Getting started: Brushes

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paints

2. Brushes


I’m continuing my series on acrylic painting for beginners.  Again, you should be spending most of your budget on a small number of artist grade colors and brushes, avoiding the large “student” sets and unnecessary extras.  Quality paint and brushes will make the biggest difference in your results.

Plan on spending $5-10 for each brush. You’ll be tempted by the large, cheap, 12-piece bristle set for students, but don’t buy it. These brushes are not usually very good quality, and you won’t use all those sizes.  Nothing can frustrate you faster than bad brushes.

Brushes for heavy texture paints like acrylic and oil are stiffer than watercolor brushes, so make sure you’re shopping in the right section. You can choose from a range of natural (animal hair) or synthetic fibers.  Both work well in my opinion, but I really like the Princeton Best synthetic series for overall value.

My 3 Essential Brushes for Acrylic Painting


1) A large flat (or filbert) brush for big strokes and skies


2) A small round brush for details


3) A medium “angular bright” brush for everything else (I use this one for 95% of my work because it is so versatile.  If you can only get one brush, get this one.)

These brush shapes come in a range of sizes, from 000 (tiny) to 12 or larger.   I recommend starting somewhere in the middle of the range, depending on whether you like to work on small or large canvases.  In my own paintings, I try to err on the side of slightly bigger brushes than I think I need, so that I can fill out color quickly and avoid overworking my scenes with too much detail.

How to Test Brushes

Brushes in the store usually come with a temporary stiffening substance on the hair. This is to protect the brush during shipping, and it will wash out with water the first time you get it wet. Ask the person at the store to help you test a brush. Usually these people are artists themselves and can give you really good advice.

If you get to test a brush that doesn’t have the stiffener on it, check to make sure the bristles spring back easily when you push them with your finger. If you can, dip the brush in some water, shake the water off, and see if the bristles stay in a clear point. If the tip splits or doesn’t retain its shape, it’s not a very good brush.


You can extend the life of your brushes by cleaning them carefully after use and not leaving them in the water for longer than a few moments, but you will still need to replace them every few months.  In the picture above is a brand new brush (my favorite angle shader) and on the bottom is the same type of brush after several months.  You’ll know it’s time to replace a brush when the tip doesn’t make a nice point and the hairs start to split off in different directions.

Next: Choosing a painting surface

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