shape and starts flaring out on the tips. I would LOVE a suggestion, as I need to make another supply order this week.
    Thanks a TON!
    R. Ebert

  21. I have been told by several people, including a Golden Paint Rep, that synthetic brushes are better for acrylics because water dries out the natural hairs, and natural brushes are better for oils because solvents ruin synthetic brushes. I don’t really buy this 100%. I mean people have been using sable watercolor brushes forever and a day. Some synthetic brushes are Okay with solvents now, but be aware of this potential problem. All that being said, as far as synthetic brushes go, I have found a few that are worthwhile for acrylic painting. One of my favorites is the Utrecht Tuscan series. They have good spring and hold paint well. They neither obliterate the paint on the palette like hog’s bristles can do to softer acrylics, nor do they “slip” through the paint like some synthetics do.

    1. Good one Chazzo, thanks for sharing.

  22. Thanks Will, I am visiting England later this year and I will also be getting the catalogue regarding the synthetic brushes you recommended to a previous Sue! The video is very informative and has answered my questions regarding brushes which I have been trying to find out for ages! Bless you.

    1. Great to hear it Sue, so pleased you found the video helpful in your brush choices.


  23. What type of flat brush should I be using to gradually blend acrylic paint from a bold, deep color to a much softer shade (going from top of canvas to bottom)?

  24. I don’t often comment but praise where praise is earned. What a great article, both well written and informative. Thank you. I have bookmarked you site.

    I’m a photographer and artist myself, I should do but never really understood brushes as such, your first paragraph and the video explained just what I needed to know and I’m now getting on better. I think this is one of the reasons I gave up painting as a medium, only just returning now after 32 years, I was simply using the wrong brush type.

    I keep saying to others how the fundamentals of any subject are so important as often they are the very reason we later give up, missing some key element and then feeling unable to achieve what we desire so we think we’re no good and we give up. I mean it’s so easy to think we already know it all and then when we get suck we don’t go back to restudy the basics.

    Silly as it sounds I just thought one brush was more expensive because of branding and the likelihood of hairs falling out so I never bought good brushes and couldn’t achieve what I wanted. I just didn’t think or realise that hair type held paint differently allowing you to control it more. Now I know differently I went out and bought decent brushes and I’m achieving what I want more.

    Once again thank you.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Lovely to hear from you, and so pleased you’ve been finding the articles helpful in your return to the easel! One brush can make a big difference in controlling the paint, consistency and flow.

      Thanks for your kind comments on the articles, looking forward to hearing how your paintings turn out.


  25. I bought a set of 3 detail brushes. In a weeks time I am enjoying the brushes, but paint has flaked off of the handles. The name on the brush is Atlas RG-104. should I try to repair the handle or ditch them?

    1. Hi David, I haven’t personally use the brand, but aslong at the bristles are working well still the brush can still be used to good effect.


  26. Hi Will, I am a 65 year old woman that always admired art but with my lack of artistic ability never took it up. My daughter convinced me to take it up with her and we have had the best times together. We found your beginner videos of the apple and jug and have to tell you that I completed them both and am SO happy with the finished pieces I am becoming almost obsessed with my new hobby. I sent a photo of the apple to my daughter and her reply was “Mom, you did NOTpaint that.” I guess that was the testimony I needed to realize that if you want to do something bad enough you can do it. Oh, and now my husband is also painting with me so it has become a family affair! Thank you! Linda

    1. Hi Linda,

      Lovely to hear from you, the “Mom, you did NOT paint that.” is fantastic! So pleased you and your family are achieving great success with the videos tutorials and you’ve been discovering your hidden artistic talents. Looking forward to hearing about your first family exhibition!


  27. Will,love your site and lessons. I am asking about brushes.i have expensive sable brushes and was wondering if I could use them for my new adventure of acrylic painting.i had bought them for watercoloring which I do not do anymore. I find acrylic more of a rewarding medium for me so I do not want to waste my expensive brushes. I need to know if it would be ok to use them for my acrylic painting instead of buying all sizes again..Thank you Dalette

    1. Hi Dalette, yes you will be able to use them with acrylics if you use a more watercolour like technique (thinner washes) but it will be harder to move the paint around if you’re painting in a more impasto technique because the sable hairs are softer.


      1. Thank you

  28. Hi Will,

    First off, thank you for sharing your time and talents. Very much appreciated. This bumping around in the dark has left quite a few learning bruises ;)) Healing nicely though with the hope of real progress.

    I read or skimmed through every reply above trying to see if you answered this already. Hope I didn’t miss it as I don’t want to bother you with repeating a reply. I am new to oils and need to know if it is alright to use the same brushes for both acrylic and oil paintings. I plan to invest in more specific brushes for oils as soon as possible (hog bristles etc ) but on a bit of a budget at the moment. What should I know about this. Seems that even if you get them clean (which is a relative term) the ingredients unique to each medium could cause issues for the other.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Cynthia, yes that’s right, ideally you would have separate brushes for each as the thinners used for oils will alter the feel of the bristles, also it cuts down on the risk of cross contamination of the oil mediums and the water mediums. You could be super meticulous about the cleaning to protect the cross-contamination, but personally I would always try to use separate brushes.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thank you so much!

  29. Hi Will,

    I am hoping this thread is still active. My wife is really into painting and I would like to surprise her with a really nice set of brushes for acrylic paints. Problem is that I am utterly clueless as to what’s good and what’s not. (Failed my first attempt) could you recommend a good set for I’d say an intermediate painter? She wants to paint a canvas with an autum theme, leaves falling etc.. Thank you for your time.

  30. Hey Will,
    Cannot thank you enough for bringing back painting into my life! I had given up, because of the “busy” life, but with all your encouragement and enthusiasm and simply the love you show of putting paint on canvas, I have picked up my paint brush once again! Thank you, thank you, thank you….
    You made me realize how much in lacking my art school education was, some of them really fool you!
    You are doing a great service to the “lost” artists of this world! You are an angel to go to such lengths to share so much of your knowledge, experience and infectious enthusiasm with us! Thanks again! And don’t abandon us!

    1. Hi Nim,

      Lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been finding the website and tutorials helpful. Fantastic that you’ve been inspired to pick up the paint brush again, thanks for your kind comments, much appreciated.


  31. can we use sable hair brushes for painting on canvas with acrylic…. ???

    1. Yes you can, just make sure you wash them out really well in water when you’re working with them.

  32. Hi Will

    On your portrait course you recommend using a flat bright synthetic brush approx 1cm wide. Would that be code/size 00 or 02



    1. Hi Dave, the code size varies between brands, often brush manufacturers will list the size dimensions of their website, for example:

      Isabey Isacryl Bright

      size 4 is 9mm wide
      size 6 is 11mm wide

      Jacksons Art Procryl Bright

      size 4 is 10mm
      size 6 is 12mm

      Da Vinci Nova Golden Synthetic Bright series 1870

      size 10 -is 9.5mm wide
      size 12 is 11mm wide

      Hope this helps,


  33. Hello Will,

    I am just venturing into acrylics after years of water colour painting. When I use water colours I use anything within my disposal to get a look I want. For example, I will use toothpicks, Kleenex , rags, Q-tips, you name it. What do you say about these items applied now to acrylic? I have never used them nor have I used oils but the idea of building up and texturing is what draws me to try.

    Do you have any tips to pass on?

    BTW, I appreciate your clear and concise demonstrations. Brilliant, Will!
    Karen from Canada

    1. Hi Karen, nice to hear from you, yes with acrylics you can use a whole variety of application tools and techniques, they’re a really flexible medium. From adding in thick tar like mediums to applying thin watercolour washes, your toothpicks and q-tips will be in good company!

  34. Hey Will,

    Thank you for taking time to help the people watching your videos. You are the best online painting teacher in my opinion. I am ordering some brushes online, because they are a lot cheaper than the ones at my local art store. Also, the brushes i bought at the store were expensive and still lose hairs and occasionally get strays, despite the extreme care i take with them. What brand would you reccomend that works consistently without losing shape?


    1. Hi Nunzio, great to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments. Most artist’s brands like Winsor & Newton are good, I also use Rosemary & Co who are based in UK, they many some fantastic brushes, really good quality, ship worldwide and are great value.

      Hope this helps,


  35. Will,

    Love your website! As a beginner, I find you very informative.

    Regarding brushes, you do not mention in your video the brand and size of the bristle/flat brush you show in your video.

    Thank you


    1. Hi Valerie, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons. For the step-by-step tutorials I have full material lists on the blog that list all the materials and brushes used, just look under lesson 1 of each tutorial.
      Hope this helps,

  36. Hi Will,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and learnings. It has been very helpful to a beginner like me. I have just completed my first acrylic painting. While it is not the first time I have taken to art, but it is the first time I am making an effort to get over all the inhibitions. I have not studied art academically, not since high school, and am very new to the technicalities of it.

    I used both Sable and Hog hair brushes for different effects, but mostly Hog hair. I stumbled upon this article only now. I will really appreciate if you could clarify a few doubts:

    1. In order to create a stippling effect what brush do you recommend. I tried it with a round tip hog hair but it did not give the desired results.
    2. I used a liner brush to do the details on tall grass but I could not the desired strokes, it became very streaky and I can’t figure out where I went wrong.
    3. I am currently using a gloss medium. However my painting does not have a very blended look. Is it the medium, or the choice of brushes?

    I look forward to going over all the tutorials.


    1. Hi Shalini, you can purchase brushes that have broken edges to achieve a stippling effect. The watercolour artist Terry Harrison has a range of different stippling brushes for creating foliage effects.
      The streaking of paint of often due to the paint consistency, and with lighter colours (particularly yellows) you’ll often need a couple of coats to cover any paint underneath to give a solid colour.
      Smooth blending comes down to a combination between the softness of bristle and the wetness of paint, so a sable brush will always give a softer blend than a hog due to the softness of the hair.


      1. Thanks so much Will! I will check out Terry Harrison’s range of brushes that you have recommended.

        I have been exploring your articles and I am amazed at your ability to share so much information so simply! It makes it so much easier for a beginner like myself to take in. It is incredible!


        1. That’s great to hear Shalini, really pleased you’ve been finding them helpful.

  37. Love the article but how do you clean your brushes? Should I buy special soap for cleaning brushes?

    1. You might find this demo of help:

  38. Hi . I want to start painting in acrylic but I don’t want to use brushes with animal hairs . Please can you recommend some synthetic brushes please and best ones to start off with .
    Kind regards


    1. Hi Valerie, most manufacturers will offer a synthetic acrylic brush, the Isabey Isacryl are nice.

  39. Is it possible to convert the paint brushes from mm to inches? I am having a hard time trying to understand how to convert. You mention using

    Round brush 6mm – 7mm in width with a 25mm length out.
    Filbert brush 10mm in width with a 16mm – 20mm length out.

    I tried to google this but it confused me all the more.
    Thank you so much for your help with this.

    1. Hi Angie, if you google ‘mm to inches’ there will be a table you can enter the different widths.

  40. I just finished watching the “beginners” still life video you did of the cherry. What I notice is your technique in applying paint, something I really struggle with. It looks like you start with a dry brush, and it seems like your paint is always a perfect consistency, even when you don’t add glazing gel. Mine starts drying out so quickly.

    Then, I see you painting over a layer of paint that you just put down. If my paint isn’t completely dry, then I’m picking it back up again.

    I’d love to take some of your classes, but I feel like it’s wasted if I can’t get my paint on the canvas correctly. Although, I would probably be okay with color mixing!!!

    1. Hi Anne, if you start with the cherry lesson and see how it goes, paint consistency handling just comes with a little practice.

      1. Thank you, again. I’ve got a few nice paintings under my belt, but I do struggle with technique. I’m thinking about buying your color mixing class, as well as your acrylic painting for beginners. I’ve looked at a lot of videos on acrylic paintings, and yours are the ones that have the most appeal for me. Beautifully done, and they aren’t so long that I feel like I’m forcing myself to get through them.

  41. I just found your website and really like it. I’m in my sixties, have always wanted to paint and I think I found a great teacher. You really do start at the beginning, explains everything really well and have a nice teaching style. After exploring your website I have decided to sign up for a couple of classes. I am a complete novice, do you have any suggestions on which class to start with.

    1. That’s great to hear Kathy, the absolute beginner acrylic or absolute beginner drawing are a great place to start to gain a knowledge of the fundamentals before moving onto more specialized courses.

  42. Hi Will, basic question about brushes. I’m following your online classes of color mixing. In one of the tutorials about Blue and Orange mixing, you have used raphael synthetic round brush to paint acrylic. I’m trying same brush, but the bristles are so soft I cannot control the strokes. Even with smaller size I cannot get finner lines. Is there a trick to use these soft bristles?

    1. Hi Imran, it’s often about the consistency of the paint to achieve a smooth flow with a softer bristle. Try on a scrap or paper, making brushstrokes with the paint, first starting with the heavy body paint straight from the tube, then adding a drop of water, paint a new stroke. Add a drop more water, paint another stoke etc. You’ll find a ‘sweet spot’ where you still have an opaque paint coverage and the paint goes on smoothly with the bristle.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks a lot for your advice. I will follow it and be back to share my experience :)

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