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  • Murray's Art & Framing

Brushes Explained

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Imagine you are in a communal art space, with people bustling about working on their craft. You gaze across the room onto each desk and notice the different tools. The printmaker has cutting instruments, the painters have various types of paint, the pastel artist has boxes full of colour and dust and the sculptor has piles of bits and bobs.

Amongst every single artist’s collection of materials there is one tool that is universally used, the paintbrush. There must be a million uses for that humble stick and hair. A soft brush is used to dust away graphite or pastel dust and eraser crumbs. The painters have huge collections for their various techniques but only ever seem to use their favourite one or two. The sculptor uses the handle or the glued-up bristles (oops) for mark making.

If your canvas is the door, then your brush is the key. Let’s look at some brush basics, care, and maintenance to get the right brush in your hand and in good working order.

How do you care for your paintbrush?

Before the paintbrushes first use:

Wash it. Do not bend the bristles to scatter that satisfying dust (we know it’s tempting). Paintbrush bristles are coated in a water-soluble “size” to protect them during transport. If you bend your paintbrush bristles without washing this out, you can snap the delicate hairs leading to hair shedding into your painting.

During use:

Don’t leave your paintbrushes sitting in a pot of water! Pretty much anything else is acceptable. Swish the brush out and lay it on a towel or wipe the paint off on a rag. The most important thing is not to let the bristles sit, submerged in water for extended periods of time as this will dissolve any glue and damages the bristles.

After you are finished:

Wash your paintbrush. Yes, we know you know that already. But really, wash them. Wash your paintbrushes until “the water (or solvent) runs clear”. Use a cleaner if desired and reshape the brush so the bristles dry in the right shape.

The right shapes and style to suit your needs

There are many different shapes and styles available for different needs, techniques and applications. Today we are focusing on available brush shapes but let me quickly outline some extra important information.

Definitions: Ferrule – A metal tube that assists in attaching the bristles to the handle Bristle – The brush hairs, regardless of variety

Brush Hair Varieties


A synthetic bristle suitable for most applications (sensitive to solvents and other plastic eroding substances).

Hog Bristle

A natural fibre hair from a hog and loved by oil and acrylic painters for their textured stokes.


A natural fibre from the sable, squirrel or other species. They are favourites amongst watercolourists for its water wash capabilities.

Kolinsky Sable

Made famous by Queen Victoria, this hair type comes from the tail of the male Siberian weasel. They are known for their water holding capabilities while remaining supple and maintaining the ability to “flick”. This bristle type is revered by watercolourists and miniature painters (Warhammer, etc.).


Paintbrushes can be made with many types of hair. We have seen Badger, Camel, Goat, Mongoose, Pony Hair and more.


A mix of two hair types. Often a synthetic with a natural fibre.

Brush Shapes


A round ferrule with round pointed hair. Used with every medium both for regular laying down of large areas of colour or the finer detail work—depending on the size


A flat ferrule with a square end. Popular with oil and acrylic painters, but also used frequently with watercolour and others.

Brights A square end brush like the ‘oil’ flat, but with shorter hair length. Used to make distinct, definite marks.


A flat ferrule starting out like a flat paintbrush but with the corners rounded. This is a versatile brush that gives a softer finish than the flat or bright, making it perfect for blending. Often used to paint portraits.

Fans A flat ferrule with the bristles coming out in a fan shape. These are great for adding highlights in grass and foliage, hair and fur and are very useful for blending.


These are round brushes with extra long hair coming to a fine point for detail work, fine lines or ‘calligraphy’ marks.


These are both a flat brush cut on a slant. The dagger has a much greater angle than the angle brush. They have great potential for making interesting marks — great for foliage & grasses or whatever application you can think of.

Wash/Mops Wash/Mops

These always use soft hair, but can vary in the shape. Hakes (largest pictured) are used for watercolour backgrounds/large areas and pottery glazes. Camel mops (fluffy one) have a rounded top. Squirrel mops are round and come to a fine point. These are mostly used by watercolourists and potters.


There are many other brushes available for a whole host of applications. Sign writing brushes fall in this category as well a some of the more unusual and bizarre looking “standard” brushes. This category is a catch all for those that don’t fit anywhere else.

Read more about the brands of brushes available

at Murray's Art & framing on our Brushes Product Page.



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