Long handled brushes are recommended for easel style painting giving the artist additional length to stand back from the canvas. Short handled brushes are often used for table-top painting where the artwork is closer to the artist, and lies flat, such as with watercolor painting. Either type of handle that is most comfortable to the artist can be used.
To clean watercolor brushes, rinse them thoroughly in water, then wash them with a mild soap in warm water. Rinse under running water and lay them flat to dry. Once dry, store brushes bristle-end up. Always reshape your brushes before storing to prevent damage to the bristles.
Cleaning your brushes is a very important step in ensuring a longer life for your brush. In the case of oil paints, the brush should be cleaned off thoroughly starting with solvent and rags or tissue. Once the brush is fairly clean from the solvent, rub the bristles in a glass or plastic jar with either a brush conditioner or a human hair shampoo. Give the brush a good final rinse and squeeze out any water. Dry the brush with its hair end lower than the handle end to prevent water from loosening the handle and the ferrule. Dry brushes can be stored bristle up in a jar, or laid flat. Protective storage containers are available too.
Three characteristics are used to evaluate the performance of a watercolor brush: how much water/color does the brush hold; does the brush have and maintain a sharp point or edge; and does the brush snap back to its original shape.
Traditionally, the best watercolor brushes are made with Kolinsky Sable. Kolinsky is regarded as the best grade of sable hair. Another option is squirrel, which holds more color than sable but has less snap. Camel hair (which is really pony or goat) is a more economical choice.
Today, better quality synthetic-hair brushes and synthetic-sable combinations can be as good, if not better, than many natural-hair brushes. Synthetics are a more durable, and sometimes a more affordable, alternative to natural hair and still provide a high-quality performance.
A wide range of brushes may be used. From natural to synthetic bristles, the brush can be left largely up to the artist. By experimenting with different brushes, each individual artist can find ones that suit their needs.
Traditional oil painting brushes have long handles, so that the artist can work at some distance from the canvas. The hair is generally firmer and stiffer than for a watercolor brush.
Palette knives can also be a very useful tool for mixing and/or applying oil paints to paintings.
Both natural and synthetic bristles can be used with acrylics, depending on the artist's preference. But, acrylics, being alkaline in nature, can be hard on natural hair brushes.
The brushes must be kept clean. If acrylic paint dries in a brush it is very hard to get out without using strong solvents that might damage the brush. Clean brushes promptly by washing them with warm water and mild soap when finished painting.
What is the difference between artist and student grade acrylics?
Fine artists acrylics use high quality, finely ground and milled pigments, chosen for lightfastness and clarity of color as well as mixing qualities. They also have more resin solids.
Student acrylics use pre-milled pigment dispersions, where most colors are mixed or blended rather than used pure in an acrylic binder. Pigment concentrations are lower, and fillers are used.