Artist brushes - a quintessential art tool

As soon as you outgrow finger painting, brushes become a quintessential art supply, whether your medium of choice is oils, acrylics or watercolours. But the paintbrush choices facing you online or in-store - from bristles, shapes and sizes - is vast and can be confusing and overwhelming.

Paintbrush bristles

The bristles of artist brushes can be made from natural hair or synthetic fibres.

Natural hair brushes include sable, squirrel, goat, ox, camel or hog. They are pricey but if cared for properly, are likely to last a lifetime.

Animal hair brushes are popular among oil painters as they hold the paint for a slower and more even release of pigment. Synthetic bristles - made from polyester or nylon - are more affordable and tend to keep their full spring and snap even when wet, and if shaped properly, they can be superior at holding a point.

Paintbrush shapes

Brushes come in a broad range of shapes and sizes, allowing a painter to create and experiment with a variety of brush strokes and techniques. A paintbrush set with a variety of shapes and sizes is the best way to start your collection.

But your basic art materials stash should include the following 8 shapes:

1. Flat brushes - for painting large areas and blending. 2. Bright brushes - for smaller controlled strokes and for switching between thin and thick stroke techniques. 3. Filbert brushes - a flexible oval-shaped brush that can hold a lot of water making it great for washes and smooth blending. 4. Angular brushes - for precise strokes and straight edges that are clean-cut and for filling in tight spots. 5. Fan brushes - for soft blending, smoothing, feathering and texturing. 6. Round brushes - for washes, fills and thick to thin line paint techniques. 7. Liner brushes - for detailing, outlining, intricate strokes and lettering. 8. Mop brushes - for covering large areas and softening and blending harsher areas.