Mixing and matching tools can be a lot of fun, but it can also shorten their lifespan. This begs the question ‘can I use watercolor brushes for oil painting?’ and the answer is… Yes, with a caveat. While watercolor brushes will be compatible with oil and great for detail work, you’ll need to find out what your brushes are made of before you try this. The reason is that the solvents you use for cleaning after might result in the untimely demise of your watercolor brush.
Today I’ll talk a little more about that, as well as what are considered ‘proper’ oil painting brushes, and I’ll tough on the subject of the best brushes for Bob Ross’s ‘wet on wet’ painting technique.
Let’s talk about the joys of mixing and matching your art gear!
Can you use watercolor brush with oil paint?
Technically, you can use watercolor brushes, acrylic brushes, fabric, or even a bird feather you found outside of the house this morning if you like… the biggest problem comes when you try to clean it. Those interesting textures and unique brushstrokes might well be worth it, but the reckoning that will come with the cleaning solvents is something that you will have to consider.
As far as watercolor brushes, it really depends. Some are made with natural hairs like sable or rabbit, and you run into a lot of oil painting brushes that are made with the same materials, so with these types of brushes you’ve got a pretty good chance of coming out mostly unscathed.
With synthetics, you get into ‘maybe’ territory. Thankfully, we live in the information age, so Google your brush and find out exactly what synthetic material you are dealing with. Look up that name with the solvents that you are using, and you should be able to get a definitive answer about whether or not your brush would survive more than one session.
What type of brush should I use for oil paint?
The standard brushes that you should use for oil painting are going to be your bristles and sables, with the former being the stiff, hog’s hair variety that lets you move lots of paint and make long, slowing strokes, and the latter is great for soft blending and hiding your brush strokes as you work.
These are the two main types and they come in various shapes and sizes, but what you choose to go with it largely going to be up to you. Paintbrushes designed specifically for oil painting are the best, of course, but don’t be afraid to get experimental. If you find a brush that’s normally reserved for watercolor or acrylics then the resulting work might be worth have to keep a few extra ones around.
So try them out and have a little fun with it – what matters most is the end result and if you discover a cool trick with a non-standard brush the feeling is nothing short of amazing.
What brushes are best for wet on wet oil painting?
Actually, one of the nice things about wet on wet painting is that any of your favorite oil brushes may be used. The biggest part of this technique is mixing the paints right on the wet canvas, so you’ll have to play with it a little to see what feels best for you.
I do recommend trying it with mostly hog bristle brushes, as you can get a lot done quickly before that paint dries and you get those really pronounced strokes that you just can’t get with sable. It will really depend on your particular style, though, so play around and see what you like the most. Just use your current oil brushes and they will work for you just fine.
So, can you use watercolor brushes for oil painting? You sure can. Just do your homework by researching what the bristles of the brush are made of, as this is what will tell you if the cleaning solvents are going to be safe or if your brush is only likely to survive one or two painting sessions. Most watercolor brushes should be safe but you really should check just in case.
For a little information on specific brushes and their traditional uses, you can find a great 3rd party article here. It will tell you a little more about what each brush and brush shape is typically used for and it also throws in a little cleaning information to help you to maintain your brushes so that you can enjoy them for a long, long time.
Until next time, have fun with those watercolor brushes… they really do make some amazing detail work with oils!