The Art of Beginning Art



It's all about the brush
This week, it's all about the brush!


It seems like I have been writing constantly over the last few weeks. I usually set aside around 4-hours per night to write the blog, prepare images and generally carry out research for each post, yet over the last few weeks I have been putting in many extra hours. In part because I am busy creating new content for new pages, and in part because of the overwhelming response I had for my offer to run a feature that will spotlight artist’s local and independent artists from around the world.

The response was terrific, many of you emailed me with your details and I hadn’t realised just how many of you would respond! I am writing the first post at the moment, and have enough artists to run a series of posts featuring you all.

You haven’t missed out though if you have not had time to get in touch. I am still accepting requests if you would like to be featured. In fact I am extending the offer to artists of other disciplines.

All you need to do is to send me an email to and include the following:

• Your name

• Your business, studio, or gallery name

• A short bio

• Links to your work, where people can buy it, and any social media contact information

• Two small photo’s that feature what you think is your best work – make sure that these are watermarked, and ideally the images need to be no larger than 800x600

• If you have won any awards please make sure to let me know

I will then feature the best entries in my blog, and on my Artists Spotlight page. If you are also a member of my Facebook group, The Artists Exchange, let me know and you could be featured on the Artists Exchange page on this blog which supports the Facebook group.

In addition I will also promote the best entries through my social media accounts on Twitter, and Facebook!

None of this will cost you anything other than the time to send me the information. Whilst I cannot guarantee that you will make hundreds of sales, this is free exposure that will certainly help. If you go on to make lots of sales as a result, you can always buy me a coffee!

I have been asked why I am doing this so here goes. I believe that the arts are vital to communities and local and independent artists who are not represented by major galleries need to be supported. The market is a tough one, and whilst artists can promote themselves on their social media timelines, extending the reach of your post is often difficult. The more timelines you appear on the better.

And also because I believe that there are some truly great artists who have been unknown for far too long. I am always impressed by the extraordinary quality of the work produced and displayed in both of my Facebook groups, The Artists Exchange, and The Artists Hangout, and I often find myself asking the question, why are these artists not in major galleries?

Artists nowadays have to not only produce art, but they have to be masters of marketing. A skill I have had to reluctantly learn and continue to do so. I would much rather be creating than marketing, but I understand that if I want my work to be seen and hopefully sell, I have to market myself. If there is any way of making the marketing easier then count me in!

There are many reasons why I am doing this free of charge. One of those reasons is that for many years I followed various websites who all do one thing. They make you sign up to get a one or two page PDF often written in a language that makes little sense, or as some do, will charge you for their other services.

When I started this blog, those sites and services were the reason. I did not want to have to continue signing up for something that has little value. Whilst there were a few along the way that surprised me, there were many more who made me feel that having my email address and a continued subscription was their ultimate goal.

In summary I am doing this because I believe that any help I can give to an artist that might make things even a tiny bit better for them seems a good thing to do. And because local and independent artists are the lifeblood of communities around the world, and over the years I have met so many wonderful people who are artists and who have become true friends. This is my way of saying thank you to those people. I don’t need your email address!

So if you are an artist, author, or otherwise engaged in the arts, or maybe even an actor/actress, please do get in touch.


I have met so many people recently who are taking up art and once someone knows you are an artist they will ask you for advice, usually for free, and often in the most unexpected places. Last week I was in a lift at work when someone asked me if they should start using watercolours, oils, or acrylics. The other 10 people looked bemused. So when I needed a new palette because I was going to do work on some traditional art to keep my hand in because I am a digital artist, I realised that there are a ton of new people trying out the arts for the first time.

It seemed a little alien to me that not everyone had painted all of their lives, so this week I am going to go through some of the basics, a palette and a brush. We all have to start somewhere.


I decided that I would get out my paintbrushes for a change this week and create an abstract using acrylics. I haven’t had the acrylics out in anger for a couple of years being a digital artist, but I do believe that as a digital artist it is important to keep up with traditional skills as well. In fact at least once every couple of months I will either get the watercolours out, or my Prismacolor pencils, and occasionally some oil paints. Last month I created some traditional blueprints for a commission, and this year I have completed three abstracts using oil paints for a local company.

Acrylics were at one time my all-time favourite medium, now it’s digital but I still hold a love for acrylics, it is just that I haven’t used them for such a long time. Armed with new paintbrushes, and a new set of acrylic paints, I felt prepared to take on a huge canvas measuring 60 inches by 60 inches. The intention is to give it away as a Christmas present.

That was until I realised that my palettes were a little messy. I usually have some spares sitting around but decided that for a piece this large I would need a larger palette in any case. Off I went to an art supplies store, unfortunately my local art supplies shop was closed for two weeks for a refurbishment and I had to bite the bullet and go to a chain store.

Of all the space they had in the store, they literally had only two palettes available for purchase. One was much smaller than I needed, and the second one was a glass palette costing nearly £55 ($72 U.S) although it came complete with a free brush and a 12-page mixing guide.

I hadn’t realised that palettes cost quite so much as they are these days, I think I paid around £5 for my previous plastic palettes, and have used all kinds of materials to provide me with additional mixing space.

Not wanting to spend quite so much, and also because the glass palette was also a little on the small side I decided to buy some vinyl sticky back covering and go to a homeware store.

When I looked at the glass palette I had realised that what made this tempered glass special was that it wasn’t just the tempered glass and smooth edges, but it had a white covering on the back. At the homeware store I picked up a large 10x18 inch clear glass table place mat in their bargain isle that had been reduced to £3.30! Originally part of a set it was supposed to sit in the middle of the table.

I had spent more on one metre of white sticky back vinyl. Once I got home I cleaned off the dust from the placemat, cut out the vinyl and made sure there were no air bubbles, resulting in me owning a large tempered glass palette for under £10. ($13 U.S) and it was the perfect size, slightly larger even than the one in the art supply store.

And it has been so easy to clean, literally taking seconds to wipe any excess paint away and I not only got a larger palette, I also managed to save a lot of money by doing this. If I ever want to change the background colour, I can. Just peel away the old one and cover it with something else. In addition, if the glass ever does crack, my theory is that the vinyl will hold it together safely.



The anatomy of an artists brush
The Anatomy of an Artists Brush


I wrote a while ago about looking out for art supplies on a budget, but I started to wonder again if there were other ways you could start saving money as an artist. My glass palette inspired me to look at some other ways that I could save some money and I realised that many people starting out creating art might not realise that there are ways you can save money by buying the correct high quality brushes.

I told you all about palettes and storage boxes in my Art of Creating Art on a Budget post not too long ago, but there are even more ways you can actually save when it comes to brushes and brush storage.

I have lost count of the palettes I have purchased over the years. Now I tend to use cheap plastic containers that have small sections. The plastic is generally a low grade which tends to be very smooth, so when I wash them out they are actually easier to clean than palettes I have previously paid top dollar for. Now I also have my glass palette, I can’t ever see me going back to any other type of palette. A combination of the glass and plastic containers means I am now set to handle many different mediums that will need to be mixed.

I also wrote that all too often we artists pay a premium price for the accessories. I purchased a Daler Rowney artists carry box for under £10 which was a total bargain, but I also have a couple of carrying boxes that were in the fishing section of a discount store. These cost me around £4 each, and they’re just as good as the Daler Rowney in terms of size. They also have some useful smaller boxes inside that are perfect for holding smaller accessories. All of them are just as good as a box I paid nearly £70 for around five or six years ago. In fact the expensive box has a split at the side that I have had to tape up with Gorilla Tape. That stuff is a miracle of modern science, I always keep a supply of both their tapes and glues to hand.

Talking of storage solutions without running the risk of sounding like a Pinterest post, one of the best bargains I have ever got my hands on was an artist brush point of sale display stand. This beast holds up to 244 brushes of different varieties. I mentioned this before, and I am still using this point of sale stand today.

The shop I purchased it from got sent a new one free every time they ordered new brushes to sell. Not having the room to display their 35-excess display stands they were offering them for sale for £7 UK ($10 US) each. Apparently many of the artist supply wholesalers will frequently send retailers point of display stands, and just as frequently many of these end up in the waste. So it is worth asking if your local store has any unused point of display stands that they would like to get rid of. Many will gladly give you them rather than having to pay to have them taken away.

I now have a stand for oil brushes, water colours, and acrylics, although I am not too sure that I will ever manage to fill every one of them. Brushes are one of the things I never really compromise on, I usually prefer a slightly more expensive brush because with the cheaper ones I find that I get more bristles than paint on the work I am creating.

If you want a great brush though there are options. Whenever I travel I now use a travel brush from Rosemary and Co. and if you are saving on other essential supplies you can afford to spend a little more on a good quality brush. I think a great quality brush also gives your confidence a boost when you are using it. Not all brushes are created equal.

There are occasional times when I do use cheaper brushes purely because they give me the right effect. I told you recently about getting used make-up brushes from a local beauty salon as they could only ever use them for a short time. That still holds true, and I have never been able to find a professional stippling brush from any art supplier that is quite as good as one of the make-up brushes I got for free. OK, I am suddenly in to the benefits of a good makeup brush. That was unexpected.

I often get asked this one question by people I know who wish to take up painting, and it is how many different brushes will I need? You don’t necessarily need lots of them. Many times I have come across new artists who have purchased a complete set of every brush in every size, the reality is that to get started you really don’t need to have every brush in your toolbox to achieve some great results. Of course some art supply stores and particularly the chains might want you to be prepared, but there is no need if you plan on creating specific sizes of artwork in specific mediums.

It depends on a number of factors, mediums used, size of the work you are creating, but generally I find that whenever I create anything up to around 24 inches, I have some favourite brushes which I always turn to, and rarely if ever do I use some of my others.

Essentially I will have a round brush, a pointed round brush, a flat, a bright, a filbert, an angular flat, and a round detail brush. That is just seven brushes in total. Beyond that it comes down to size.

Name the artists brushes
Can you name the brushes?


The round brush I use for sketching and detailed work and filling in the smaller areas, the pointed round brush is great for creating nice clean lines, but I also use this brush for spotting and retouching detail. It’s especially useful when I paint landscapes, and more so when creating seascapes and adding the white breaks of the waves.

Flat brushes can be used to create bold strokes, but since I have been working more in acrylics I find that a good metal palette knife is useful to keep by your side. I will use a bright brush to apply shorter strokes, or to apply thick heavy colour, and the filbert brush is used primarily for me as a tool for blending. I tend to use it occasionally for trees in the background too.

Small round detail brushes if they are good quality will hold more paint than you would initially think. I learnt that just a small amount of paint on these brushes was quicker and also saved paint. Previously I had a tendency to overload the brush having been used to using whatever I could afford, but using a better brush really will pay dividends in the quality of your art, and surprisingly in the amount of paint that you will use.

Angular flat brushes are terrific for creating curves, but when I needed an angular brush recently only to find that for some reason it had gone missing, I actually sliced an angle away from one of my spare flat brushes. Now I find that whenever I need a different angle, as long as the cut is clean you can achieve some very good results and create some bespoke angles.

So the answer for me is that I don’t tend to use all of the brushes I have. If you are starting out, my advice is to start with a basic set of 8-10 brushes and maybe a palette knife too. Just make sure that they are good brushes, because they really do make the job easier and they tend not to lose quite so many bristles. If you are working on larger work then have a few larger sizes of your most used brushes as well. Also worth remembering that just because one brush says size 8, some manufacturer’s brushes are larger than other manufacturer’s brushes even though they are both state the exact same size, so always go with the measurement over the brush number.

And finally some brushes are specific to a particular medium. If you only work in acrylics then you will need only a set suitable for acrylics, these tend to be springier than brushes for oil and watercolour and needn’t be quite as expensive as those used for either oil or watercolour.

There’s a reason for this and it is in part to do with the brushes spring, and also because many of the top end brushes use natural bristle. Whenever you work with acrylics you will know that you need to constantly keep the bristles wet or at least very well hydrated, and this can have a negative effect on many natural fibres. I have lost count of the amount of times I have had to throw away a £10 brush because its fibres had become too damaged to work with.

When choosing a size it is worth mentioning that in general a large brush is used for large areas, and small brushes for smaller areas, but you can still use a large brush on smaller areas by holding near the end, resulting in much looser and wider strokes.

Each shape of brush will give you a range of different strokes and styles with some brushes able to be used to create a wide variety of effects. But having a range of bristle mediums will also be of benefit. Nylon is excellent for creating flat areas of an image, whereas using natural bristle will give you a more uneven texture.

By practicing holding the brush at different angles, and in different places, a single brush can provide many different painting styles. Learning how to control the brush makes sense because it could just save you the cost of adding another brush to your collection.

When you purchase a brush you may find that it feels extremely stiff. This is down to a protective coat that is applied by the manufacturer to preserve the brush pre-sale, which also preserves the shape. Before you use the brush you will need to rub it quite gently between your thumb and index finger to remove the coating. Once you have done this you will find that the brush becomes looser. Always make sure you have clean hands before doing this.


Let’s start with flat brushes. One of the more useful brushes you should have in your collection. Flat brushes are easily identifiable because well, they are flat. The generally have longer bristles and the end is squared off. You can use these for laying down paint on larger areas, but they are tremendous at creating lines. As these brushes tend to hold a lot of paint bold sweeps can be achieved, but using the foot of the brush is an ideal way of creating straight lines even on smaller paintings.

Sometimes called angled brushes, or slanted brushes, can be useful if you are painting on an easel or at an angle. I tend to work on flatter surfaces so whenever I do need an angled brush as I said earlier, I tend to cleanly cut a flat brush to the desired angle, and have done this with older brushes where you might find one side of the brush becomes worn.

Fan brushes are fantastic for landscapes and creating things like grass, blending clouds and adding highlights. My advice when selecting a fan brush is to make sure the bristles are soft if you plan on blending, a synthetic brush however is deal when applying textures.

Round brushes are perhaps my most used. These are ideal for edges and lines, and a small one for adding detail and finishing touches to a piece. You can also use these to produce a soft blend, but if you plan on blending, always go for softer bristles.

Liners, riggers, both are the same thing. Question is do you actually need one if you can produce lines with some of the brushes already mentioned. I tend to use liners to add in detailed lines and especially where the gap between two lines needs to be narrow. These are also ideal for portraits.

Oval and square wash brushes do two different things. I use an oval which has rounded edges to set down larger swathes of paint, but if I need to apply water to an image I will choose one of these too. Square wash brushes can produce shape better than an oval.

The round brush as I said earlier is what I use for sketching and detailed work and filling in the smaller areas, the pointed round brush is great for creating nice clean lines, but a good round brush is also a bit of an all-rounder.

The Palette Knife is one of my most used tools. Where at one time I would always use a flat brush, a palette knife is ideal for spreading colour, and building up texture. I tend to do all of my mixing with a palette knife now because they will not wear out as easily as a brush. For many years I would have a brush used specifically for mixing, but I found that the bristles will deteriorate over time. There really is no need to use an expensive brush to mix, but what you can do is keep your old brushes for exactly this purpose.

I absolutely love palette knives for mixing and applying colour to a large area but when it comes to actually doing any painting, you’ll need a painting knife. So many people use palette knife as a description of the two, but there is a difference between a palette knife and a painting knife.

Painting knives are generally made from metal although you can buy plastic ones. If you go with plastic, at some point soon it will snap. There is a large bend in a painting knife between the handle and the blade, this is to ensure that your hand is away from the paint. The metal variety are also flexible and ideal for applying smaller details and giving the piece texture.

They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, you won’t need them all. Choose the ones you know you will work with for the canvas sizes you generally create. My palette knife abstracts have always been created on larger canvases, but I prefer a slightly smaller blade, so I tend to use a medium size instead of the larger ones which are of course more expensive.


If you look after the brushes you have then you will need to buy fewer replacements. It can often seem a chore after a long session to then have to clean up, but believe me when I say it is worth it. There is nothing worse than finding your favourite brush is no longer able to be used. Sometimes brushes just cannot be saved.

Oil, Watercolour, and acrylics will all need different approaches to cleaning, and this may impact on your choice of mediums.


Pigment particles particularly from more expensive watercolours build up at the base of the brush over time. Rush in other ways too, splitting the point, and you can easily introduce previously used colours in to your work. To make sure your watercolour brush is always prepared always wipe the brush itself with a lint-free cloth, and rinse it under running water.

You can use a very mild soap or a specialist brush cleaner by gently swirling the brush in a palette or even the palm of your hand. Once you have done this make sure to rinse the brush until the water becomes clear.


For those who have got oil colours on clothing, you’ll know that just using water is futile. You will damage the brush and the paint will still be just where it was originally. Always use a cloth to wipe away the excess paint, then using white spirit or specialist brush cleaner rinse away any paint that remains. Then rinse under warm water that is not too hot until the water starts to run clear of any colour or cleaning agent used.

Acrylic paint is a little similar to watercolour, a mild soap and cool water is required, but you may also need to apply some artist’s white spirit if you are using solvent-based, water only for water based. I tend to leave acrylic brushes to soak overnight with an artist’s white spirit which is slightly less harsh than traditional white spirit.

If the aroma of white spirit isn’t your thing, Sansodor is becoming increasingly popular because it has a low odour. It is petroleum based just like white spirit or turpentine, but it will also last a little longer. It even has a place in Wikipedia: Sansodor is a brand of odorless mineral spirit (OMS) produced by Winsor & Newton, a fine arts company based in the United Kingdom. Application: Sansodor is a highly refined odorless mineral spirit that is used to dilute (thin) artists' oil paints and is also used to dilute oil media (linseed oils, alkyd media, etc.).

It evaporates slowly and works just as hard at thinning oil colours or cleaning brushes, but has much less of the smell of turpentine and is less flammable. Always a good thing. It is slightly more expensive, but there are some benefits.


Some paintbrush manufacturers suggest that with the right care their brushes will last a lifetime. I haven’t tested this as yet, but I do have some brushes which are around 12-years old already. I have other expensive brushes which never really lasted anywhere close to twelve-months, so not everything that is expensive will provide the best benefits. Many of the independent art supply stores will hold a stock of premium brushes, it’s then just a case of getting a feel for which one feels most comfortable and will do the job. A quick online check will lead you to suppliers such as Rosemary & Co, Escoda, Daler Rowney, Winsor & Newton, Hazel Soane, but there are so many other brushes, with Kolinsky sable being possibly one of the best options.

I always get a feel for a brush before I buy it. For me there is no single manufacturer I prefer over and above any of them, so I tend to have my favourites but they are an eclectic mix of manufacturers and bristle types.

You will want to make sure that it feels comfortable, and try to evaluate before you buy which brushes work best with the medium you are using. You can also check out the cleaning regime needed, and also check the springiness, firmness and absorbency of the brush. Independent art supply stores are generally filled with staff who have knowledge and will be able to offer advice. You also need to know exactly what you need the brush to do before you choose it. There really is no point in owning a flat brush when a good all-rounder round brush might serve you just as well.

If you buy the best brushes you can afford, you will be encouraged to take better care of them. They will also produce better results and may even make your paint go further. Never leave them in water, it’s not just the bristles, but the metal components can rust, and any glues used to hold in the bristles will degrade over time.

Clean them as soon as you have finished with them. If you can clean them as you go, spending a couple of minutes now and again will save you twenty minutes of solid brush cleaning at the end.

Never rest the brush on its bristles. I learned this the hard way and it doesn’t end well for your brush or your finances. Most of all be gentle with them. Treat them well and they will last for years.


So there you have it, my experience of brushes and glass palettes wrapped up! If you have any tips for artists who are just starting out, then we would love to hear them.

I will be publishing the first of the artists spotlight pages next week so if you have submitted your details early, there is a chance you will appear in the first spotlight post next week. If you have still to submit your details, what are you waiting for?

My upcoming surgery on my shoulder is getting nearer and whilst I am busy creating some new posts for the coming weeks, I may need to rest my arm completely for a few days. That means that I won’t be able to produce any art at all unless it’s done with one hand, or so the Dr tells me!

Do small things with great love
Do small things with great love!

If you are a new artist and would like to see more posts about getting started, please do let me know. Also, welcome to a whole new world and I am sure you will enjoy it!

If you wish to purchase any of my artwork and help to support this blog, please visit and if you could like and share this page I will be forever grateful!



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