Most of the people I know buy brushes that are labelled as watercolour brushes and art paper that is mentioned as suitable for watercolour at the store and they are sorted. “Look! the company says I can use them for watercolour painting, so I bought them.”
They bought it either because someone told them, they saw someone using it or the brand company had written so on the product. Very few people bother to find out the product details and know if it is the right product for their use. Many a times we don’t want to stock different materials for different Art and so we use the same brush or paper for all. The selecting pattern is same for them and so I grouped canvas and paper with paintbrushes.
For beginners it really won’t matter; however artists and professionals will be equally choosy or selective about these materials. It makes a difference in their work and once we are used to a particular one, we only use that. Most artists start off with the trial and error method and once they like a particular brand or product, they stick to it.
Different kinds of brushes, what they are called and their suggested uses are printed on packs. As always a lot of information is available on the Internet. So I will not get into repeating that printed knowledge.
We have discussed ‘Selecting Art Materials’ in our previous posts. On the same lines I will share about selecting paintbrushes, art paper and canvas in this post. I do not endorse any brand and this is not an advertising or promoting post. I share about my understanding of these materials so that it helps others make an informed purchase decision.
Any surface we paint on is called the canvas. So if we are painting on fabric or wood or paper, all of them are actually our canvas. However when we go to an Art store and ask for a Canvas we usually get this fabric like drape wrapped on a board called BOARD Canvas, a stretched drape pinned to a wooden panel frame called STRETCHED Canvas and a ROLLED Canvas which is a roll of the drape. All three have the same material, only the mounting is different. Once the painting is complete we have to get it framed before hanging the painting on the wall.
The board canvas is a hard and flat painting surface, the stretched canvas is mounted on a frame and has a slightly bouncy feel while the roll canvas more floppy like a loose fabric. A stretched canvas can be directly hanged on the wall using the existing wooden frame. Hence it is also called wall mounting canvas. A canvas sheet that is cut from the roll will have to be stretched or mounted before painting.
Canvas was traditionally used more for oil painting. Earlier when I learnt mural painting we would have to apply oil and colour to prime the canvas. Now a days canvases are already coated and primed. Cotton is the main fibre of a canvas. Did you know? We also get paper sheets made from cotton linen pulp which are used as canvas for oil painting and acrylic painting. They are like a sheet cut from roll canvas: have the same texture and feel but are relatively sturdy and stiff like paper.
All of them will be acid free and primed and have some treatment or coating for protection against pests. It really won’t matter which one you buy, almost similar. Only the tension of your canvas will differ. That would be the basis of your selection. If you are using them for acrylic painting a canvas primed with gesso works well. You can use others too. If you are into oil painting you may be more selective while choosing the canvas.
Not all art supply stores stock all sizes of canvas. It is a good idea to buy the quantity together if your project uses multiple canvases. In case the size you need is not market ready, you can buy the roll canvas and get it custom made or mounted to your required size. Canvas is also used for Art prints. Digital prints of artwork is quite common. Flex banners are also a type of canvas.
We get sheets of art paper in bundles as well as bound in books. Books have perforated sheets which can be pulled out. Smaller sizes such as A4 and A5 sketchbooks are very popular and will be easily available everywhere. Art Paper is used for all mediums including pen drawing, pencil shading, acrylic painting, pastels painting, charcoal sketches, watercolour painting and oil painting.
In the info section they print the size in inches and cm. They print the thickness in ‘GSM’ or lbs. GSM stands for grams per square metre that is the weight of the paper or pulp for every square meter. It is how the thickness is measured. How does that make a difference? The thickness of the paper is an important attribute because for watercolour painting we need thicker sheets like 250-300GSM that will absorb water but will not tear while for ink art we can work with 120-180GSM.
Next we look for textured or plain. The grains on the surface. Depends on the artwork one is working on, whether they want a textured feel (a rough surface) or a plain background. For pastels and charcoals a little grain or texture is required. It helps hold the powder while for ink and watercolour art a smooth or plain surface can be selected. This gives a plain edge or a straight neat line finish while painting.
Artists usually use ‘acid free’ meaning paper that has been neutralised. In simple words if the paper is acid free it will not turn yellow with pitting and can be preserved longer. Paper made from cotton will have more absorbency for water based painting. It can be 100% cotton or mixed with other natural fibres like cellulose. I select the ones with 20-30% cotton for my artworks.
Selecting paintbrushes is very simple. Each of them are built as such for a purpose or for a particular style of painting. It may sound weird but some artists manage to get fine lines with a thick brush of size 8 and a thick like with a brush of size 4. With years of practice we don’t change brushes for each size. So buying them in odd numbers like 0,2,6,8,10 is enough. For finer lines and intricate work I use finer brushes of size 0, double zero 00 and triple zero 000. These are smaller or finer than zero size brushes.
For painting on a canvas on the easel we require long handle brushes. Regular size handles are good when we are working on paper. Further we would need a mix of round and flat brushes in our art tool box. Flat brushes are used to paint backgrounds, round brushes for fills and riggers for fine lines. Filbert brushes are useful for one stroke painting or creating visible strokes and design. I even use the back of the brush handles as round stumps for dot painting.
Brushes can be made from natural animal hair or synthetic fibres. Use brushes with soft thin bristles when you want the colour to be applied evenly. It gives a smooth neat finish. Thick bristles cause an uneven finish with lumps of colour which can be left as it is or smoothened by using a roll over it. Bristles of brushes made from natural hair expand when soaked. They are best suited for oil painting. For painting using acrylic and watercolour paints we can use brushes made with natural or synthetic bristles. Watercolour and Acrylic, both being water based paints we can use a common set of brushes. No need to keep another set.
One special kind of brush is the water tank brush. This brush has a plastic body with a water tank attached to it and bristles of the brush are synthetic fibres. When we press the tank, the water drips to the brush tip and soaks the bristles. It works very well for quick sketches and on the go painting using watercolour cakes.
I was surfing the Internet the other day when I came across a video titled ‘How it’s made – Paint Brushes?’ ‘How it’s made’ is a very popular show and I like watching it. They show how various products of our daily items are made. Helps us understand about the products, their usability and the thought process of the maker in creating it.
I understood which problem faced by artists are they trying to solve by offering a particular type of brush or why it is made the way it is. Every product is manufactured keeping in mind a certain use. Similarly they also have videos on ‘How it’s made’ for canvas, paper and many more products. If possible do take out some time and see them.
Links to posts related to this topic are listed below. Click on the title to open the post in a new tab. Have an Arty Weekend!