How to Draw


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Oil Painting Canvas and Brushes

Canvases are usually flax or cotton/flax yarns, stretched over a wooden stretcher and kept taut by knocking small triangular pegs at the back into the corners where there is room made for them. They are best bought, as preparing and stretching your own canvas is a rather tricky operation for a beginner.

Canvas is delightful to work on. It can be bought with a fine or rough grain. And the movement of the canvas as you paint on it springs nicely to the brush. You can scrape wet paint off with interesting effect. They come in sizes ranging from 7 in. X 5 in. to 40 in. X 50 in. and even larger if specially ordered.

However, I do not recommend canvas until you have acquired a little experience with paper and hardboard. You won’t regret it and it will be something to look forward to.


The brushes artists commonly use in oil painting are made of hog’s hair. They are harder and have more spring and toughness than the brushes used with watercolor. There are four shapes to choose from: flat, round, filbert and brights (Fig. 30). As you will see from the illustration, each type of brush will make a different mark. To begin with I would recommend the flat only. Number 4 and number 6 would do for a start, say two of each until you have had a little experience in handling them. Then you may like to try the brights. The square top of the brush would make a good contrast in brushmark to the flats. I suggest a 5 and 7 for this.

As with most aspects of painting, experience and experiment will help you find the brushes which suit you best. And it is a good idea to tryout all the shapes, eventually, adding one new shape of brush to your collection as you progress. It is not necessary to buy all the shapes at once. The fewer your brushes the easier it is to cope with the problems of painting. Similarly with colors, the simpler the palette the easier it is to cope with it. I follow this rule and find it perfectly satisfactory. Using few sizes and shapes of brushes, my only indulgence is to use oil sable brushes for fine work.

Sable brushes are excellent to use with oil paint but they must be handled very carefully and, if used with the same vigor as hog’s hair brushes, wear out very rapidly. As they are comparatively far more expensive than hog they must be used only in the final stages of painting.

Brushes must be thoroughly cleaned after use. If not, they will become hard or spoil their shape and ruin color when used again. The simplest way to clean a brush is first to rinse it out well in turpentine or turpentine substitute, dry it on a rag and then wash it in warm water and soap. It must then be thoroughly rinsed and dried. Do not use detergents as this does not clean the paint out well.

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