Art Unboxed The Brush
When I was younger I wanted to use a paintbrush, but was frustrated when trying to do so. This was because I wanted it to function as a pencil or pen. I was hoping to simply draw what I was trying to with it easily, but there were some factors about the brush that I didn’t realize at the time. I’m still learning absolutely, but I understand a few things now that I missed before.
First, I didn’t just start out using a pencil or an ink pen and get it to draw what I wanted either. I had to learn about the instrument. The way to hold it, and what it could do, a pencil’s features are different than a pens, and so is a paintbrush.
Now I know that a brush isn’t meant to be a pen or a pencil, it’s meant to be a brush. That sounds simple, but it’s a great place to start. There are things a brush can do that a pen or pencil can’t. Broken edges, (The technique where the edge of a figure or object has some soft or broken lines in some areas, while other areas of the object have a cleaner or harder edge), are the first thing that comes to mind.
Broken edges are considered a hallmark of a great painter, knowing where to have an edge and where not to have an edge. Knowing what to leave in, and what to take out is a lot of what broken edges, and brushwork itself are about. An artist doesn’t just learn how to paint, they learn what to paint, and the great ones learn what not to paint, there is a difference.
The second thing I would mention that I learned is that there are different brushes for different purposes. A watercolor brush is very different from an oil brush, and acrylic brushes are different still. My favorite watercolor brush is a synthetic sable for the point, holding its shape, and it’s versatility. My favorite acrylic brush is a white taklon, my gouache brushes are somewhat stiffer than my acrylics. I don’t use oils that much so I don’t have a preferred set for them.
You have to know your instrument, not only the recommended method of use, but how you can adapt it to what is needed. To illustrate, while a paintbrush is neither a pencil or pen, you can most definitely draw with it once you learn how to properly do so, and how best to do so. Best here isn’t referring to my way, or some specific way, but the way that works best for you.
I’m using the term proper to refer to the recommended methods artists have used over the years, from an experience standpoint. There are high quality textbooks and courses on brushwork which aren’t based on opinion, but tried and true experience. They will also cover technique, strokes, and specialized topics such as scumbling (applying a thin layer of paint with a dry brush and loosely over an existing painted area).
Best in this case isn’t referring to my opinion, but what you’ve found works best for you and your style. Techniques may be shared, but you will find certain practices will help you in your art more than they may help someone else. I can best describe this by borrowing from the music world.
Two artists who had enormous respect for each other, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett are considered among the greatest singers known, but each sang a song professionally differently. One may hold a note the other didn’t, or vice versa. This didn’t make one right and the other wrong, it made each unique.
Even if you’ve used a paintbrush for decades, I would suggest continuing to learn as much as you can from others. Art like any other practice worth knowing, is a lifetime of learning. I would also suggest finding what works best for you, and after thoroughly testing something new, discarding methods that do not work for you. While you have to give something new enough time to test, you don’t want to hang on to methods that handicap you either.
You can always revisit a technique later down the road. I’ve found that what did not work for me six months earlier helped me today. Maintaining an attitude of learning as a person is as important as hand eye coordination and practice. It will keep you from plateauing as an artist and avoid the danger of allowing what you’ve already achieved to stop you from achieving more.
Brush strokes, it would be unusual to end a piece on the brush without at least mentioning them. I hesitated to only because of the massive amount of information tied to what looks so simple. A lot of information related to them is tied either to the medium used, artistic style, or a specific technique. However some things are considered to be somewhat standard.
Watercolorists agree not to overwork an area. Acrylic and oil painters recommend bold brush strokes, and not to fiddle or use too small a detail brush when possible. Gouache painters like James Gurney and others have shown how fine detail can be achieved with large brushes in a fairly quick period. The consensus is quality strokes, make them count.
Another important point agreed upon by artists across mediums is to use enough paint to get the job done. Water, acrylic, gouache, or oil, it’s called a paintbrush for a reason. Don’t skimp on the amount of paint you use. I’ll also admit this is an area I’m still learning to apply.
Though I’m doing better, I have a tendency to mix only what I need for a moment. The danger of this is when you remix later, the color may vary from the first one you mixed. Each of us still has a lot to learn in art and in life. While I now know something about painting with a brush, I hope to continue learning how to paint with a brush.