Project: Basic paint application – Getting to know your brushes

Start by exploring the range of marks and shapes that can be made with your brushes. Make marks with different sizes, using flats, rounds and filberts…

It’s good to be starting with basics as I’ve very little experience of painting with acrylics which means of course that I have all the more to gain. In going through my brushes I found plenty of flats and rounds, but no filberts. I improvised and snipped the edges off an old brush and made a note to go shopping.

trying-brushesThis was useful exercise. I can’t recall every previously stopping to think about what different brushes do.

The flat brushes are very flexible, they make strong lines, or can be ‘dabbed’ to make tile-like effects.There’s a pleasing sweeping edge and working with the side of brush can give a clean thin line.

The rounds feel as though they suit  the organic lines of plants and grasses. The marks range from the full width of the brush (or more if flattened) to a fine, detailed line using just the tip, so they are very flexible.

The filbert is different again and makes firm strong lines or petal like marks.

filbert-sponge(10.04.15 Update – I bought some filbert brushes and experimented with these and also with using a natural sponge. The filberts seem useful for making round marks and also petal / leaf marks which could be handy for illustration work if you want a perfect daisy but not if you want to work from observation in nature.)

Following my tutor’s suggestion to avoid commercial art boards because of their mechanical texture, I worked on thin card primed with gesso.


View from Robin Hood’s Hut, Goatsherd Somerset from memory (A3) acrylic

Then from memory paint a small and simple landscape… use large brushes so you won’t be distracted by the urge to include detail.

This picture is  mainly painted with a variety of flat brushes. I used broad strokes for the land / mountains and dabbed in smaller strokes for the trees. I used the tip of a round brush for the foreground.


Pink lady on a slice of tree trunk – acrylic (A3)

Once you’ve experimented, paint a piece of fruit using these techniques…

I used both round and flat brushes, round being useful for the apple detail. I diluted the paint  for the background and found it interesting to put one colour on top of another. I let the background paint drip  which has created  marks and given more interest to an otherwise plain background. The light was coming from two sides. The surface of the slice of tree trunk was quite strange with saw marks, ring marks, shadows and discolouration in the wood. The edges were green with moss and lichen.

Learning points / things to think about

  • Make the most of the flexibility of the brushes – use the side, the tip, different types of stroke, different amounts of paint etc
  • It is possible to make a wide range of different marks with  different textures and levels of translucency depending on whether the paint is diluted or otherwise.
  • While different types of marks can be used in a painting, I need to think about how to make the whole picture cohesive so the different techniques work together. For example, I’m not sure that in the landscape the dabbing/textured marks for the trees and the broader marks for the land work well together. I need to do some serious observation of how different artists use brush strokes.
  • Working on both pictures I was uncertain about the best way to apply the white highlights; whether to use the paint dense and undiluted or whether to add water so they are translucent.  I’ve done a bit of both. I’m making a mental note  to look specifically at highlights in oil and acrylic paintings and see what I can learn.
  • I’ve chosen to work with acrylics for convenience and because I have some stocks but I’m frustrated by the fact that they dry so quickly and it is difficult to blend colours on the paper. But of course the quick drying time is also a bonus. When I go shopping for filbert brushes I’ll also pick up a set of water based oils and try them out so that I can be sure I’ve made the right choice at this stage.

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