Basics Oil Painting

TOOLS: Choosing Brushes (oil paint)

Oil Paint Brush Guide- Which Brushes to Use


A paint brush is to an oil painter, what a magic wand is to a wizard.  That is to say that it is a tool that makes all the difference to the practitioner.  A good brush is well worth the investment and will get better once it is broken in.

Traditionally, brushes used for oil painting are made out of hog’s hair (bristle) and sable. Increasingly, synthetic brushes made from materials such as nylon, are becoming more and more popular. A good brush will hold its shape, in paint and on canvas, bouncing back to its original shape. The bristles should be firm, neither overly limp or to springy.

Oil painting brushes have 2 handle sizes- long wooden handle and which is up to 12 inches and short- meant for detail.

Long handle brushes are used in a horizontal position with the painting surface vertical.The long handle serves to balance the brush in your hand, centering the brush so the paint will flow better.

The size of the brush by the brush head with No. 1 being the finest and No.12/14 the broadest.


The three most important shapes for oil painting brushes are- flat, round and filbert.


flat: these have a wedge-shaped square tip. Flat brushes are primarily used for blocking in large areas of color, in the painting’s early stage.

round: these brushes taper at the tip. Round brushes are used to create a more linear/straight brush stroke.

filbert: these brushes resemble a finger tip. Filbert brushes are used to apply color broadly. Used on its side, a filbert gives a thin line; used on it’s broad side (flat) it produces a heavy thick brush stroke.


Sable: also known as “soft” brushes, and are used for finer detail.

Bristle: also known as hog’s hair. These are a stiffer bristle, and are therefore better for larger brushes.


If your looking at filling in the of your oil painting basic brush collection for oil painting, we recommend getting the following brushes:

Flats: #12,#4-8 and #2
Filberts: #12,#4-8 and #2
Rounds: #2 or #3

If you are looking to get the most value for money, we would suggest investing in a complete set of brushes rather than buying each one individually. Brush sets, contain most of the brushes that you need in addition to a few extra’s that are just nice to have. These sets generally tend to be a good deal.

Most major brands have great sets, but we would suggest checking out the following sets:

Set of Oil Paint Brushes

Visit Blick Art Materials, to see a comprehensive selection of brushes. Selection can be found here:


In order to maintain a long lasting relationship with your brush it is good practice to clean your brushes after each session. Integrate this extra step into your painting regime and this will drastically help prolong the life of each brush.

1. Solvent as a Cleaner
For oil paint use mineral spirits, or terpenoid.
-Start by wiping excess paint on a rag, removing extra paint will make the job much easier.
-Rinse brush in mineral solvent, it’s okay to use the used solvent from your painting session. Try to get all the paint off the bristles.
-Use RAG to remove solvent and paint on bristles.
-Rinse brush under running water.
-Once brush is clean, remove excess liquid from bristles and shape into correct form. Store upright in container to dry.

2. Dish Soap
-Wipe excess paint on a rag, removing extra paint will make the job much easier.
-Squeeze liquid dish soap into the palm of your hand. With water running work soap into brush bristles until. Work through, rinse and repeat until there is no more paint remaining.
-Reshape brush, and let it dry completely.
3. Fabric Softener
-Wipe excess paint on a rag, removing extra paint will make the job much easier.
-Mix together a gallon of warm water and 1/2 cup fabric softener.
-Swirl brush in solution, paint should begin to come off in the mixture. Shake off and rinse any remaining solution.
-Reshape brush into correct shape and let dry.
4. Vinegar
-Soak the brush in vinegar for an hour.
-Place the brush in an old pot and cover it with vinegar. You want the bristles to be completely covered with vinegar
-Bring the vinegar to a slow simmer on the stove. Simmer vinegar with the paintbrushes for a few minutes.
-Remove brushes, let them cool.
-Comb bristles, working paint out of the bristles.
-Rise and shape brush.


We have become huge fans of this type of brush cleaner. This metal brush cleaner features a grate at the bottom of the cleaning chamber that allows paint sediment from your brushes to fall to the bottom of the outer pot. This helps keep the fluid fresh for the next use, saving you time and preserving your solvent. The lid has a built-in gasket that forms an air tight, leak proof seal, preventing the smells and harsh fumes of solvents from escaping, and keeping solvents from spilling out.

Less expensive versions are made from glass and contain a metal grate at the bottom, and is also sealable.


Palette knives are mainly used for mixing and blending colors on a palette. Some artists use this tool as an instrument to paint with, although it generally is not recommended for most painting styles as it creates a heavy chunky stroke.

TIP: If you live in the United States, the best selection and prices come from Blick Art Materials, the most convenient and fast is Amazon.




-article compiled, photographed & written by Lyrica Glory, founder of Patron of the Arts