Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday Tips #1 - Hacking Your Tools- the fan brush

I've decided to start a new feature on this blog, I'll call it "Tuesday Tips", in which I will post tips for fellow artists.  I also welcome guest posts from readers who have tips to share, just message me or ask about it in the comments if you are interested.

Today's Tuesday Tip will be on Hacking Your Tools, specifically the fan brush.  For those unfamiliar with a fan brush, it looks like this:

dry fan brush

wet fan brush
 So, why would one want to use a fan brush?  And why on earth would one need to "hack" the fan brush?  Well, lets say you are painting some grass, or fur, or feathers.  You could take a round brush and use it to paint individual blades of grass, like in this painting:

Sell Art Online

That works fine for this style of painting, where the blades of grass are thick and somewhat "out of focus" in appearance, but what if you wanted to make thin blades of grass, or fur, or very fine hair like feathers like in this close up of an owls face? Note that this is a crop of a much larger painting that shows the owls entire head and part of his body, thos feather lines around the eyes and overlapping the beak are hair thin.

You could take a liner brush, and paint each line painstakingly, and many of the lines on this owl were painted that way.  It works, but it takes a long time... what if you wanted a faster way to go about it?  Here is where the fan brush comes in.  If you use it very carefully, getting paint only on the very tips and stroking with almost no pressure at all, you can get results like those feathers that overlap the owls beak.   The problem is that as the brush gets more wet, and takes on a heavier load of paint, the lines start getting thicker, and merging into each other.  If you accidentally overload the brush with paint you don't get individuals hairs at all, and if you apply too much pressure you also get different results.  Here are some random fan brush strokes, with different amounts of paint, different amounts of pressure:

Fan brush strokes with a light load of paint,
 with various pressures applied.
Fan brush strokes with heavy paint, but light pressure.

As you can see, the results can be very inconsistent.  Now, if you are careful, the fan brush CAN and DOES work for fine hairlike individual strokes, I have used it that way myself, around the owl's beak above and in several other paintings, but it is nerve wracking knowing that if I slip even the slightest, and apply more pressure than I meant to, my painting will be messed up.

So, one time recently while painting a large area of grass on a big painting, I got fed up.  I took one of my three fan brushes, and a pair of scissors, and came up with this:

As you can see, I cut some of the hairs off to make a more even "spread" of hairs.  Now, I did this quickly and not terribly carefully, because I was just going for a "grass" effect.  But if I'd wanted thinner tips for "hair", I could have taken the brush, and some very sharp scissors, and sipped off much smaller sections, leaving many more, but thinner "tips" still attached for painting.

Here are some random brush strokes using my "hacked" fan brush, as you can see, with more paint, less paint, light pressure or heavier pressure, I got much more consistent, grasslike results, there were still differences according to the amount of pressure I used, or how much paint I loaded the brush with, but the differences were not so severe, and were easier to control:

So there's my tip on hacking your fan brush.  Now, I'm aware that they make a fan brush with shorter sections of bristles like this, but the brushes manufactured like this have each tip of precisely the same thickness, and for something like grass, I think having some variety of thicknesses looks more natural, not every blade of grass is exactly the same size as the one next to it.


  1. Wonderful Tip, and such a great idea :) Thank you Vicki

  2. Nora Spencer
    I can use all the tip's you post since I'm a beginner! Thanks' So Much Vicki

  3. Such A newbie I didn't know what "select profile" means?
    Nora Spencer

  4. I must learn to HACK or totally re-design a few into funky shapes :) Thanks!


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