Brushes (All Media)

Artist’s brushes are very fine instruments, There are two, key facts about artist’s brushes you must keep in mind before purchasing yours. First, anything less than an excellent artist’s brush is a waste of money, and it will seriously hurt your learning and production, much as a poor piano would impede you from learning music. The second, key fact is that excellent brushes are expensive, as they are made by hand to very high standards, using high-quality, and sometimes controlled and rare, materials, such as Kolinski hair.

The purchase of an excellent brush is a true investment, as said brush will outlive you if you care for it well. Many practitioners feel great pride, and feel honored, upon inheriting fine brushes from relatives who leave them to the next generation as heirloom prizes. we suggest you build your brush collection slowly, and carefully. Brushes for oils, acrylics, watercolors and inks can be very different from each other, and you will need a basic set for each practice.

We suggest holding off purchasing brushes straightaway. In the studio at the Academy you will become familiar with different brush types and brands, and we will teach you how to maintain them as well. Slowly but surely you’ll learn what you need to build a gorgeous and useful brush collection. Dos’ and Don’ts when Acquiring Artists’ Brushes.


  • DO NOT purchase or acquire brushes labeled as “student-grade” or “economy pack” or “starter kit” and similar phrasing.
  • DO NOT purchase or acquire brushes sold by the bundle.
  • DO NOT purchase or acquire used brushes that are caked with paint, stiff, or otherwise weak.


  • DO purchase or acquire brushes made for professional practice.
  • DO purchase or acquire brushes that you can test yourself, or, if purchased online, that you can return if damaged.
  • DO learn to maintain, repair, condition and properly use your artist’s brushes.

In-Store Test

Tell the store representative that you wish to test the brush. Gently wiggle the ferrule and make sure it is not loose or wobbly. Gently tug the hairs and make sure they don’t pull off. Holding the brush loosely, tap the hairs down with the index finger of your free hand and make sure the hairs spring back to the original, normal position and shape. The hairs should bounce back with a nice, little snappy movement. Please do not purchase anything without this famous “snap” (do note that very long riggers may not have such a snap). Better retailers will even provide you with a bit of water to wet the hairs and ensure that they do not split awkwardly when wet. Ask, maybe they’ll let you wet-test the brush! Most top brands make both synthetic and natural-hair brushes. The Academy’s bias is for high-quality, synthetic brushes made from soft Nylon, but try natural-hair brushes if you so prefer. Note that poor, low-quality brushes can be made with either synthetic and natural hairs just as well.


Brush sizes are indicated by a number on the barrel. Traditionally, the smaller the number, the smaller the brush. However, some newer brands have actually reversed the convention!


The shape of a brush defines its singular function. Shapes, in turn, are defined by the metal ferrule or metal band that help attach the hairs to the wooden handle.


Most top brands make brushes along model lines, called “series.” They may keep a certain series or phase it out across the years. Series allow them to make brushes tiered from low quality to top professional grades. Again, avoid low-quality brushes at all costs.

Affordable Brands

  • Winsor and Newton (University series or Cotman series)
  • Utrecht
  • Princeton Art & Brush Co (made in India, not down the road!)
  • ArtTec (actually managed to design an excellent, viable, multi-purpose brush for water-based media!).
  • Robert Simmons
  • Bob Ross Paintbrushes: The Academy does not subscribe to, or recommend, this charismatic man’s approach to painting, but his name secured him an amazing line of brushes and art materials! RIP Bob Ross).

Brushes According To Media

Watercolor Brushes

Ink Brushes

Traditionally, Asian practice relies on straight-barreled, non-ferrule, wooden brushes sporting goat hair. These tend to vary only in size in the fanciness of the barrel.

Acrylic Brushes

Brands such as ArtTec make brushes that can be used for watercolors/acrylics, or acrylics/oils. Check the labeling. We suggest soft, top-quality Nylon brushes.

Oil Painting Brushes

The following list is biased towards the smaller oil painting we produce in order to explore many techniques and processes across shorter periods of time (please refer to our brush diagram). Seek the same brands as noted above for other types of brushes, though by all means purchase even higher quality brushes if possible, such as those by Isabey. Oil brushes are long-handled, and traditionally made of hog hair. Top quality synthetics are fine. Avoid brushes made with crude, straw-like fibers and all other junk brushes.

  • Flat, about 1-inch at the ferrule.
  • Filbert, about ¼ in. at the ferrule.
  • Detail brush (tiny ferrule)
  • Fan, about one-inch at the fan’s spread at the top edge of the fan.
  • Pointed round, about ¼ at the ferrule.
  • Blender, about ¼ at the ferrule.
  • Palette or painting knives, diverse sizes and shapes.