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

By Rick Jones

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.

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5 Useful Oil Painting Tips

By Joanne Perkins

1. Invest in expensive paints

Oil paints can be expensive, but it's definitely worth investing in some expensive ones. Generally speaking, the more expensive they are, the higher the quality. By all means, if you're doing several under layers, get these done first using a cheaper oil paint; then simply save the most expensive paints for the topmost layer.

2. Don't use acrylics on top of layers of oil paint


One of the main properties of oil paint is that it's incredibly slow to dry. In fact, it can be notoriously slow to dry. With this in mind, you shouldn't use another type of paint, such as acrylic, on top of oils. Acrylics, for example, are very quick to dry. If you apply a layer of acrylic on top of a layer of oil paint, the layer of acrylic will eventually crack or flake due to the oil paint taking a lot longer to dry out.

3. Try using acrylic paint for bottom layers of the painting


Conversely, you could try using acrylic paint for the bottom layers of the painting. The paint will dry very fast and you'll be able to apply oil paint on top of it without any problems arising. The advantage of this is that you can have the bottom layers done very quickly; they'll also dry out very quickly so you won't have to wait too long before you can get started with the rest of the painting.

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