How to Oil Paint – Part 4: Paint Brushes

Welcome to my fourth post in my how to start oil painting for beginners (and budgeters) series!

This one is all about paint brushes.

At this point, I am assuming you’ve purchased your materials and have gotten somewhat acquainted with them, or are looking for clarification on paint brushes – maybe even both!

If not, and you are just perusing, hi – it’s great to have you here! My name’s Jack and I am a self-taught painter! I really want whoever just wants to try oil painting (or any painting, really) to feel competent in their ability to do so. I know there is a stigma that oil painting can be complicated and expensive, so I’m challenging that notion by providing some free resources to make it less intimidating and more affordable!

If you’d like to support me in this endeavor, don’t be shy about clicking links within my posts! As an affiliate, I can receive a small commission on any purchases made through my links at no extra cost to you, which is super helpful for me to keep creating!

So let’s talk about paint brushes!

General Paint Brush Information

Paint Brushes Anatomy - infographic identifying the different parts of a paint brush, including: tip/toe, bristles, belly, heel, ferrule, crimp, and handle.

Anatomy of Paint Brushes (*vocabulary*)

  • the bristles
    • the end is called the tip (or toe)
    • the rest is called the belly
  • the metal part is called the ferrule
    • the heel is closest to the bristles
    • the crimp holds the ferrule to the handle
  • the handle
    • typically is made of wood or plastic
    • usually will have a number indicating brush size, as well as brand/model information

An important thing to note is to try not to let paint get wedged into your ferrule! While I am definitely guilty of not paying attention and accidentally letting the paint work its way towards the heel, this can damage your brush and is not advisable.

Once pigment gets wedged in between the bristles down in the ferrule heel, you can’t get it out, and the bristles will start to splay – so it will no longer have the nice shape and density it started out with. This is the reason for the long bristle brushes – but we will get into that later!

Types of Paint Brushes

Typically, you will find paintbrushes that are either synthetic or natural – or sometimes a blend. Each type has different properties, so what you will want may vary. Here is a table outlining the main differences:

Natural FiberSynthetic Fiber
made from real hairsman-made strands
more expensiveless expensive
softerstiffer with a nice “spring”
wears down quickereasier to clean
can make marks you can’t get with synthetichave good longevity
varying price point depending on blend of hairscome in a variety of stiffness
can’t retain shape quite as longhold shape relatively well
check out this post on the Rosemary & Co website for a more in-depth read about synthetics vs naturals!

My favorite go-to, everyday oil paint brushes are the Rosemary & Co Ivory Synthetics; they are lovely to work with, won’t break the bank, and have a huge variety of shapes and sizes to chose from! They are also vegan friendly and handmade in the UK! Shipping can take some time, but they are absolutely worth the wait!

I am hoping to put together beginner oil painting kits soon. They will include everything you need to get started, including these Ivory Synthetic brushes – so shipping would only take as long as any order from me (in Utah, USA) to you, or will be available to purchase in person at market events. Sign up for my newsletter and follow me on social media for updates on when I will be launching budget-friendly beginner oil painting kits!

Different Shapes of Paint Brushes

There are SO many different shapes of paint brushes – and a huge range of sizes within each shape. I am going to focus this section on the few basic shapes/sizes that I use most frequently! This will really depend on how large you are wanting to paint, but since this series is aimed at beginners, I am going to assume you are probably not painting gigantic surfaces at the moment! As a note on sizing, smaller numbers = a smaller brush, so a size 0 is going to be much thinner than a size 8.


Flats are a STAPLE. I like long bristle variety, so that I have plenty of room in the belly before paint gets into the ferrule. This is personal preference, of course!

I have sizes 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8 long flats and let me tell you, I have really worn them out! Especially the {WHAT SIZE?}.

This shape is so versatile. Use long flats for: blocking out color, use the straight edge to clean up edges or make nice lines, use the corner for dots or teardrops, or use the side and sweep around…there are tons of ways to use this one brush, and it is definitely going to be a go-to.


These brushes are, as you would expect, round! They generally come to a nice point at the tip, and I like to have a couple of these available for details.

I regularly use the size 5 and 0, and prefer the long handle.


These are similar to flats, but have a lovely rounded edge. I don’t personally use this shape very often, but it can be very helpful to have in your arsenal – I have a size {WHAT SIZE DO I HAVE} and it came in handy for the graceful curves in my Lotus Temple piece.

You can get these in long and short bristle length; longer means you have more workspace within the brush belly before paint gets into the ferrule, shorter can have more control, but be wary of getting paint in the ferrule!

Here’s an image of various shapes from Rosemary & Co, including flats, filberts, and rounds. Not pictured: fan and rigger.


If you’ve watched painting videos, chances are that they have picked up a fan brush at some point. These bristles splay out in a very thin, wide fan shape, and are great for adding different textures. I personally don’t use it very often in my subject matter, but they are absolutely fantastic for nature scenes.

I have a size {WHAT SIZE?} for the occasional outdoor landscape I decide to paint!


Riggers (also called Liners, or Script brushes) are shaped like a round brush but very long bristles. This is great for painting long, thin lines or intricate details – and works best when the paint is thinned out a bit. Definitely play with this one to get a feel for it!

I regularly use sizes 0 and 4, with the smaller one being more frequent.

Cleaning Your Oil Paint Brushes

Trying to figure out how exactly you are supposed to clean your brushes can be tricky – there is a lot of information out there – but here’s what I’ve learned. Since your paint is oil-based, water isn’t going to clean them, oil is. Here is a step-by-step process to help:

  1. Wipe off as much excess pigment as you can onto a paper towel or rag
  2. Gently pull your brush through your first container of oil (pigment will loosen out of it and thin out)
  3. Wipe onto a paper towel
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 a couple more times, until most of the pigment has been removed
  5. Then, when it’s almost clean, pull your brush through your second container of clean oil
  6. Wipe off on a paper towel, rinse, wipe again…. and your brush should be free of pigment!

Now this is the point where you have two options:

“I want them squeaky clean”

  1. Grab your Dawn dish soap or a specialty brush cleaner like this
  2. Gently pull through and wash gently under running water (have I said to do it gently enough yet?)
  3. Once you have washed any remaining pigment and oil out, dry with a paper towel
  4. Gently reshape the tip
  5. Store either horizontally or with the tip pointed downward – it’s important not to store with the bristles pointing upwards so that moisture doesn’t seep into the ferrule and cause issues down the road

“I’m going to paint again tomorrow so ehh”

  1. Gently reshape the tip
  2. Store either horizontally or with the tip pointed downward
  3. If you aren’t sure how long it will be until you paint next, wrap your brushes in plastic wrap (I love Costco’s cling wrap)
  4. Place them in the freezer, so they don’t dry out and get all stiff

REMEMBER: don’t leave your brushes drying out with Gamsol in them!!

If you do choose to use odorless mineral spirits to rinse out the pigment, be sure to wipe them on a paper towel and then still rinse with oil to keep your brushes performing their best! Mineral spirits WILL damage your brushes, so just be aware!

Read what my brush makers say about caring for your brushes here.

Now you know about brushes!

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay. Definitely reach out and I would be happy to either walk you through buying, or put together a kit for you!!

If you do want a kit with everything you need including painting surface worksheets to practice on, fill out the form below and I would love to put it together for you!

That’s it for post number four!

Sign up for my newsletter to be emailed or texted when Part 5 is published! As always, reach out with any questions or ideas!

Also, I would love it if you tagged me on social media so I can see how you are doing with these lessons! …and there may even be a discount code for those of you that do! 😉

See you soon!!


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