Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anatomy of a Paintbrush - Part 2, Sizes, Materials & Mediums

Artists’ paintbrushes are usually given numbered sizes that correspond to the width of the bristles just above the ferrule, although there is no exact standard for their physical dimensions.

The most common sizes for soft round brushes are #4/0 to 24 (1/64” to 11/16“ wide).

For bristle brushes, common sizes range from #0 to 24 (1/32” to 31/32” wide).

From smallest to largest, the sizes are:
  • 10/0 (say “ten-zero“), 7/0, 6/0, 5/0, 4/0, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30.
  • Brushes as tiny as 30/0 are manufactured by major companies, but are uncommon.
If you need brushes larger than one-inch wide, you may have to resort to the kind used by furniture refinishers and house painters. Abstract expressionist Franz Kline swung a five-inch-wide brush from the hardware store.

Now that you are familiar with paintbrush sizes (above), as well as their various shapes (see Part 1), you should also be mindful of what materials the brushes are made of, and of course the painting medium you’ll be using.

Should you choose hair or bristle brushes? Should they be natural or synthetic? Here is a summary of the most common materials used to make fine art paintbrushes:
  • High quality, soft hair paintbrushes are made from costly Kolinsky sable and Red sable. More moderately priced are ox hair (sabeline) brushes. Less expensive still are squirrel, pony, horse, goat, mongoose, sheep, rabbit and badger. “Camel hair” brushes are least expensive, although it does not come from camels.
  • Synthetic brushes have almost the same qualities as natural hair and bristle brushes but at a more affordable price.
  • Synthetic “hairs” and “bristles” are made of special multi-diameter extruded Nylon-type filament intended to mimic the taper of natural fibers. Whether they are white, orange, brown or another color, synthetic brushes are pretty much the same.
  • Bristle paintbrushes may be either natural or synthetic, depending on the degree of stiffness/softness you require.
  • Hog bristles (often called China bristle or Chunking bristle) are stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached.
  • Stiff brushes are generally stronger, and thus last longer, than soft brushes.
  • Cheap brushes have short life spans. Their hairs and bristles soon go limp or fall apart, leaving behind broken specks on your paintings.
Artists’ paintbrushes are usually made for specific painting mediums, such as watercolors, oils and acrylics. Although there are not rules, here are some guidelines:
  • Watercolor brushes are usually made of natural sable, synthetic sable or Nylon. (Watercolorists favor natural hairs, due to their superior ability to absorb and hold water.)
  • Oil brushes can be either natural hair or bristle, as well as synthetics.
  • Acrylic brushes, which are almost always synthetic fibers. (Since acrylic is a water-based medium, synthetics are ideal because they aren’t susceptible to water damage.)
The handles of artists' brushes are usually made of wood but can also be made of less expensive molded plastic. While many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood, better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood. The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling. They last longer too.

Ferrules keep it all together, firmly clinching the bristles/hairs, adhesives and handle into a reinforced, precision instrument. Metal ferrules may be of aluminum, nickel, copper or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules (natural or transparent plastic tightened in place by thin wire) give a different "feel" to the brush.

You’ll feel good exploring BINDERS Paint Brushes Department. It is literally bristling with full range of artists’ brushes in all shapes, sizes and prices ranges. From the world’s finest sources, choose from Princeton Brush, Winsor & Newton, Yasutomo, Silver Brush, Art Alternatives, Loew-Cornell, Grumbacher, Isabey, Escoda and many more.

You could say, we’ve got different strokes for different folks.

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