What are these brush shapes for..?

What are these brush shapes for..?

Artists are always looking for new ways to make marks, and German brushmakers da Vinci work closely with artists to develop special tools to suit some very specific wishes. We have more brushes to choose from than ever before – 150 years ago artists used just one brush shape! So what do all these strange brush shapes get used for?

Up until the mid-19th Century, the only shape used in European painting was the round brush. The round holds a good reservoir of colour, it can be pointed for detail or blunt for area work and blending. The Impressionists started using flat brushes, which up until then had been used for lettering, as they wanted a brush better suited to describing their world with dabbing marks and more gesture. Flat brushes became very popular, but later in the century a return to modelling flesh revealed a drawback with this shape – it left its square mark too readily when one was blending wet paint. Brushmakers reshaped the flat by pulling the centre forward and made what is known as a filbert or cat’s tongue. The filbert is very versatile, perfect for blending, it can dab like a flat and draw like a round, and by twisting this way and that – exceptional at cutting in. Today, all brushes are variations on these three brush shapes.

Filberts made from black sable became very popular in late 19th Century for portrait painting, where wet-in-wet blending of oilcolour (and nowadays using Golden OPEN Acrylic too) required a brush with a gentle response for softening, didn’t disturb still wet layers underneath, yet was strong enough to manipulate tube colour. As black sables are used only on wet surfaces, they last a very long time, with correct cleaning of course!

Brushes that were used by craftspeople have been adopted by artists in new ways. Pin-striping brushes that were used to paint lines and flourishes on carriages are now employed for creating calligraphic movement and flicked foliage effects. These are sword-liners, dagger-stripers and rigger brushes.

A Rigger brush is a very long round, and was originally for drawing long lines, but it can do so much more. The unique fibres of the Casaneo Rigger hold an incredible amount of fluid, and the soft, floppy feel allows for easy curves, flicks, and wash that will add exciting calligraphic motion to watercolour, liquid acrylic and inks.

The da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin Sword brush is a cross between a flat and a filbert, and produces unusual marks – it can be drawn towards you on both its edge and flat to create dynamic lines, and using its asymmetrical point can easily cut in and shape areas. The unique Cosmotop-Spin fibres hold plenty of fluid, and their soft yet springy nature makes these brushes perfect for watercolour, fluid acrylic, and inks.

Mottlers are wide, flat brushes used for a variety of applications across large areas, from the start of a painting to the finish. Mottlers made from bristle have the strength for priming, with the extra-thick da Vinci Traditional Gesso brush a standard for many. As well as wide area painting, soft synthetic mottlers like the da Vinci Hobby can be used for softening the texture left by stiff bristles in oilcolour by very, very gently passing it over the surface. Remove paint as it collects on the brush edge so it remains soft and even. Top-Acryl mottlers are suited to fluid and heavy body acrylic painting, and their absorbent yet strong fibres lay down varnish as smooth as glass. Mottlers are so handy for any artist painting large – they’re available in widths from 20mm to giant 500mm wide brushes! The hole in the top of the handle is a sign that these brushes are best hung up to dry.

You can make marks finer than a pen with a brush – the Cosmotop-Spin goes all the way down to a size 10x0! Although very small, these brushes are finely shaped so that plenty of colour is held behind the point without releasing as a blob. And unlike a pen, even with a 10x0 brush, you can vary your line width by applying more or less pressure.

For making lots of fine marks, da Vinci developed their award-winning Vario-Tip. The main body is made from soft absorbent Cosmotop-Spin fibres to hold colour, while stiffer Top-Acryl fibres project irregularly from this, transferring the colour in a broken pattern to your surface. Vario-Tip brushes are excellent for painting grass, hair, or any similar repetitive mark with fluid colour.

Brushes are your precious tools, like a chef’s knives. The only way to save money on brushes is to look after them. Don’t let the paint dry in the brush-head. Wipe the brush-head with a paper towel, removing the bulk of the colour, and, using da Vinci’s special brush-cleaning soap and warm water, work a lather from the ferrule to the tip of the hair, paying special attention to paint clinging between the ferrule and the visible hair. Work the lather from ferrule to tip, until the lather is clean, rinse to make sure all soap is rinsed from the brush head, shape it and lay it out to dry.


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