Brush techniques are like an artist’s vocabulary. The more you learn, the richer conversations you have between yourself and the canvas.
While it’s true that the tools you use won’t automatically result in a good painting, they still matter. The more brush techniques I’ve added to my roster, the smoother my process has become.
I’ll share some of these techniques with you so you can enjoy a smoother painting process. Below are 9 must-try brush strokes painting techniques that will help you create more dynamic works of art.
1. Dry Brush Technique
The dry brush technique is among the best known due to the compelling textures it leaves behind. Artists often use these brush strokes when recreating otherwise tedious details.
Have you ever admired the swirly patterns of wood while out on a nature walk? How about observing grainy stones up close? These textures are painstaking to recreate little by little, but you don’t have to. A few rough strokes will have your painted wood or stones looking real enough to touch.
You can also use this technique for another intricate detail – wispy edges. Hair, fur, and feathers are challenging for artists due to their delicate appearance. Since the dry brush technique uses little to no water, you can easily create these lighter details.
Lastly, the dry brush creates a lovely contrast with more smoothly blended areas. Whether you prefer oil paintings or regularly use acrylic, dry brush strokes help give the eye breathing room.
Speaking of adding texture, there’s a technique similar to the dry brush you need in your toolbox. Scumbling is the act of applying paint in a circular or smudging motion to achieve subtle, yet lively textures.
The primary scumbling method involves applying lighter paint on top of a darker layer. This approach creates the beautiful effect of the bottom layer ‘peering through’ the top. You can also do the reverse – a darker layer over a lighter one.
While scumbling can involve wet paint, artists usually apply it with a dry brush stroke to achieve a more robust texture.
Scumbling is one of the painting techniques artists prefer to recreate subtle textures like clouds, fog, and distant mountains. The fan brush and the round brush both work well here. However, you may also want to use cheaper synthetic brushes since this technique will mess up your bristles after a while.
3. Flat Wash
While dry brush and scumbling techniques are excellent for crafting texture, sometimes you need a smooth area. The flat wash is one of the most beloved stroke techniques for seamlessly filling large areas.
One interesting detail about this technique is how you need very little paint. You can fill in a large area by padding out the paint with your medium of choice.
For starters, doing a flat wash is easier when you use a larger flat brush. Smaller brushes may cover an area less efficiently, resulting in blotchy layers. If you’re working with oil paints, you can do a flat wash by diluting your color with your oil medium.
If you prefer acrylic paints, there are two ways of doing a flat wash. Mixing in water will let you create a thin layer with subtle blotchiness, which may be appealing depending on your intended result. Another method is to mix a little water into the paint, then add either gel medium or slow drying medium.
Are you a fan of the brilliant textures of impressionist paintings? Pointillism is creating textures, light, or shadows using dots and blotches.
Unlike blending light and shadow, pointillism keeps different aspects of a painting distinct. For example, yellow dots could represent the glitter of light, while green dots represent grass. While some artists may still use a little blending, pointillism’s appeal lies in its compelling shapes.
Pointillism is best done with a round brush, though you could also create fine lines with a square paint brush. Since these brush marks are more abstract than the other techniques on this list, there are online art classes who can help you get started.
Paint splatter is an energetic touch that can lend a sense of dynamism to your work. You’ve likely seen these art techniques used most in graffiti art, but you can use it with oil or acrylic brush techniques, too.
Splatter techniques are one of the most straightforward. My preferred splattering method is dipping a brush in paint and then flicking it at the surface. These little dots are fantastic for simulating snow, embers, or flower petals.
If you want larger splatters, you can also drip large paint splotches onto a canvas. Just cover your table or floor with newspaper so you don’t stain anything.
Hatching has some similarities to pointillism since it emphasizes the linework over blending. These brush marks are as close as you can get to drawing while still technically painting.
When’s the last time you admired the wrinkles in a fold of cloth? You can draw out these wrinkles with hatching to create a more stylized result. You can then take things further to hatch out the shadows on the cloth. Whether through broken strokes or diagonal strokes, you can abstract life into a brand new form.
The filbert brush is a prime choice for hatching due to its simple rounded shape. You can create thin lines or thick lines quite easily.
7. Cross Hatching
Cross hatching isn’t just a technique for your pencil – you can apply it with a paint brush. I love using hatching for acrylic painting techniques to create smoother areas or leave in a little texture.
The function of cross hatching is to layer repeated brush strokes in repetitive patterns. This technique is helpful because it takes a little of the brain power out of creating a work of art. For example, repetitive patterns like water waves or grass can get tiring to paint. Quick crosshatches will fill in these areas nicely while leaving a little texture.
However, if you go over the area enough times, it’ll gradually smooth out. That makes this painting technique exceptionally diverse for creating different results.
The flat brush is ideal for crosshatching since it leaves harder edges. You can also combine cross hatching with a dry brush technique to create repetitive textures quickly, such as brick or cobblestone.
8. Gradient Blending
Gradient blending is usually what people think of when painting. After all, the subtle transitions between colors are incredibly pleasing to look at…and also hard to achieve!
What makes gradient blending tricky is how easily mistakes stand out. Thankfully, there are painting mediums that help you blend more efficiently. When it comes to oil paints, you’ll be in good hands with walnut or poppy oil. These slow-drying mediums give you more time to blend the same area repeatedly.
Acrylic painting is more challenging due to how fast the paints dry. However, a drop or two of a slow-drying medium will give you a few more minutes.
The fan brush is helpful for creating gradient blending for smaller areas. You can lightly ‘dust’ along an area to blur edges together.
Gradient blending is the go-to method for creating seamless transitions on skin, such as the blush in someone’s cheeks. It’s also ideal for recreating sunsets and sunrises.
9. Wet on Wet
Last but not least, the wet-on-wet brush stroke is commonly used for optical color mixing. You can also use it for smudging, which I love for lending more personality to a painting.
Wet on wet is seen in all painting mediums. For starters, watercolor uses wet on wet for blending and to fill in large areas of a page. Since watercolor doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for fixing mistakes, this medium will be a delightful challenge.
The acrylic painting wet on wet is an ideal way to blend since the paint dries so fast. Once it’s dry, you’ll have to create a new wet layer on top. This paint tends to be more forgiving to beginners since you can simply paint over any mistakes.
Gouache’s wet on wet is tricky. While acrylic dries permanently, adding water can make gouache wet again. If you don’t want to blend an area, you’ll have to apply a layer of paint without any water.
Oil’s wet on wet painting technique is also a little tricky. Fat on lean is a process you need to learn to extend the longevity of your painting. This technique means adding a little more oil for each new layer of paint you put down.
Brush Strokes are Essential to Develop Any Painting Style
When you pick up your paint brushes, you open up a world of possibilities to translate your vision to the page. Brush techniques help you narrow things down to create a smoother and more enjoyable experience.
Once you have practiced some of these techniques, read this article to learn how to apply them to signing your paintings!
You don’t have to learn all these techniques alone, either. New Masters’ Academy is an online resource that provides classes, instructor critique, and a thriving community.