You will need two sorts of paint brushes: stiff for handling most painting tasks, and soft for adding fine details.
Stiff brushes are made of hog bristle and come in three shapes: round, flat and filbert. Get a small range of sizes to begin with. Synthetic bristles make an acceptable alternative for most purposes, but the natural article is better.
The best soft brushes are sable, and the substitutes are much less satisfactory. A fan-head brush (sable or hog hair) may be needed to blend paint in a smooth way on the canvas.
Paint brushes are expensive most particularly sable brushes and deserve to be looked after. A used but cared-for paint brush will in fact perform much better than a new one. Remember:
1. Use painting knives to mix paint, not brushes.
2. Do not stand brushes point down in jars or containers: the hairs or bristles will be permanently bent out of shape.
3. Think before adding paint to a brush. Add the correct amount and apply according to needs: carefully or briskly, with the right pressure and action, holding the brush some distance from the tip.
4. Don't use the brush as a scoop, which will clog the ferrules. This paint has to be cleaned out, and will eventually spoil the handling property of the brush.
5. Clean brushes as soon as possible after use, and certainly at the end of the day's painting. Use turps followed by normal soap and water. Or wash in turps and give a final rinse in turpentine. Soft brushes can be dipped in milk, gently shaped, and allowed to dry, tips up, for a couple of days.
Watteau was an untidy painter, and Sickert often preferred to move flat rather than sort out the indescribable mess of his studio. But most artists regard painting as a craft, and share the craftsman's delight in fine tools and sensible working practices. Time has to be set aside at the end of each painting session to clean up and prepare for the next. Some painters do live in squalor, especially if fame allows them to hit the bottle in later life, but that's an unfortunate aspect of a chaotic lifestyle, not an inspiration. Most find a a tidy studio, with everything laid out ready for work, the necessary encouragement to properly getting down to the day's tasks.
1. The Painting Guide. Debra Clem's handy hints, including choice and care of oil painting brushes.
Nearly all art materials suppliers stock artist's brushes: here are some specialist outlets:
2. 'Top Paint Brush Tips from the Art Pros on Facebook'. Fine Art Tips.
3. 'Brushes: A Handbook for Artists and Artisans' by Jacques Turner. Good Reads. 1992.
'El Jaleo' by John Singer Sargent. 1882. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston. A strking work built on an analogous orange-red to yellow-orange color scheme with strong tonal contrasts.