Greg Mason Burns

Material of the Month: Why Cheap Oil Brushes Aren’t A Bad Idea

cheap oil brushes

Cheap oil brushes: Some of my tools are cheap, others not, but they all work.

What’s the most important thing to oil painters after oil colors? The answer is probably the brush. There are many different ways to put color onto the painted surface, but brushes are the most common. I use brushes probably 80% of the time, but not all brushes are created equal, and the surprising thing that I have discovered is that the brand and / or quality of the brush may not matter that much in the grand scheme of things. As a self-taught painter, I’ve needed to learn about my materials on my own. Of course, artists with an official education learn on their own, too, but they are often steered in certain directions based on the advice they receive from their professors and fellow students. I get some advice as well, but most of my contacts don’t use oil a lot. One uses acrylic but mostly does engravings, another is an oil-pastelist, and another still works with knives. In short, there’s only so much one can read without actually getting to work, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

 Barcelona Rooftops – Oil on Canvas – Painted with cheap brushes

Cidade a Noite – Oil on Canvas – Painted with cheap brushes

There are a lot of different kinds of brushes. You can see an excellent list of brushes and their uses on Bill Martin’s site here. And I agree with his first paragraph that states that good brushes make good paintings, but I only agree to a certain extent. While you can argue the quality of my paintings all you want, and you can compare mine to his and say a million times over that his are far better than mine, what neither one of us will accept is this idea that his would be better than mine because of the brushes. If his are better (his works on paper are quite nice) then it’s because he’s a better painter. No one beyond Mars Blackmon ever said Michael Jordan was a better basketball player because of the shoes.He has a point because good brushes do perform well. If you learn to paint with good brushes then you’ll produce paintings with those brushes. They load differently, they apply differently, and keep their shape better than cheaper brushes. But that’s it. Many people reading this will probably think,”whoa, that’s it?” Yes, that’s it. Whether or not this makes a difference to you is up to you. I say this because I’m poor and can’t afford high-quality brushes. My brushes get beat up. I use them hard and I clean them hard, and I do have to buy new brushes on occasion. But I’ve learned to paint this way. Again, you can argue the quality of my paintings all you want, but you can’t argue that I haven’t learned to do things with my brushes.

So what’s my advice? Buy brushes that you can use. If that means spending a lot of money on a high-quality brush because you need a specific type of performance, then go buy it. If that means you can make do with other brushes, then do that, too. It’s what I do. I have a lot to learn, and I still have a lot of room to improve, but I don’t need to spend a lot of money to do this.

This is different from paint, btw. I almost exclusively use Schmincke Mussini paints. This is because paint does actually look differently. In
my opinion it’s important to use high-quality finished products such as canvas and paint. It’s the tools that one uses to create these finished products that are up for debate.

Comments: 2
  • David Randall November 14, 2014 1:58 am

    Everyone has a different requirement for their tools. Some use them in ways others never will. I had an instructor who used rather smallish brushes all the time. He crushed the brushes against canvasses such that no fine line could be made with them easily. He abused them compared to anyone else I’ve ever met. I enjoy the best brush I can find regardless of the price. I agree you can do much the same with lesser brushes but for a shorter time maybe before they must be replaced. I personnally have some brushes that are well over twenty years old, granted someare larger sizes (less used) smaller ones do wear out. I try to take care of my tools. Just as a sharp knife cuts better than a dull one, a quality brush lasts a very long time. Robert Simmons Signet brushes btw are guaranteed for life. Hard to argue with that.

    • Greg November 14, 2014 4:33 am

      Didn’t know that Signet brushes are guaranteed for life. I actually have quite a few of them. Interesting to know. Thanks…

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