6 Things every beginner needs to know about oil painting brushes

By Nicole Tinkham

6 Things every beginner needs to know about oil painting brushes

We all want to produce incredible paintings that leave our friends breathless, right? The KEY to doing so not only lies in skill and experience of the artist but also the supplies they use. Quality supplies result in quality paintings. There’s no getting around it. It’s time to INVEST in your art. The most important tool when it comes to oil painting is your brush. If nothing else, make sure to have one (or a few) killer brushes! With so many different brush options, it can be difficult to determine the best one for you. That’s why we spent some time creating a guide where you’ll learn how to spot a quality brush, two different brush hair options and their uses, brush sizes you should start off with, various brush shapes and what each is used for, how the handle length makes a difference, and how to properly clean your brushes (which is different than how you would clean a watercolor brush!).

A good oil painting brush is..
One that holds its shape when loaded with paint.
And also bounces back to its original shape after each stroke.

Sable vs Bristle hair
When starting a painting, you’ll typically begin with large areas and will need to use a ½” wide (or larger) bristle hair brush. Most of your painting can be done with a bristle hair brush. However, when you’re ready to add in finer details, you’ll want to switch over to a sable brush that’s smaller than ½” wide. You can tell a sable OIL brush from a watercolor brush by its spring (oil brushes have more spring to them).

Choosing a size
You’ll notice that each brush will have a number associated with it. This indicates the brush size. The brush size is measured by the width of the brush at the ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles in place). When choosing a brush size, consider how big a canvas you’re working on. A larger brush should be used when working on a large canvas. Makes sense, right? When first starting off, be sure to have a #2 round brush as well as 3 or 4 other brush shapes ranging in size from #4 to #8.

Brush shapes


Flat: As you’ll notice in the image above, flat brushes are rectangular in shape. They are also the most versatile brush when working with oils, producing both bold and narrow strokes.

Filbert: A filbert brush is similar to that of a flat brush except it has rounded corners. Use these when you want to achieve a softer edge. These are also great for blending.

Round: These are most often made of sable hair and used for detailing. You most likely won’t use this one for an entire painting.

Bright: This one looks almost identical to a flat brush but the bristles are much shorter. If you want your brush strokes to show, this is the one to use. The bright brush is able to put paint down more thickly and give you more control over the stroke than a flat brush.

Why long handles?
Long handled brushes are ideal for oil paint because they’re made for painting vertically with the brush held horizontally. The longer handle provides more balance.

How to clean brushes
Cleaning an oil painting brush is very different than a watercolor or acrylic brush. Instead of water, you’ll need to clean your brushes with a thinning solution known as “turpentine” or mineral spirits. There are specific jars used to clean brushes that have a coil on the bottom. You can fill the jar with turpentine or mineral spirits and rub the bristles against the coil at the bottom to remove the paint.

While quality brushes are super important, they’re not the only supply you have to worry about when starting an oil painting. We covered everything from brush shape to brush cleaning in this blog but for more information on the other supplies you’ll need, check out the essential oil painting supplies for beginners. We cannot wait for you to begin your oil painting journey! Let us know in the comments how this guide has helped you and how your oil painting adventure is going so far 🙂

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