Painting for Beginners: Paint Brushes 101

by DTC Thrasio

Before you can even start smearing paint onto a canvas, it’s important to know your brush options. The different shapes of bristles can help elevate your painting even if you’re not the next Vincent Van Gogh.

In this "Painting for Beginners" series, we will be highlighting everything you need to know about paint brushes from cleaning them, to different paint strokes you can use. This is perfect for people who want to start dipping their brush into paints, but have nowhere to start. Welcome to Paint Brush 101! 

messy paint brushes of different types in a cup

Different Types of Paint Brushes 

Before you dip your brushes into paint and start your painting journey, you need to understand the different shapes of brushes. When starting out it’s best to get a pack of paint brushes, so you can try out different brush hair shapes and sizes to find your favorites. Here’s a list of common types of paint brushes that you can use when getting started.  

Round Brushes 

  • A round brush is round and then comes to a point. These are the most adaptable kind of brushes. Round brushes can be great for washes, covering large areas quickly, and drawing lines of all sizes. 

Linear Brushes 

  • These brushes have smaller longer bristles for small, crisp lines. Linear brushes are used for fine details and small areas that need to be covered. 

Fan Brushes 

  • The brush hairs are shaped like a fan. They are great to create unique textures and special effects while painting. This makes it easier for you to create multiple lines or dots at once. 

Angled Brushes 

  • If you have an edge that’s close to another object or need a crisp, straight line, you should use an angled brush. They are best to make clean lines as the end of the hairs are cut on an angle for fine details. 

Flat Brush 

  • The hairs of this brush are shaped into a rectangle. They are used for creating long lines and spreading color quickly on a large area. 


    someone washing dirty paint brush with water

      How to Clean Paint Brushes

      When investing in paint brushes, it can all go to waste if you don’t clean them properly. Rushing through the clean-up process will leave flecks of paint on the brush hairs leading to the possibility of ruining your upcoming projects.

      How do you properly clean your paint brushes? 

      Step #1: Use up the paint that remains on the brush on whatever you are painting. 

      Step #2: Fill a bucket of the right solvent. For latex based paint, use hot water and mild liquid dish soap. If your paint is oil-based use mineral spirits or turpentine. 

      Step #3: Immerse the paint brush in the solvent for about 10 seconds. Wipe the bristles on the side of the container. Work the bristles between your fingers to remove any excess paint. If some paint has begun to dry, you may have to soak your paint brush longer.  

      Step #4: With all of the paint removed, rinse the brush with warm soapy water to get rid of the solvent and any remaining paint. 

      Step #5: Before storing, you need to remove all the water from the bristles. Shake the brush and blot it dry on a rag or newspaper. 

      Step #6: When storing your paint brushes, hang them up or lay them flat to allow for any excess water to drip. 


      women cleaning paint brushes

      How to Preserve Your Paint Brushes 

      When getting a new paint brush set, you need to make sure that you are taking steps to preserve them. In order to make the best artwork, you should replace your paint brushes about every six months. If you’re not sure it’s time to replace your paint brush, you can tell by the brush hairs. The bristles should come into a nice point or hold their shape when you are painting. If you notice that the bristles on the paintbrush start to look frayed, jagged, or are starting to fall out, it’s time to get a replacement brush. 

      3 Tips to Preserve the Life of Your Paint Brushes:

      Tip #1: Never leave your brush sitting in a cup of water! If the brush sits in water for too long, you’ll start to see damage in the bristles. Instead, lay your brush down on a flat surface for a drying area. 

      Tip #2: If you’re using watercolor paint, you can wash the brush with just water. If you’re using other paint mediums, like acrylic paint, it’s best to wash your brush immediately after you finish painting with gentle soap and water. Once all the paint is out of the bristles, reshape the bristles and lay flat to dry. 

      Tip #3: Avoid mixing paint brushes with different mediums as much as possible. Paint brushes with stiff bristles are best with mediums like acrylic paint. Softer bristles work best with watercolor paint. If you do mix paint brushes with the mediums you are using, make sure you clean them thoroughly when finished. 

       paint brushes on background with paint brush strokes

      Paint Brush Strokes

      Now that you know the different types of brushes and how to maintain them, you can now try out different paint strokes for your artwork. Before you start working on your final canvas, it’s best to practice on some scrap material, like cardboard or paper. You’ll be able to refine your paint strokes for different paint mediums to incorporate into your final art pieces. Learn more about the different types of paint mediums here. Now let’s get into it! 


      • This technique is super simple. Dip a flat or round brush into your paint, strain your brush onto the canvas so that the bristles begin to splay and rotate the brush slightly to create a blotched effect. You can use different colors to shift tone gradually and make interesting patterns. When using different colors, shift the tone gradually by making the transition smooth from one color to another. For example, if you are painting with red and yellow paint. The red should be at the top while you are scumbling and then use the yellow halfway down to create orange in the middle and yellow at the bottom. 


      • Blot some paint onto your canvas. Take a dry round brush to smudge the paint onto the canvas. This process can create a clouded effect in your artwork. You can use this to blend more than two colors to produce a more appealing effect. The two colors should not be contrasting colors and must blend properly to create the perfect smudge. This technique works very well with acrylic paint

      Dry Brush Technique 

      • This is a technique that is used to make your paint strokes look “feathery.” To get started, you can use any brush depending on what you are painting. Use a clean and dry brush. Cover only the tip of the paint brush with very little paint. If you put too much on, then it will defeat the purpose of this technique. Lightly apply the color on the canvas keeping the strokes brisk, but not firm. Your strokes will have a translucent quality and you should see the texture of the canvas underneath. You can use this technique for grass, wood, bushes, or clouds in your artwork. 

      Double Load and Triple Load Techniques 

      • In this technique, you can have two different colors on a brush without mixing them. Grab your flat brush. One corner should be covered with one color and the other corner with a different color. When you stroke the paint onto the canvas, the two colors will blend together without completely mixing. That completes your double load technique. To do a triple load technique, dip the whole brush in one color and then do the double load technique with two other colors on the same brush. You can use this painting technique for beginners to paint sunsets, dark skies, and oceans. 

      Wet on Wet 

      • Start by painting a base color onto a canvas or a piece of paper. While the base paint is still wet, use another color of paint to be used to draw uniform patterns. The two colors will merge at the boundary where the two colors meet. You can use this technique to create a gradient with the second color by starting at the top of your canvas and allowing it to gradually fade into the base color toward the end of the stroke. 


      • For cross-hatching, all you have to do is simply apply strokes in an overlapping direction from different directions. Your strokes can utilize vertical or horizontal lines. You can use a single color or multiple colors. In addition, you can utilize wet on wet which we discussed previously in cross-hatching. 

      Paint Splatter 

      • This technique can get a little messy, so put down extra newspaper and wear some clothes you don’t care about getting dirty. You can use any stiff paint brush, but your best option is to use a toothbrush. Slightly wet your paint brush with paint and flick the bristles with your pointer finger towards the canvas. You can use distance to vary the intensity of the splatter on your final artwork.

      Gradient Blending 

      • Gradient blending is the blending of two or more colors to get a gradient. The transition from one color to the next is always smooth and the color tones must undergo a subtle change in every stroke to produce a change in color. This can make your artwork look three-dimensional. Any brush can be used to practice this technique. A suitable paint brush option would be a flat, fan bristle brush. This stroke is used to paint large patches like skies and greens. 

      Water Brushing 

      • This technique works best for watercolor paint. You’re going to need a water brush. A water brush is a little different from a normal paint brush as instead of a wooden handle there is a small container that can hold water. So, you won’t have to worry about constantly dipping your brush into water. The bristles will always remain moist and you can control the amount of water by pressing on the container. You can mess around with your water to paint ratios as you practice before your final piece to see the change in intensity of color.  

      Final Thoughts

      Paint brushes are your main tool as an artist so make sure you take care of them and invest in quality paint brushes that will last you a long time. When it comes to brush techniques, you now have all the basics to start your next masterpiece! These basic paint strokes can be individualized to you, as an artist, and your painting style as an artist through time and practice. To gain inspiration, you can pull painting ideas from online or get together with your friends for a painting night. Just have fun with it! Happy painting!


      Contributing Writer: Madeline Collins