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About Brushes: Article or Project

So many kinds of brushes and manufacturers. Which one is right for you?

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Brushes come in all sort of sizes, shapes and materials. Basically, a brush consists of long fibers attached to a firm shaft by a ferrule. The ferrule on most brushes is made of metal and holds the bristles to the shaft. All brushes are hand made. The parts may come off a production line, but the assembly has yet to be done other than by hand. As with any tool, the better the brush you use, the better the job it will do. A ‘two-bit’ brush will give you a two-bit job. The proper brush is important in any job or craft but more so in the field of ceramics than any other, so the choosing of your brushes is an important thing to consider.

Finding high quality brushes for low prices is the challenge that faces any artist. Ceramics is hard on brushes, but if cared for properly, most will last a long time. Some techniques, like dry brushing, is notoriously hard on brushes and will wear them out pretty fast especially if the technique is not properly administered; so in addition to having a good brush, it is important to select the right brush for the technique as well as to learn ‘how’ to use it.

One point to consider when purchasing brushes is what material the brush is made from. There are synthetic fiber as well as natural. Sable hair has long been the Cadillac of premium brushes. They have great spring and flex and they retain large amounts of fluid. Because of their quality, they maintain their points and shapes much better than other materials. Sable brushes give great control for blending colors, smooth application and ease of use. They are fragile however and do not hold up to many of the painting techniques, especially non-fired types. They are wonderful for china painting.

Other hair brushes are great to use. As with Sable, they are not as durable for some of the painting techniques. Camel hair brushes are not made from camel hair - go figure, they are primarily made from squirrel and similar. Squirrel hair brushes are extremely soft, even softer than sable. Natural hair brushes are wonderful to use, but they are more costly than the synthetics and other natural fibers. Add their cost and the short life, and you will quickly see the advantages of going synthetic. Ox hair brushes are slightly more durable. Natural hair for paint brushes include: Sable, squirrel, raccoon, ox, goat, hog, pony, Pahme and others.

There are many kinds of synthetics used to make brushes, among them are Taklon, Nylon, Toray, Teijin, Tynex, Sabeline and others. Taklon is among the most common and it closely resembles the sable for its softness and ability to hold liquid, though it does have its limits as far as application and effects.

Styles of brushes are vast and include rounds, liners, flats, filberts, fans, angulars, mops, daggers, deer foot, shaders square, pointed, cats tongue, Hake, quill, longs and shorts, etc. Each has its own purpose by design.

Most major ceramics paint companies have their own line of brushes, most of these are less expensive than some of the brushes from other art lines like Grumbacher, Luco, Langnickel, Liquitex, Loew, etc. Some of the ceramics companies selling their own brushes are Duncan, Dona, Ceramichrome, Gare, Mayco, etc. Other popular ceramics brushes are marketed under Marx and Royal. By far, one of the best brushes on the market with the most economical price tag is by Olympic Enterprises. These are mid-priced brushes, but the quality is superior and lends to long wear, thereby becoming very economical.

To select your brushes, you need to decide on what you want it to do. For example, to base coat a piece of bisque, you will want the largest brush. To add trim work and ‘color’ in areas, you will need an assortment of sizes and to do the fine line detailing such as eyes and lining, you will need fine, thin brushes that come to a point.

Basically, there are two types of brushes- soft bristled and stiff or hard bristled. Generally, the soft bristled brushes are for fired finishes (glazes, under glazes, over glazes) and the stiff bristled ones are for staining, or non-fired paints. Of course, with all rules, there are exceptions. Fine detailing is almost always done with soft bristle, fine liners and detail brushes. There are other exceptions, but those are usually outlined in painting technique/instructions. Brushes are ranged in sizes from as small as 20/0, 10/0, 6/0, 0/0 which are among the smallest to 8, 10, 12, 16 and up. Sizes are not standard between companies, but they rank similarly. There are short bristles and there are long bristles, there are square and there are pointed, there are round and there are flat, there are short handles and long - the choices are plentiful. As you get involved in your craft, you will find there are a few standards that you use most often.

As a beginner, you do not need every kind of brush there is. If you are only working with stains, you won’t need many of the soft bristled brushes and conversely, if you only work with fired finishes, you won’t need the stiff bristled brushes. So, other than a small assortment, one should not invest a lot of money in brushes until it is known what will be needed.


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