Remember when you were in grade school and painting seemed so simple because your teacher just handed you art supplies and helped wash brushes afterwards? Approaching the medium as a more mature artist, you must learn about paintbrush materials and how to properly care for your brushes.
First, you must decide whether you will need soft or stiff hairs for your paintbrush. Either can be made of natural hairs or synthetic fibers. A thin paintbrush is ideal when you want to do detailed work or precise painting. It allows you to spread paint easily. Hard bristles on the other hand are better for manipulating thick paint. This allows you to create brush marks in the paint that can be seen on the canvas. Vincent van Gogh's work is famous for this technique, as evidenced by his painting The Starry Night.
Most purists will say that natural hair will always be superior to synthetic fiber because of its flexibility and strength. The hair for paintbrushes comes from animals including Sable, squirrel, hog, camel, ox, pony and goat. If the thought of using hair from one of these animals makes you squeamish or you have ideological problems with this, do not fear: modern synthetic brushes have come a long way and are even less expensive than their natural hair counterparts.
The next step is to learn a little bit about paintbrush anatomy. The handle is usually made of wood and is called the ferrule. This holds the hairs or bristles. The tip of the bristles is referred to as the toe.
When deciding which paintbrush to use it is important to know the size of the brush. This can be determined by looking at a number on the side of the handle. The smallest size is 00 followed by 0, 1, 2 and so on. If you are buying online it is important to see a picture of the brush you're purchasing. Two brushes sized the same can actually be very different because of the number of bristles and the width of the handle. This problem can be alleviated if you shop in an actual store or are already familiar with the brand of brush.
It takes a lot of time and money to get the right paintbrush, so it makes sense to take care of them, which includes proper cleaning after each use.
Before you get started, make sure you have mild soap (or turpentine if appropriate) and some tissue. You will also need lukewarm water and a place to dry your brushes.
Wipe off the excess paint using a soft cloth or tissue. Then, rinse your brushes in turpentine if you are using oils, but use lukewarm water if you're paint is water-based. Hot water can cause the hairs of your brush to fall out. Afterwards, gently wash your brushes with mild soap. Rinse and repeat as many times as necessary until no color comes out and your brush returns to its original color. Next rinse your paintbrush in clean water. Remember to shake off the excess water after this. If the brushes seem misshapen, use your fingers to gently bring the brush head back to its original shape.
Now you are ready to dry the paintbrushes. Wrap the bristles in tissue or toilet paper while they are wet. When the bristles dry they will contract in this way and will maintain their shape. Let the brushes dry at room temperature. Be sure not to rest them on their head because this is another potential hazard to maintaining appropriate shape.
Since some of these materials can be toxic protect your skin with a pair of gloves. These can be purchased at an art store or even at a drugstore or hardware store.