Different Strokes

BrushesIn my previous post I had been talking about the differences, pros and cons with using a walnut ink vs an Indian ink.Sadly, most of the materials we buy from art stores now are made of synthetic materials. Our inks are no longer made from natural materials from the earth.

This is also true for brushes. The majority of brushes used today are made of man-made fibres. Historically, brushes were made from animal hairs. In the context of miniature painting, the finest brushes were made of squirrel hair, and even the fur of kittens!

Once you try to begin painting fine lines, you begin to understand why such furs would be necessary for the production of brushes.

A brush has to be absorbent; it has to ‘suck-up’ the liquid paint and hold onto it. But it also has to release it, a brush with uneven hairs will splatter. A brush with coarse hair won’t produce an even line and choosing the right brush is time well spent but also a game of trial and error.

For the purpose of detailed painting I have come to some surprising conclusions. A smaller (thinner) paint brush does not always make the finest neatest line. A fairly thick paintbrush with a fine point can make excellent detail.

An expensive brush DOES NOT mean it will be a good one!

For example;

Cotman 000
Cotman III 000 Winsor & Newton

The Cotman III 000 Windsor and Newton water-colour brush (right) has a tiny brush head, yet produces a clumsy line. (See below.)

Cotman 000 even a fine brush head can produce a clumsy line (outline)
Cotman 000 even a fine brush head can produce a clumsy line (outline)
Chinese Calligraphy brush shaped with scalpel produces a superior line
Chinese Calligraphy brush shaped with scalpel produces a superior line

The most expensive brushes are not always the best. Take for example this chinese calligraphy brush (right). This cost just £2 from store in China Town and with a little shaping with a scalpel produces some of the most satisfactory results as yet. (See below).

Superior fine lines (outline) can be achieved wit cheap brushes
Superior fine lines (outline) can be achieved with cheap brushes

A calligraphy brush has the ability to hold lots of ink (the ‘bowl-shaped’ base of the shaped brush head acts as a reservoir for paint) and also produce a fine line.

Paint brushes with fine tips unfortunately have to be reloaded many times as they just do not have the capacity to hold as much liquid. For example the Pro Arte Miniature Painting series (10/0 featured below) have fine tips but need to be topped up after even the shortest line.

Pro Arte Miniature Painting 10/0
Pro Arte Miniature Painting 10/0

A paint brush should be loaded with enough paint to cover only the hairs. None should cover the metal holder. When painting wider areas, many brushes will suffice as long as they too have a neat point to get into small areas. A brush I use for most tasks is the Pro Arte Prolene+plus 007 number 2.This ia a great inexpensive brush which holds paint well and keeps a good point. At times it can even be used for fine detailing.The ‘flat’ areas of colour in the examples above are all coloured with this brush.

Pro Arte Prolengthplus 007 number 2
Pro Arte Prolene+plus 007 number 2

It just goes to show that great results needn’t cost the earth.Although if you did want to use natural brushes such as squirrel hair ones these do cost a lot to buy as they are difficult to produce. You can however make your own, instructions on how to acquire squirrel hair is detailed in the book ‘Arts &Crafts of the Islamic Lands’.Although I don’t recommend shaving any kittens…

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