Thoughts on brushes

A good brush can make a big difference to the results you can achieve. I’ve seen it said that it’s not worth getting decent brushes when you’re starting out but I’m not sure I agree. The process of learning to paint miniatures is frustrating enough without upping the difficulty by using a cheapo craft brush.

Unsurprisingly I advocate the use of kolinsky sable brushes. There doesn’t seem to be any other type of brush that holds such a fine point, and this is key to being able to paint neatly.

These days I mostly paint with just a couple of sizes of brush. I use a size 2 for the majority of my painting, only switching to a size 0 when it’s really necessary. (Typically this will be for very small details or for the sharpest edge highlights. I also use a size 0 quite a lot in glazing transitions on small areas.) I do also have some 2/0 brushes, but these are only called on in times of direst need. I never use anything smaller than this.

There are good reasons for using the largest brush you can get away with. A larger brush will obviously enable you to cover an area more quickly. It will also mean fewer brush strokes, so less opportunity to build up surface roughness. And importantly, a larger belly means that you have more time to apply paint to the miniature before it begins to dry so the paint will flow more smoothly.

It’s not true that you can’t paint neatly with a larger brush. As long as it comes to a fine point then you can achieve a lot.

There are a bewildering array of manufacturers that provide kolinsky sable brushes and over the years I’ve experimented with a wide variety. There are subtle differences in feel and some painters swear by only using certain brands. Personally I don’t find that the ‘snap’ of a brush has much impact on my painting. The most important factors to me are the consistency of the product (i.e. what are the chances I’ll get a dud brush) and cost.

In my opinion the brushes from Rosemary & Co are the winners on these criteria. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad brush and the prices are extremely competitive. Service is also excellent: typically I will place an order and receive it in the mail the next working day (Although I’m in the UK – I would imagine it could take a bit longer for overseas).

I’ve tried series 8, 22 and 33. They’re all great, but I haven’t found a compelling reason to pay the extra pennies for series 8 or 22, so nowadays I just stick to series 33.

I should also mention that you don’t need to use a fantastic brush for everything – my brushes are required to perform different duties depending on their age. Brand new brushes are deployed only when the most precise point is needed (freehands, tiny reflection spots, painting texture etc). Slightly older brushes will suffice for general painting and glazing, while veterans are entrusted with basecoating. That’s the theory anyway – I have to admit that it doesn’t always work out like that!

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