How to Choose the Best Brushes for Oil Painting

Brushes come in a variety of styles. Eventually, you’ll determine your own favorite brushes to use. Until then, you’ll probably want to experiment with a few different brush types and sizes.

Here are some basic brush descriptions, though the length of the bristles often varies from brand to brand:

  • Round: round with a pointed tip
  • Flat: flat with squared ends
  • Bright: flat with shorter bristles than flat brushes
  • Filbert: flat with rounded ends
  • Fan: flat and shaped like a fan — the only fan brush I use is one out of which I have cut some of the bristles in a ragged pattern to make a very rough scraggly mark

I use hog bristle brushes in a variety of brands, from Nos. 2 to 10 for the lion’s share of my painting, but I also like synthetic mongoose brushes, flats, brights and filberts in several sizes.

The synthetic mongoose brushes I use are Winsor & Newton Monarch brushes. They are sized differently from bristle brushes, with a No. 14 being about 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) wide. The Monarch Nos. 0 and 2 are good for small branches, as are the Nos. 0 and 2 filberts. I use a Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II No. 1 round for tiny twigs and for my signature.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

You’ll need odorless mineral spirits (OMS), a rag and tissues or paper towels. (I use the least expensive pop-up facial tissues.)

It’s especially important to clean your brush between values, and often different colors of the same value, if you don’t want your colors to mix. If you’ve been applying a light-value color and need to add a darker value, simply wipe the brush with a tissue.

However, if you want to add light value over dark, the brush needs more thorough cleaning. Wipe the brush, then wash in OMS by rubbing it over the coil in a silicoil brush cleaning tank. Wipe the OMS off the brush firmly with a tissue before picking up the light-colored paint.

I generally only change brushes when I need a different size or shape, not because the brush isn’t clean enough. Normally I use about three or four brushes during a painting session, and I clean them as I go.

I used to grab a different brush instead of cleaning the one in my hand. By the end of a painting session, however, I would be too tired to clean them properly and would leave them to be cleaned later on. I ruined a few brushes that way. So now I clean as I go, which is quick and easy. It makes clean-up at the end of my painting day a breeze.