Oil Painting Basics: Brushes 101

Hey beginners, don’t be intimidated by oil painting — especially when you have the fundamentals laid out for you from such an accomplished artist like Julie Gilbert Pollard.

Below you’ll  gain an overview of some of the basic materials you’ll need, including brushes for oil painting and tips for cleaning them, pulled directly from her book Discover Oil Painting. Enjoy!


Best brushes for oil painting | ArtistsNetwork.com

Julie’s Basic Oil Painting Brush Kit, from left to right: bright bristle, filbert bristle, small and large flat bristles, an old bright bristle cut into with scissors (for making loose ragged brushstrokes), Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II round, assortment of Winsor & Newton Monarch brights, flats and filberts; and a fan bristle. (Pin this!) **Article contributions from Cherie Haas

Brushes For Oil Painting

Brushes come in a variety of styles. Eventually, you’ll determine your own favorite brushes to use. Until then, you’ll probably want to experiment with a few different brush types and sizes.

Here are some basic brush descriptions, though the length of the bristles often varies from brand to brand:

  • Round: round with a pointed tip
  • Flat: flat with squared ends
  • Bright: flat with shorter bristles than flat brushes
  • Filbert: flat with rounded ends
  • Fan: flat and shaped like a fan — the only fan brush I use is one out of which I have cut some of the bristles in a ragged pattern to make a very rough scraggly mark

I use hog bristle brushes in a variety of brands, from Nos. 2 to 10 for the lion’s share of my painting, but I also like synthetic mongoose brushes, flats, brights and filberts in several sizes.

The synthetic mongoose brushes I use are Winsor & Newton Monarch brushes. They are sized differently from bristle brushes, with a No. 14 being about 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) wide. The Monarch Nos. 0 and 2 are good for small branches, as are the Nos. 0 and 2 filberts. I use a Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II No. 1 round for tiny twigs and for my signature.


Oil painting basics: brushes 101 | Julie Gilbert Pollard, ArtistsNetwork.com

Free As a Bird (oil painting on canvas, 12×24) by Julie Gilbert Pollard.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

You’ll need odorless mineral spirits (OMS), a rag and tissues or paper towels. (I use the least expensive pop-up facial tissues.)

It’s especially important to clean your brush between values, and often different colors of the same value, if you don’t want your colors to mix. If you’ve been applying a light-value color and need to add a darker value, simply wipe the brush with a tissue.

However, if you want to add light value over dark, the brush needs more thorough cleaning. Wipe the brush, then wash in OMS by rubbing it over the coil in a silicoil brush cleaning tank. Wipe the OMS off the brush firmly with a tissue before picking up the light-colored paint.

I generally only change brushes when I need a different size or shape, not because the brush isn’t clean enough. Normally I use about three or four brushes during a painting session, and I clean them as I go.

I used to grab a different brush instead of cleaning the one in my hand. By the end of a painting session, however, I would be too tired to clean them properly and would leave them to be cleaned later on. I ruined a few brushes that way. So now I clean as I go, which is quick and easy. It makes clean-up at the end of my painting day a breeze.

Want More from Julie Gilbert Pollard?

In the quick video tutorial below, Pollard demonstrates how to simplify the subject of your painting by seeing the large shapes without the distraction of color. Follow along as she chooses a monochrome color to underpaint these shapes as values — for the perfect first step in your oil painting process.

Still want more from Pollard? Check out her video workshops on ArtistsNetwork.tv.

You may also like these articles:

One thought on “Oil Painting Basics: Brushes 101