A Review of Oil Painting Brushes: Which Brush Is Best for Oil Painters?

The hairs used for good quality oil painting brushes are stiffer and taper differently than the natural hairs used for watercolor. Where the sables, horse, squirrel, ox, or goat hairs in watercolor brushes tend to be longer in taper and more supple, hairs from hogs, boars, badger, weasel, and mongoose are better for the more heavy bodied oil paints. Let’s take a look at each.

The Kolinsky sable hair, especially the female golden brown hair, is used for oil painting brushes. These hairs are a bit stiffer than the tail hair of the males and have better snap and resilience. The true Kolinsky sable was banned from import to the U.S. in 2014. Today, Kolinsky sable actually comes from the Siberian weasel. The hairs are harvested from the tail of the males. This ban came about because sable martens where pure red sable comes from do not do well in captivity. The only way to harvest the hair was through trapping. Thankfully, that is now banned.

That’s both good and bad news for the artist. Good the little critters’ lives are saved, bad that these super high quality brushes are no longer available. But, the tail hair of the male Siberian weasel still makes a very fine — and more affordable brush. Because manufacturers had back stock of Kolinsky sable, you may still be able to occasionally find some on the market. But when they are gone, they are gone. You will have to travel out of the country to purchase them legally, since the ban was for export to the U.S. only.

Hog bristles. These are by far the best hairs for oil painting brushes. They hold a good paint load. They spread the paint uniformly. They blend the paint well. The best bristle comes from hogs in the Chunking region in China. On better quality brushes, the bristles are arranged in an interlocking fashion with the bristles curving inward. Hog bristle is naturally split at the ends and arranged thus they hold paint well and spread it around nicely. Cheaper bristle will have stiffer hairs, be arranged more erratically, and may turn both inward and outward making the brush look fuzzy.

Horse or pony hair is typically used in cheaper natural hair brushes and marketed for different kinds of paint use. Although sometimes sold as oil painting brushes, they are better for acrylics and watercolor, but are used more in student grade brushes and cosmetics. In terms of cost, they are cheaper than squirrel.

Badger hair, due to its shape being thinner at the root and fatter at the tip, makes for a bushier brush. Oil painters like these for blending.

Weasel and a close relative, fitch, hair are very resilient with long conical shapes. Although close in quality to red sable, they are not quite as supple making them better for oils than for watercolor.

Mongoose hair is strong and resilient with good pointing. But they are better for oils for this reason since they are not fine enough for watercolors. They are difficult to find sometimes.

There are a number of synthetics on the market in several brands that are designed for both oils and acrylics. As with the natural hair brushes, you need to try them until you find one that fits your style of painting and feel in your hand. From a cost standpoint, synthetics are less expensive. You can see many of these brushes, natural and synthetic, and touch before you buy, in better quality art supply stores.

Better brands that are easy to find are Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher, Princeton, Simmons, and Liquitex, to name a few.

One last tip: brushes will last longer if you always pull, never push, your brush across the painting surface.

Fabric Painting As A Career

Fabric painting is not the most conventional of careers to choose from; in fact most would relegate it to the hobbies listing, an obscure craft. Some would ask, “Who would want to spend their career with fabric paint?” But think about it; if the career were not a significant one, we would all be sitting on bland, colorless and design free furniture, we would probably all be dressed up in flour sacks and staring at blank walls. Of course that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point, I’m sure.

As a career fabric painter, you have the opportunity to add creative and sometimes colorful value to the world we live in. Although fabric painting can be a laborious pursuit it has become thousands of times easier to reproduce fabric painting on numerous mediums. With the advent of digital art, reproduction artwork can be placed on cups, plates, textiles, shoes, wood and more.

The prospects are actually quite exciting when you think about it. Rather than designers buying that blase fabric for their fashion accessories project, you can now offer them custom fabrics, specially created for their specific use; something unique to their collection. Designers can now say bye, bye to boring; and hello to happy. Their clients will love you for it.

Artists can now create their masterpieces and have them duplicated for short run reproduction just as easy as or perhaps easier than it would have been to process the art through the traditional fabric mills. This is great but there are still some major manufacturing companies that hire artists to create hand painted designs for their new collections. They then take the artists designs and produce them on various types of fabrics.

One career that is easily integrated and is an offshoot of fabric painting is, screen printing, which in itself is a vast field. Traditionally, screen printing has been viewed as the answer to producing tee shirts for schools and casual wear. Today the screen printing industry is booming as artists are getting even more creative and adding flair to their designs.

The sizes of screens have grown from a little bitty square on the front of your shirt to a large format screen designed for all over tee shirt design. Still there are others who use this screen printing method to create custom yardage for sale and for creating their own line of goods.

Such artwork was initially painted on fabric and later printed on garments for toddlers and adults alike. Just as the original was embellished with studs, stones, sequins and glitter, so too are the creations of the silk screen artist. The beauty of course is once the original design has been developed on fabric and screens created, the design can be produced in unlimited colors, sizes and of course quantities.

On the flip side of the screen printing issue are the embellishers who are also fabric painters in their own right. These artists take a generally basic design and customize it, giving it the oomph it may have needed. This is done many times with fabric paint, rhinestones, mirrors, ribbons and a host of other accessories.

His Most Famous Painting (The Swing) – Jean-Honore Fragonard

Jean-Honore Fragonard (April 05, 1732-August 22, 1806) was a French painter and printmaker of high repute. His creative ‘Rococo’ style was elaborate and cheerful, with ‘Genre Paintings’ being his forte. Fragonard created over 550 paintings, exclusive of the countless drawings and etchings. Out of this huge lot, only five artworks are dated. Jean Fragonard’s most famous painting “The Swing” or “the Happy Accidents of the Swing (French: Les Hasards Heureux de l’Escarpolette)” (1769) is by far one of the best ‘Rococo’ works globally.

Measuring 81 cm x 64.2 cm, Jean’s “The Swing” is colorful, attractive, oil on canvass painting, brimming with verve. It shows a young woman wearing a candy colored, flowing dress, a touch of fashion completed by a hat. She is enjoying high swings in a garden, with a Bishop, probably her lover, pushing the swing hanging from a large, thick tree. A young man, hidden behind the bushes, is watching the woman. As she goes high on the swing, the backwards reclined man is able to get a sneaky peep up her legs, under the dress, ‘Symbolizing’ the loss of virginity. Themed on carefree enthusiasm, Jean Honore’s “The Swing” shows the woman carelessly letting off one of her shoes in the air. The statues around seem to acknowledging the scene with a sculptural silence.

According to Charles Colle’s autobiography, a young man first asked Gabriel Francois Doyen to make this painting of him and his mistress. Not comfortable with the idea of this casually, perky work, Francois Doyen recommended Jean-Honore for it. “The Swing” was an instant success. It is believed that Jean made several versions of “The Swing,” each unique in its own right though. Grimaldi and Labeyrie Collection gave a smaller version, sized 56 × 46 cm, to the Musee Lambinet in the city of Versailles, where “The Swing” is presently displayed. Virgile Josz has mentioned about the following three replicas of “The Swing” in his book ‘Fragonard: moeurs du XVIIIe siecle,’ written in 1901. Baron Bollioud de Saint-Julien owned the original painting, which was sold to the Duke of Morny, when the baron died in 1788. Sir Richard Wallace then bought it and presently “The Swing” by Jean Fragonard is a part of the ‘Wallace Collection,’ London, United Kingdom. Another version of “The Swing” is slightly different, with the woman’s dress being blue, instead of the original candy. Edmond James de Rothschild owns it. Duc Jules de Polignac owns an even smaller version of “The Swing.”

Undoubtedly, Jean-Honore Fragonard stands as a prominent figure in the world of ‘Rococo Paintings,’ with artworks like “The Swing” vouching for it. He has truly passed a legacy of creative innovation to inspire several generations of existing as well as future artists.