When it comes to painting there are three questions that I get asked more than any others:
- What is that stick you’re holding? (It’s a mahl stick)
- What colors do you use? (All of them… I use all the colors!)
- What brushes do you use? (Well, it’s time I made a post about it!)
I feel like I have to give fair warning that this post might be a little NSFW (Not Safe For Wallet) because I buy LOTS of brushes and I know that I am not alone in this. I am a brush addict. There are dozens of us out there. DOZENS! It’s also a long post but if you love brushes even a little, I think it will be useful.
I am also a big fan of Rosemary and Co Brushes. There are other good brush companies out there, but Rosemary is usually better and cheaper, their customer service is fantastic, they support just about every art event out there and I also love the owner, Rosemary, and her daughter, Symi. I believe they truly care about their customers and how they use their brushes. I see them present and commenting in many groups on the internet and when I go to events I see them addressing customer after customer by name and asking about their work and family. That’s the kind of company I want to support.
Over the years I have been fortunate to develop a working relationship with Rosemary and Co and they have invited me to curate a couple of sets of brushes. I want to share those with you. I also want to share some new brushes they have developed and some other specific use brushes that you might get a kick out of. BTW, if you order from Rosemary and don’t live in the UK or EU, turn off the VAT when looking at prices. It won’t charge the VAT when you checkout, but it gives you the accurate price when browsing if you turn it off.
The first set that I want to point out is my Essential Set which contains 16 brushes that cover most of my oil painting preferences.
Eclipse Long Filberts – I have broken up the set into three photos so that I can talk about each kind of brush. My favorites of all the brushes I use are these long filberts in the Eclipse line. My set includes sizes 2, 4, 6, and 8 with two of each of the three smallest. The Eclipse brushes are synthetic and are made to look a bit like mongoose hairs.
For me, these are the perfect all-around fibers. They have great snap, are stiff enough to hold plenty of paint, but are soft enough to make some really subtle marks. They are a great balance of how I want a brush to apply paint. If I had to choose one brush type to use for the rest of my life (please don’t make me choose!) this would be the one.
One of the reasons I love the long filberts is the longevity. The main reason that brushes lose their shape is paint getting down into the ferrule (the metal part that is crimped to hold the hairs in place). The paint gets down in there and dries between the hairs and like ice in the crack of a rock it slowly swells and builds up and eventually splays out the hairs. These long-haired brushes eliminate a lot of that. The paint stays up towards the tip of the brush, safely away from the ferrule.
Eclipse Long Flats and Combers – I don’t use these as much as the filberts, but they are indispensable. The flats are wonderful for hard edges and accurate lines. I find myself using them straight on for crisp lines and flat for broad planes. They give a nice faceted brush stroke (where the filberts have a little softer stroke and fall off). The four brushes on the left with the gold ferrules are the long flats. The two on the right with the silver ferrules are combers. The combers are made from the same hairs, but only half the fibers reach the end of the brush. This makes them very delicate. It also means that they don’t hold a lot of paint. It does mean that they are wonderful for feathering edges and for making delicate, calligraphic marks or wispy hairs or grass, branches, and smoke.
Lastly are the Evergreen brushes. I only have a few. A big flat which is excellent for blocking in, pushing lots of paint around, and general workhorse stuff. The two riggers (originally designed for painting rigging when painting ships) are for fine details, lines, and signing. Again, the long brushes last forever with minimal maintenance. Don’t let the paint dry in them, don’t let paint get in the ferrule, and these riggers will last forever.
Next up is my Companion Set – These are 12 brushes that I use regularly, but I included them in a second set so that my primary one wouldn’t get too expensive.
This is a useful set of Evergreen Filberts. I use them for scrubbing in paint, all prima painting, and general painting. I have found they don’t hold up as well as the Eclipse, at least how I use them, but that’s okay. I let them get beat up and accept that as they wear I will be even more comfortable punishing them and saving the Eclipse brushes for the more delicate work.
Masters Choice – These are the brushes that I think put Rosemary on the map in the art world a few years ago. Langnickel was making long flat mongoose brushes and they became favorites of painters like Richard Schmid and Jeremy Lipking. But they had a problem. The hairs would come out. Not just a bit, but sometimes you’d get a brush and half the hairs would come out on the first stroke. I’m not kidding either. I was constantly working to pick hairs out. It was frustrating but there weren’t other options. Rosemary stepped in and worked with Schmid and Lipking and some others to create a more reliable alternative and their Masters Choice line was born! They are very versatile. They create a great wispy, organic mark. You see it all over Schmid’s work especially. These long flats also benefit from not getting paint into the ferrule. They clean up beautifully too. The hairs seem to just let the paint slip out when I clean them. I find they are the most forgiving of the brushes I have in terms of cleaning and I have some that I have used for nearly 10 years. They look unruly but get some paint in them and they really shine. I find that a tiny bit of Gamsol with the paint lets it flow beautifully off these brushes and makes for beautiful marks.
On to some other lines! Rosemary has just released a new synthetic sable, called their Red Dot Collection. I think they are outstanding. Had they been around I would have added them to my curated sets. I don’t think I feel the need to purchase actual sable brushes again. These are wonderful for both oil and water-based media. If you are interested they have created a sample set that is excellent. It contained a brush shape that I hadn’t used much before but it now one of my favorites. The dagger. It’s so versatile! I love it for leaves and hair.
Red Dot Collection Intro Set – Mmm, this is some sexy synthetic action below. Look at the beautiful points the rounds come to. The fan is great for knocking down glare, softening paint, and general painting. The flat is crisp and has a great snap to it. The rigger will last forever and is excellent for detail, grass, hair, and signing.
I also have one of their Red Dot Beaver Tail brushes that I use for varnishing. It’s perfect! It can hold plenty of varnish and puts it down with a soft satiny finish and no streaking.
Now let’s move onto some other brushes I keep around:
For fine detail… REALLY fine details, I like the Series 315 Rigger Golden Synthetic 20/0 and the Series 301 Pointed Round Golden Synthetic 2/0 – They both come to a needlepoint. You can paint hair-thin eyelashes with them. I only use them for the smallest of details.
Miscellaneous Brushes – I have found that keeping some rough, cheap hog hair brushes around for gessoing saves my nicer ones. I bought this at Hobby Lobby and used their 40% off coupon so it was a few dollars. It has lasted me a long time and I use it to apply the lead alkyd primer from Natural Pigments and also Liquitex Professional gesso. You can scrub the gesso on if you don’t get too thick and apply a few layers and you might not even need to sand it and still have a very smooth surface.
Another very cheap option, these Chip Bristle Brushes are inexpensive enough that you don’t feel too bad about tossing them if they get compromised. They cost about 30 cents apiece and are very handy!
A synthetic house painting brush with long hairs. I use this one when I am working large and need to “draw” with the paint. I can use the corner to get a very nice line with great control and the flat to block in shapes. They are just a few dollars at Home Depot and the long hairs lend longevity.
Okay, this last one is a weird but very useful one. It is a shaving brush. I use this to dust off my work before varnishing but also before painting if it has sat for a few days and collected some dust. This helps to keep my paint film from getting full of lint and dust. Why this brush? It’s cheap, very soft, I had one laying around and it works! I bought mine on Amazon – Perfecto Shaving Brush
That’s it! This was a long one. Thanks for giving it a read and if you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments!