How to Use a Paint Brush

The key to a good paint job is to use high quality paint and a good paint brush. Buy the best brush you can afford and make sure it’s the right kind for the type of paint you’re using. Latex brushes don’t work well with oil paints, nor do oil brushes work with water-based paints.[1] Once you have the right brush, you can focus on technique!


[Edit]Loading a Paintbrush

  1. Choose an artist’s brush if you’re making art or adding details. If you’re making art, pick up a set of artist’s brushes in a variety of sizes and shapes. Each style of brush is unique and creates a different type of line. The brushes you choose for a particular painting are entirely up to you, but it helps to have options. You can also use an artist’s brush to paint small surfaces or add fill in details on a wall if you’re repainting your home.[2]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • You also have a choice between synthetic and natural brushes. Generally speaking, natural bristles are best for oil paint, while synthetic is best for acrylic and watercolor paint.
  2. Use a painter’s brush if you’re painting interior walls or large surfaces. Painter’s brushes refer to the paintbrushes are typically used by interior painters. They’re usually wide and they usually have a unique hourglass-shaped handle. If you’re repainting your home or business, grab a painter’s brush. Artists often use painter brushes to repaint canvases, apply primer, or add large sections of color.[3]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • Use a natural brush for oil-based paints and primers. Use a synthetic brush for latex paints. Synthetic painter’s brushes are almost always made out of nylon.
  3. Dampen the brush with water or mineral spirits to prepare it. If you’re using acrylic, latex, or watercolor paint, dip your brush’s bristles in water. If you’re using an oil paint, dip the bristles in mineral spirits. This will make the paint stick to your bristles for longer and reduce how often you need to reload the brush. It will also make cleaning the brush easier.[4]
    • Blot the bristles with a dry cloth after you dip them to keep them from dripping with water or mineral spirits. You don’t want them to be soaked, just a little damp.
    • Artist and painter brushes are loaded the same way. There’s no real difference between them when it comes to loading them with paint.
  4. Lower the bristles half way into the paint to load them up. Pour your paint in a paint tray or squirt your colors out on your easel. To load your paintbrush, dip the bristles halfway into the paint. You only use the front half of the bristles to apply paint, so all you’re doing is making the bristles harder to clean if you load them up all the way.[5]
    • Remember to mix the paint before using it if you’re using an interior paint that comes in a can or large bucket. The pigments tend to separate in these paints while they’re sitting on the shelf.
  5. Use the easel or paint tray to knock the excess paint off. Take the bristles out of the paint. Then, if you’re using a paint tray or can, drag the bristles against the rim on each side of the brush to knock off some of the paint. If you’re using an easel, drag the bristles back and forth next to your dollop of paint. This will remove the excess paint and keep your brush from dripping as you paint.[6]
    • If you don’t do this, your brush may drip while you’re moving it. Your first brush stroke will also be saturated in paint and it won’t match the rest of the brush stroke.

[Edit]Working with a Painter’s Brush

  1. Brace the sides of the brush if you’re covering a large, flat surface. If you’re painting a flat surface and there are no edges or corners nearby, hold the brush by the ferrule, which is the metal collar under the bristles. Put your thumb on one side and brace the other side with your four fingers. This grip is great because you won’t get sore quickly.[7]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 6 Version 3.jpg
    • You have to apply a fair bit of pressure to cover a large surface area in paint. If you hold the brush by the handle, your wrist will get sore pretty quickly.
  2. Grip angle brushes by the junction of the ferrule for cuts and edges. For more precise cuts where the angle of the bristles matters a great deal, lay your thumb on the side right above the edge of the ferrule. Then, slide your index finger on top of the handle like you’re holding a pencil. Grip the sides of the brush with your 3 free fingers to balance it.[8]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 7 Version 3.jpg
    • In painting, a “cut” refers to a straight line where 2 colors meet. When you paint the edges of a wall around the trim, it is called “cutting in.”
  3. Line the brush’s bristles up with the surface you’re painting. If you’re using a flat brush, press the bristles straight against the surface. If you’re using an angle brush, tilt the brush so the bristles line up with the surface. You can turn angle brushes so the angle is skinny and leave a thick bead of paint, or hold it vertically to spread a wider line of paint.[9]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 8 Version 3.jpg
    • If the bristles aren’t flat against the surface of the wall, your line won’t be even. Part of it will look too thin and part of the line will look too rich and thick.
  4. Press the bristles against the surface and drag your arm to apply paint. Apply a light amount of pressure to the surface with your bristles. Then, keep your wrist steady and move your entire arm along the line you’re painting to apply the paint.[10]
    • It’s actually pretty hard to get a straight line if you only move your wrist. Moving your entire arm ensures that your brush doesn’t shake as you move it.
  5. Drag the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the surface you’re painting. While you’re moving your arm, soften your grip up a little bit and let the bristles drag behind your wrist while you paint. If you only use the tip of the bristles, you’ll need to reload your brush every 2-3 seconds. By letting the brush drag at an angle, a larger percentage of the bristles will brush against the surface.[11]
  6. Cover each section you paint 2-3 times to smooth out the texture. Once you reach the end of a line, move the brush back in the opposite direction. This will apply another layer of paint from the other side of the bristles and fill in any small areas you missed the first time you painted the line. Reload your brush and continue painting.[12]

[Edit]Creating Art with an Artist’s Brush

  1. Use a pencil grip to hold a standard brush for precise strokes. The best way to hold an artist’s brush is to grip it on one side with your thumb and the other side with your index finger. Curl your three remaining fingers underneath the brush to brace it and keep it balanced.[13]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 12.jpg
    • This is the most common grip, but it’s fine if you find another grip that’s more comfortable for you. There is no right or wrong way to hold a brush if you’re making art!
    • Some artists prefer to hold the end of the brush and lay their index finger on top to control the brush.
  2. Clutch the brush behind the ferrule to balance it. Unlike a pencil, you do not hold an artist’s brush behind the bristles. Instead, slide your fingers away from the metal part of the brush, called the ferrule. It’s hard to see what you’re doing if your hand is on the ferrule and you’re more likely to brush the wet paint with the side of your palm if you hold it near the tip.[14]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 13.jpg
    • It’s much easier to balance the brush in your hand and control it if you hold it near the center of gravity in the middle of the brush. The reason you can’t do this with a pencil or pen is because you need to apply pressure when you use a writing tool. You don’t really need to do that with a brush, though!
  3. Drag your wrist slowly to apply paint in straight lines. Press the tip of the bristles into the surface you’re painting and keep your wrist as steady as possible. Move your entire arm at the same time to paint a straight line. Keep the bristles at the same distance to the surface you’re painting to avoid changing the thickness of the line.[15]
    • You can totally change the distance of the bristles if you want to intentionally change the thickness of the line mid-stroke!
  4. Flick the bristles with your wrist to add textures or details. For smaller flourishes of color or minor highlights, hold the bristles against the surface and move your wrist in the direction you’re adding the paint to add a quick dash of color that doesn’t look like a thick, full line. Do this over and over again to build up textures or add color.[16]
    • This is the best way to build up clouds, grass, tree trunks, or textured backgrounds.
  5. Touch the canvas or paper with the very tip of the brush for minor additions. If you ever want to add a small dot or line, only touch the surface with the very tip of your bristles. You can either flick your wrist or move your arm to apply the line. This takes some practice to get the thickness of your marks right, but you’ll improve the more you paint.[17]
  6. Build your composition up with a variety of strokes to add depth. Use a variety of different strokes and movements to develop your work. Painters rarely rely on a single type of brush stroke, so mix it up and find a pattern that works for you. Alternate between different brush sizes and shapes to develop a full repertoire that makes your paintings pop.[18]

[Edit]Caring for Paintbrushes

  1. Clean off your paintbrush immediately after each use. If you don’t clean your brush immediately after using it, the paint will dry on the bristles and you’ll end up with a stiff, unusable brush. While it’s fine to keep it wet for 5-10 minutes while you clean up, you really don’t want to wait too long to clean your brushes.[19]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 18.jpg
    • The one exception here is if you used oil-based primer. This stuff is extremely hard to clean and you’re better off using a cheap disposable brush if you’re working with oil-based primer.
  2. Use mineral spirits or turpentine to remove oil-based paint. If you were using oil paint, fill a small plastic cup with mineral spirits or turpentine. Submerge the bristles and shake the brush around in the liquid to remove the larger chunks of paint. Do this for 2-3 minutes.[20]
    • Oil paint is typically harder to remove than acrylic or latex paint. You may need to do this 2-3 times to really get your brush clean.
  3. Pour soap and hot water on the bristles get rid of acrylic or latex paint. If you were using latex, acrylic, or watercolor paint, run your brush under warm water. Squirt 1-2 dollops of dish soap on the bristles and gently spread the soap out by hand. Run the bristles against the edge of your sink like you’re painting it while letting the water run to get rid of most of the paint.[21]
    • Don’t worry about staining your sink. Latex, acrylic, and watercolor are all water-based paints and will wash off so long as you don’t let the paint dry.
  4. Shake or spin your brush while rinsing it until the water runs clear. Whether you were using mineral spirits, turpentine, or soap, take your brush and hold it under warm water. Press the bristles flat at an angle to wash each side of the bristles. Flip the bristles up and let the water pour into them directly. Once the water starts running clear, shake or spin the brush between your palms to shake out the excess moisture.[22]
  5. Let your brush air dry on a cloth or newspaper. Lay the brush flat on a clean cloth or stack of newspaper and let it air out for 2-3 hours. Once the brush is completely dry, put it back wherever you’re storing it to put it back in your brush rotation.[23]
    Use a Paint Brush Step 22.jpg


  • Painter’s tape is a great tool to have on hand if you’re painting interior walls or trying to paint a perfectly straight line. Just lay the tape down against the edge where you want the paint to stop and paint over the seam where it meets your surface.[24]


  • If you don’t clean your brushes after using them, the paint will harden and you may have to throw your brush out. You can try restoring the brush by soaking it in fabric softener or paint thinner, but this won’t always work.[25]
  • When you clean your brushes, do not push the bristles hard into the sink you’re using to clean it. This may damage the shape of the bristles permanently.

[Edit]Things You’ll Need

  • Water
  • Paint tray
  • Easel
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine (optional)

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