A Paintbrush Review; Materials, Types, & Shapes

How To Select A Brush

I get a lot of questions about my paintbrushes. Customers frequently ask what kind of marks the brushes can make, or which medium can be used, so I thought it might be helpful to provide an overview.

 Let's Start With The Basics

Every brush has the following:

  • Handle
  • Ferrule
  • Hanging Strap
  • Brush Head/Bristle

Let's Review Each

Sumi-e paintbrush review - understanding the different varieties of brushes
Brush handles can vary in length and width. When I choose a handle, I consider both size and material (e.g. bamboo or natural wood). This ensures every component of the brush fits together well. For example, the length should be proportionate to the size of the ferrule and brush head. It is also important that the handle fits well in the hand and encourages fluid and dynamic brush strokes.
Sumi-e paintbrush review - understanding the different varieties of brushes

The ferrule serves to hold and secure the bristle head. As with the handle, it also needs to be in sync with the rest of the brush. When I make a brush, I select components that "fit" together and compliment each other, creating balance.

I typically use 3 different types of ferrules:

  • Ceramic (pictured)
  • Bamboo
  • Birch Bark
Sumi-e paintbrush review - understanding the different varieties of brushes
Brush hanging straps are often overlooked, but they are actually a very important part of the brush. After use and cleaning, the hanging strap ensures the brush can hang dry. Hang drying draws the remaining moisture to the tip of the brush, not the base. This helps to protect and preserve the brush bristles' integrity. It also helps the brush dry more quickly and prevents a build up of dried media on the base of the brush head.
Sumi-e paintbrush review - understanding the different varieties of brushes
I offer a wide variety of brush types, shapes and styles. Each one is designed to meet the artist's/painter's specific needs and ensure the very best in quality and professional performance.

 Brush Head\Bristle Types and Functions

Now that we covered the basic components of a brush, let's review brush types and functions.

  To start, I use five different types of bristle material:

  1. Horsehair
  2. Goat Hair
  3. Fiber
  4. Feather
  5. Deer Tail Hair


An explanation of Tipped paintbrush ends

Horsehair is commonly used for larger brushes in Asia. There are many different types of horsehair, from very soft to super coarse. This makes it an excellent choice for Sumi-e as well as other brush types.

There are two kinds of horsehair that I use to make brushes; mane and tail. Mane hair tends to be softer and more absorbent. Tail hair is thicker, coarser and can be very wiry. When making a brush, I choose a hair type that matches the performance aspects that I want to achieve.

Another important aspect of brush bristle is whether or not the brush has tipped or cut ends. A natural tipped end is uncut and pointed. This allows the brush to move more smoothly across the painting surface.

  • My premium horsehair brushes have natural, tipped ends.

Cut ends are sharp and flat. Over time, they will soften and some of the brush bristles will develop what is referred to as a flag. This is when a cut bristle hair develops a split end. A flagged end responds in a similar way as a tipped end by moving across the painting surface more easily and smoothly. 

 Goat Hair

Goat hair is flexible, durable, yet super soft and absorbent.  Soft brushes are a bit more challenging to master, but if used skillfully they deliver very interesting, and sometimes unpredictable lines.

Goat hair is commonly used for traditional sumi-e style brushes. If you are looking for a very soft and super absorbent brush, then goat hair is one to consider. As mentioned above, it takes a bit more time to really figure out how work with it, but once mastered, they make excellent brushes.



Fiber is a fantastic material for non-traditional mark-making. The fiber I use is very flexible and strong. In addition to having great versatility, fiber works well with a wide spectrum of media. It is also terrific for creating texture and lines.

I offer a wide variety of fiber brushes. Each provides the artist the opportunity to create unique and interesting marks. 


Feathers make wonderful brush heads. They have tremendous mark-making capabilities and  often create unpredictable marks. They are also durable, and can withstand use and cleaning. They are the perfect brush to add to your tool chest if you want to disrupt your mark-making. My feather brushes are made with domestic, naturally shed feathers or rooster saddle feathers (a more traditional Sumi-e style feather brush head). 

 Deer Tail

Deer tail hair is long, soft and  has naturally pointed tips. It is  a hair that is well suited for brush bristle, especially if you want a more traditionally shaped Asian calligraphy brush. I source my deer tail hair from a local taxidermist (it is a part of the deer that is typically discarded). 

 My Most Popular Brush Types

My Short Blunt brush has a bristle head ranging from approximately .5" to 2". The hair is very coarse and stiff. This brush type is a great choice for glazing surfaces and making "scrubby" marks. They are also fantastic brushes for making texture and fine lines in thicker media if desired. This brush type is a real workhorse and very versatile.

Short Blunt brushes work well with ink, acrylics, watercolors and oils. In addition, they also are perfect for gel and cold wax media.


My Contemporary Sumi-e style brushes have a longer bristle (@ 3" or longer) and have a slightly curved edge. The curved edge allows the brush to move more smoothly across the surface of the canvas, panel or paper surface. This type of brush can be made with really soft hair or something more stiff. I tend to make these larger brushes with my premium super soft horsehair, but at times I will select a coarser hair for brushes with a very long bristle (up to 10" in length).

Contemporary Sumi-e brushes work well with ink, acrylics, watercolors and oils. 

The way the deer tail hair lies creates a beautifully pointed tip, which is a super nice brush shape. With this brush you can create either really fine detailed single lines, or wider marks. The hair is very soft, absorbent and flexible. This shape is similar to traditional Asian style calligraphy brushes. 

Pointed Tip Deer Tail brushes will work best with water-based media.

I also offer goat hair brushes with a full, round bristle head. This type of brush head can create wide lines and soft patterns. Because goat hair is very soft and absorbent, it will hold a lot of paint if desired and has some unpredictability in the mark. The rounded shape allows for a nice easy splay of the brush head.

Short Round Goat hair brushes work well with ink, acrylics, watercolors and oils. 

My horsehair short round brush heads use a medium stiff hair, which allows the brush to move thicker media in addition to something thinner such as ink. The medium coarseness also promotes nice fine lines and some soft textures if desired. This brush is a more traditional size, from .5" to 1.5" in length.

Short Round brushes work well with ink, acrylics, watercolors and oils.  

Tail hair brushes have very coarse, wiry bristle heads. They can create very interesting marks with lots of texture and dynamic lines. They maintain their shape while at the same time creating unexpected results. If you are looking for a brush that will disrupt your routine, this one is a good choice. 

Coarse Tail Hair brushes work well with, ink, acrylics, watercolors and oils.  

A Slant brush heads can be made with a variety of materials including horsehair, goat and fiber. The slant creates an easier, smoother application of media (or in the case of fiber, creating texture and lines in thicker media). If made with horsehair or goat hair, it will also allow for a wide splay.  The tip of the brush can come to more of a point allowing for thinner line work. 

Slant brushes also work well with acrylics, watercolors and oils.  My fiber slanted brushes can also handle gel and cold wax media.


Mop Goat Hair Paint BRush Mop brushes are usually made with goat hair. 

This type of brush is perfect for softening and blending value transitions. Ultra-soft goat hair bristles are ideal for oil and acrylic paint but can also be used to create sky washes with watercolor.

Mop brushes work well with acrylics, watercolors, and oils. 

If you have any questions regarding which type of brush will work best for you, feel free to contact me, either through the chat button (located on the bottom right-hand side of this page), or by email at: Info@elizabethschowachertart.com

I also really enjoy creating custom brushes for my customers and would be happy to design and make the perfect brush for you.

Stay Well and Happy Creating,


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Elizabeth, how do I care for my fiber fan brush. Is there any way to safely clean the bristles. Thanks for your help. I’m just starting to be brave enough to really sit down and use my brushes. As Sandy Kay said, I bought them for their beauty but now I’m seduced by visions of marks I can make!


Check out the Sally Hirst Cold Wax Tools Review for a lot of in-depth information about my Cold Wax Tools:

Here’s an excerpt regarding cleaning
“After they had finished for the day I was left with the question of how to clean Elizabeth’s brushes. On her website, she gives cleaning instructions with each tool. It was easier than I expected. I filled a tray with thinner, swished the tools around, and wiped them with a clean cloth, the nature of the fiber ‘bristles’ means they don’t absorb the paint, it just sits on the surface. The bamboo handles have a smooth surface and wipe clean easily. The brush with the leather handle did hold onto some residual paint but I used some solvent on a cloth to wipe it off. The horsehair bristle brush stained a little as any animal bristle brush would. Within minutes they were all as good as new!”


Hi Elizabeth: I have several of your brushes and am just starting to use them in my cold wax work. I bought them for their beauty and then saw them as too precious to use! I love the fiber markmaking especially. Please tell me best way to clean them. Thanks

Sandy Kay

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