A paintbrush is a brush used to apply paint or ink. It is usually made by clamping bristles to a handle with a ferrule.
They are available in various sizes, shapes, and materials. Thicker ones are used for filling in, and thinner ones are used for details. They may be subdivided into decorators’ brushes used for painting and decorating and artists’ brushes use for visual art.
Short handled brushes are usually used for flat or slightly tilted work surfaces such as watercolor painting and ink painting, while long handled brushes are held horizontally while working on a vertical canvas such as for oil paint or acrylic paint.
The styles of brush tip seen most commonly are:
• Round: pointed tip, long closely arranged bristles for detail.
• Flat: for spreading paint quickly and evenly over a surface. They will have longer hairs than their Bright counterpart.
• Bright: shorter than flats. Flat brushes with short stiff bristles, good for driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as thicker painting styles like impasto work.
• Filbert: flat brushes with domed ends. They allow good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work.
• Fan: for blending broad areas of paint.
• Angle: like the filbert, these are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.
• Mop: a larger format brush with a rounded edge for broad soft paint application as well as for getting thinner glazes over existing drying layers of paint without damaging lower layers to protect the paintbrush
• Rigger: round brushes with longish hairs, traditionally used for painting the rigging in pictures of ships. They are useful for fine lines and are versatile for both oils and watercolors.
• Stippler and deer-foot stippler: short, stubby rounds
• Liner: elongated rounds
• Dagger: looks like angle with longish hairs, used for one stroke painting like painting long leaves.
• Scripts: highly elongated rounds
• Egbert : a filbert with extra long hair, used for oil painting
Paintbrushes were used by man as early as the Paleolithic era in around 2.5 million years ago in order to apply pigment.
Humans used brushes for cave paintings as far back as the Stone Age. The created work of art can be admired until today. The paintings in the cave of Altamira in Spain, are one of the most famous examples. They were created between 16,500 and 13,000 before Christ. Even then, people already knew different painting techniques and knew how to draw in perspective. Their aim was to depict the appearance and behaviour of animals in a lifelike manner.
Ancient Egyptian paintbrushes were made of split palm leaves and used by ancestors to beautify their surroundings. The oldest brushes ever found were also made of animal hair.
It was only, however, with the advent of calligraphy, in China, that the paintbrush truly came to the fore.
The first models were essentially designed for writing with ink, but some equally served to decorate pieces of pottery. The handle was often made out bamboo, and the hairs came from the fur of various animals, according to the desired degree of softness or stiffness.
The paintbrush greatly traveled over the course of time, and it’s to the Tuscan painter Cennino Cennini that we owe the first mention of the object in the Western world.
The production of brushes was further developed in the Middle Ages. At that time, brushes were produced by monks in monasteries.
In the 15th century, brushes were preferably made of animal hair and quills. Soft hair or bristles were inserted into the quills. Due to the natural shape of the quills, these brushes could only be round. Their shape would accompany the art world for hundreds of years.
Until the end of the 17th century, brushes were made by artists and their apprentices themselves.
The profession of the brush maker goes back to the 18th century. The region around Bechhofen in Middle Franconia (Germany) can be referred to as the European centre of the brush making. Over centuries the craftmanship of brush making has further been developed and know-how has been accumulating brush makers in this region. Important values are tradition and a high quality standard.
Nowadays, brushes of all kinds of different materials are used by painters, who are no longer held back by technological innovation. Different application methods, including different styles of brushes, spray paint, and body parts are frequently used in painting. But the humble paintbrush has influenced the way we paint and the way we communicate. Paint too has changed, but that is perhaps a story for another time.