Surfaces, Brushes and Brush Strokes
A fundamental human trait, which all artists must understand and overcome, is the almost primeval desire, when presented with a brush full of paint, to keep painting until we have emptied the brush. This message is reinforced for me every time I watch my six year old daughter painting. She just cannot stop. No matter how hard I try to manipulate her by limiting her colours or only giving her small brushes, she ends up spreading all the paint I give her all over the paper surface until it is a mass of brown gunge. It's fine for her of course, she draws great pleasure from both the process and the result so no harm is done, but for me it is a different story.
To ensure that I am satisfied with my results I select my painting surface and brushes very carefully to make sure that the conscious me is in full control of where the paint goes.
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If you feel like a lot of experimentation, it is possible to get
any grade in between a coarse canvas and a smooth surface by gradually adding more layers of priming
to a canvas. Each successive layer of priming paint will fill up the cavities in the
weave a little more.
Paint brushes and brush strokes
Artists who paint in oils tend to use either the coarse, hog’s hair (or synthetic equivalent) brushes, or the slightly softer brushes marketed as acrylic paint brushes. You can only use large watercolour brushes if you goo three quarters of its length up with oil, let it stiffen, and then just utilise the tip of the paint brush. If you use a large soft sable watercolour brush the way it was intended it will just bend as you apply pressure, though the smaller ones are fine for adding fine details in oils at the end of a portrait painting. If you like to do watercolour painting as well, then whatever you do, don’t put your watercolour paint brushes anywhere near an oil painting. Once you’ve got oil paint on your brushes it never really fully comes off again and it will wreck their capacity to absorb water.
It takes artists some time to familiarise themselves with the properties of different painting surfaces, brushes and brush strokes. Hopefully recounting my experience above will help speed up the process for you. Most importantly, find a way to ensure that you take your paint brush off the surface to do your thinking, otherwise it will wander around with a mind of its own.
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Copyright Fiona Holt, 2010