Friday, 3 February 2012

Brushes and palette knives

I've been asked a question about what sort of brushes I use to paint with, so I thought I'd do a quick blog about the type of tools I use.

I like to get a variety of marks down on the canvas, so pretty much anything can be used as a mark-making object.  I use a variety of brushes and palette knives as you can see, but also basically anything to hand that can be used to make a mark - the edge of a piece of card, a roller, a stick.  It depends what mark you have in mind, then you look round to see something which you can use to apply the paint with. 

Here's a selection of the types of brushes that I use.

As you can see, there's everything from (R-L)

a cheap wide flat bristle brushe, good for making large gestural strokes; 
an eye-wateringly expensive large soft cats tongue, again for large soft marks; 
chinese calligraphy brush for long thin-wash marks; 
a lovely goats hair chinese brush ('capra') which I picked up in a market in Milan and which caused a problem at airport security, again good for loose marks with thin paint; 
narrower cheap flat bristle brush, for finer background passages; 
a 1" flat; 
smaller calligraphy brush;
long natural hair watercolour brush for picking up paint and doing expressive flicky loose marks such as grasses;
short round natural fibre watercolour brush for doing detail;
brush handle sharpened at the end for drawing into the paint.

I also use palette knives of different sorts.

The plastic ones are very flexible, almost like the sort that you use to get cake mixture out of mixing bowls.  If they're too rigid, then they break at the handle.  Again, the metal knives are very flexible.  The large one in the middle is my favourite, very versatile, good for skies and sea.  You can get lovely waves and clouds with it.  The plastic ones on the left I use all the time for getting the paint on so I can start working the finer detail.

It's just about finding the right tool to make the marks that express what you want to say.  All you're doing is mark-making.  

I tried out lots of knives in the shop to see what sat best in my hand and what I could do with it, how I could move it about, how I could bend it and flex it to move the paint where I wanted. The sides of the knives are just as useful as the flat surface, so it can be used to incise or cut the paint, as well as make very large flat marks ands sweep the paint, and off course they're a great quick way of mixing colours.

If you dip the large knife into a small dab of oil, then into your dish of turps, then you can do very thin large washes of paint, or scrape paint off.  Never be afraid to scrape oils off again.  Show it who's boss!


  1. One of the most in depth beginner’s review I have seen. Well done.