What brushes do you paint with

The RIGHT brushes for painting a portrait


Brush guide for the right brushes for painting portraits

brushfor drawing are the most important tools of every painter. Hence, it is important to make the right selection of the Brush for painting hold true. The Assortments of the manufacturers consist of numerous and different Sizes,to shape, andVariations. They range from high quality, handcrafted Brushes from natural hair to cheap Brushes in resistant synthetic fibers. Find yourself with our little one Brush guide Find your way through the jungle of information and offers, and save time and money. Choose for your portrait Painting technique the right ones Brush for painting out.

Hair or bristles, natural or synthetic?

Of the various natural hair brushes, the fine hair brushes are the most expensive but also the most valuable, while the bristle brush is usually inexpensive. There are qualitative differences in both categories, but these can be particularly striking with the bristle brush. The fine hair and the pig bristle mostly come from China and Russia, Korea or Mongolia. Then there are hairbrushes made from cattle and horse hair, as well as polecats and a few others.

The synthetic brush usually consists of Acrylon and Tynex, hence the false name acrylic brush which is misleading as these are not exclusively made for acrylic painting processes. On the contrary, synthetic brushes are versatile. They are used in oil painting as well as in acrylic or guache painting, as well as in temperature techniques. I use this type of brush for underpainting and glazes and for grisaille.

I would now like to introduce and describe the most common brush types with the most important details, and thus give you a good overview of the appropriate brush types for your respective painting techniques.

Synthetic hair brush

Brushes for painting - the top professional tips

Fine hair - red sable brush

For paintings with glazes, in delicate layers of color, the red sable or polecat brushes are best, especially for drawing lines and drawing tiny details. Brushes made from Tobolsky-Kolinsky red sable hair are the finest in the world. The tail hair of the Tobolsky-Kolinsky marten is particularly valued for its elasticity, combined with an extremely fine tip of hair.

The most common fine-haired brush is the so-called "red sable brush", which is a brush for various types of weasel, the red sable as an animal does not exist. Only the hair of the tail of the weasel is required for the production of brushes, as only these have the fine tips that are a prerequisite for high-quality brushes. In the case of red sable hair brushes, the fibers of various types are combined, whereby the length, fineness and robustness determine the quality and ultimately also the price of the brush.

High-quality red sable brushes are extremely soft and absorb a lot of paint; they can bring the paint to the canvas both when it is wet (i.e. with a solvent) and when it is dry. Even if the brush is already tired and short, it can still be used for certain areas in the painting process. The painting of the individual areas is very easy with a red sable hair brush, as the fine hair connects the colored areas well.

I use this type of brush from the second layer of paint on in portrait painting to softly connect the surfaces of the individual tone or color values ​​(see painting practice).

Important:The tip of the hair must correspond to the natural end of the hair, only then can the brush develop its full effect. The hair should not end immediately below the clamp but continue running, otherwise the brush will tire too quickly.

Fine hair - Kolinsky brush

The most expensive among fine hair is that Kolinsky hair, which denotes the tail hair of a species of marten native to Amur (Russia), Korea, and northern China. The hair has an extremely fine structure. Due to the flaky hair structure, the brush can absorb a lot of color, the tight bundling of the hair enables the pigments to be distributed smoothly. During production, the hair is not “cut” into shape, but rather sorted and bundled.

The common bristle brush comes from China (China bristles) where the hair comes from domesticated domestic pigs. The brush hair is therefore a by-product of the meat industry and is therefore seen as an animal rights activist, less of a concern than fine hair products. There is a big difference in the quality of bristle brushes - the cheapest products are barely suitable for applying paint, but these brushes are unsuitable for painting portraits. It definitely pays off here to pay attention to the quality and to buy high-quality goods. When buying a bristle brush, I always make sure that the hair ends up finely and that the entire length of the hair is used in the brush.


The bristle brush covered an extremely wide range of different uses and is really the "all-rounder" among brushes. With the bristle, however, you always have to pay attention to the condition of the brush. My experience is that the new and strongly bundled bristle brush first has to be worked in, just as you have to wear a new shoe a few times before it sits comfortably. But if that is the case, you have a real workhorse in your hand with high quality and a reasonably decent length of the brush hair.

The structure of the paint application is unique, the absorption capacity, whether wet (with a lot of solvent) or dry paint, is excellent, with the cat's tongue I can work out fine structures and connect the colored surfaces well with one another.

I use this brush for underpainting, the first layers of paint in fine painting or e.g. for grisaille.

The bristle brush is therefore a good solution, also outside of oil painting and is used in many areas of painting. There are painters who do not appreciate fine-haired brushes (e.g. Lucian Freud) and prefer to layer a few layers with the bristle in order to model the plasticity and details in the face. Also with this type of brush, similar to the red sable, please pay attention to the quality and very important: If the bristle does not run out naturally and is cut off at the brush tip, you cannot paint.


The synthetic brush usually consists of Acrylon and Tynex, hence the false name acrylic brush which is misleading as these are not exclusively made for acrylic painting processes. On the contrary, synthetic brushes are versatile. They are used in oil painting as well as in acrylic or guache painting, as well as in temperature techniques. I use this type of brush for underpainting and glazes and for grisaille.


The properties of the synthetic brushes are usually good and the absorption of color is very satisfactory even with inexpensive models. Since they are softer than bristle brushes, the result is a liquid paint application that is ideal for glazing techniques.

Experience shows that you can achieve very fine brushstrokes with synthetic flat brushes and that these models are suitable for the execution of fibers, hair or small clothing details.

Another advantage of using synthetic flat brushes is the long shelf life and the small difference in quality compared to natural hair brushes.


Synthetic brushes often tend to be a bit “stiff”, especially if they are tightly bundled, if that is the case, the brushes can no longer absorb the paint, the softness is lost and the glaze technique cannot be carried out.

TIP: Always clean brushes carefully!

Other brushes have a very fine grain, which also reduces color absorption. These brushes are ideally suited for fine glazes or the distribution of layers of paint with little color. In contrast to the bristle brush, the acrylic brush gives the applied color little body and structure, the brushwork is rather soft and the fiber structure in the color body is barely recognizable.


If you paint with synthetic fibers, you will soon notice that “cheap” brushes are often better in the hand than high-priced products. The synthetic brush is a good alternative to natural hair, but cannot give the color body the structure it does, like a good bristle brush. The paint application is usually very satisfactory, but the "flaky" of the real hair is missing, which means that less paint can stick to the brush.

The most common brush shapes

  • Round brush (blunt brush, also as an extra-long brush, tractor)
  • Pointed brush (tug - extra long)
  • Cat tongues (most common with fine hair)
  • Flat brush
  • Fan brush (rarely with fine hair)

The paint brush - cleaning and care

It is important that you take good care of your brushes after each use. To keep your brushes in good shape, do the following:

When painting with water-soluble acrylic paints, wash the artist brushes out of the brush with clear, not too hot water immediately after use, before they dry out. Acrylic paint is very difficult to remove from the brush with special cleaning agents.

Since oil paints dry slowly, it is sufficient to clean the brushes after painting. First, remove the excess oil paint with a cloth. Thoroughly clean the brushes with a moisturizing soap (brush core soap). The grease keeps the hair of the brush supple, thus extending the service life and usability of your brush. Oil paint that has dried on can be removed with a special brush cleaner for oil paints and then washed out with the moisturizing soap.

In principle, the brush hairs remain elastic longer and the brush head retains its original shape by regularly washing with curd soap. This also removes any paint that may have accumulated under the metal frame. Thorough cleaning prevents the brush from being pushed apart by dried-on paint residues. After the brush has been cleaned well, excess water is wiped off with a cloth and the brush head is brought back into shape. Then allow to air dry thoroughly. Good artist brushes must not be exposed to elevated temperatures (heating or blazing sun), otherwise the brush can be damaged, such as brittle hair or wobbling stems.

Important: Brushes must always be cleaned carefully, otherwise they will show damage after a short period of use. Well-cleaned brushes are durable and even paint better over time.

Our conclusion on the "little" brush knowledge:

The painting utensils you have chosen must be practical and you should form your own opinion - also based on a few wrong decisions. The painting experience shows that you can only get an idea of ​​the function of the brush and of the desired result after you have already made a few brushstrokes. The jump into the famous cold water is necessary. In order for a violinist to improve his / her practice, he / she must first pick up the violin and practice.