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How to hold the paintbrush?

How to hold a paint brush title

Your painting style depends on many things: your temperament, speed, intention, inspiration, skill, even how much paint you squeeze on your palette! One rarely considered factor is the way you hold your brush. It effects the character of your painting. You can change or acquire a new style by adopting a new grip.

1. A gentle grip for fine details. With this technique, expect a more refined painting. This is usually done with a small, pointy brush and great concentration.


2. The intense hold – the tip of the brush is “pointing at” or gently poking the canvas. This results in a sketchier, softer, more painterly touch.


3. This juicy, loaded brush carries a lot of paint. If the paint is watered down, this technique creates drips. If loaded with thicker paint, the brush “sculpts” the image, creating an expressive impasto.


4. If you hold the brush close to the bristles, almost touching the tip,  you make your brush work hard, causing more sensitive and precise brushwork. With a stiff wrist, your whole arm is engaged. This style of handling the brush may suggest that the artist was focused on their subject matter. This results in painting with passionate and intense pressure, unconcerned with perfection.


5. When the brush is held away from the ferrule (towards the end of the handle), the brushstrokes become looser, lighter, and paint is applied less carefully. The farther away your fingertips are from the bristles, the lighter the brushstroke. These strokes show painterly-ness. You can un-stiffen your style with this technique. And added benefit, softer pressure helps brushes last longer.


6. This less-common technique implies spontaneity; “I’ll try something new and see what happens.”


7. This way works best with bristle brushes. A very decisive paint-application with a non-hesitant, solid grip by using the wrist to do all the work.


8. Achieve a more sophisticated line when you move your brush like a pencil. This light hold implies as Picasso once said, “not explaining, just mentioning”, barely touching the painting’s surface, with no rubbing. This is a completely silent way of painting.


9. These artists are careful and conscious of the result, mindful of their hand at all times. The fingers do all the work, rather than the wrist. Artists often use this style for finishing touches using a small brush.


10. This seemingly awkward gesture expresses how absorbed the artist is in her painting, forgetting the world around her.


11. One can hardly be careful holding the brush like this. Paintings done in this technique may look rich, generous and even sloppy, which depends on whether the brush was loaded with paint or dry. The brush either thrusts paint wet-into-wet or creates a scumbled, sketchy, textured effect. Juicy or dry, it can energize your painting with an unexpected sketchy appearance.


12. This relaxed grip means that the artist is not painting but coloring.

This is a very quick sketch of my observations in the studio. If you notice another interesting technique and its effect, let me know!

All images are from the art classes at Losina Art Center, san diego art school.