"I've been thinking a little about brushes" with John Worthington

Posted on June 02, 2020 by Hayley McMachan


I've been thinking a little about brushes recently...

Now that might seem like a slightly strange thing to say as a practising artist of many years standing, some years jumping and a few years of muddling, but in a way it's not...

Most artists of my acquaintance will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about paint and quite understandably, as paint is the stuff of art (or of painting anyway).

It's sexy and luscious or lean and austere, It can bring our work to life with fat impastos of heavy colour or finesse our creations into being with glazes and washes.

So we compare brands, think about relative viscosities, tweet and twitter our opinions dressed as fact (much as I am doing here). We elevate the notion of the value of the paint itself, romantically and sometimes for the sake of appearances. I'm thinking of our perceived appearances, more than anything else.

And yet it remains true that a lot of paint is very similar indeed.

Sorry, but it is.


Now there are exceptions. An Artists' grade colour from a good Colourman, (I still love that old term and try to slip it into conversation wherever possible in the forlorn hope of starting a renaissance) will probably and certainly should outperform a Student grade, synthetic equivalent. The absence of fillers or bulking agents should make itself evident when the colour is laid down.

But there are many suppliers of good quality product out there... How many of us can honestly judge an Old Holland colour against a Sennelier colour and tell the difference in terms of empirical quality ?.... I imagine fewer of us that might pretend to.

Subjective taste will play a huge role... We might just prefer colour A to Colour B. Or we might just find the tone or the hue or the consistency or the transparency more to our taste or more suited to how we see the look of our paintings developing. We might, ahem, just prefer the Graphic Design of one Brands' tubes over another's. Perish the thought.

So if we accept that more often than we might comfortably like, the paint that we are using is not perhaps performing so utterly differently from that other paint that we decided not to buy as it simply isn't our cherished brand of choice, what then does make the most difference to our humble and not so humble daubs ?

Surely, it is the brush, which is where I started from....

The brush we use will differentiate the mark we make and therefore make our paintings into our paintings more than any other factor.

True, this has to be allied with both our way of handling the brush and thereby the paint which is a combination of training, intuition and innate 'line'. Much like handwriting, every artist has his own line and it's not always linear.

It could be the distribution of light and shade, (I know the ratios that I am drawn to in other artist's work and that often appear in my own), or the shape of a straight(ish) line in pencil on a sheet of white paper. It could be argued that the hardest and hopefully most fun quest in an artist's career is the search for their 'line'.

But, I digress...

But just think of the trailing edge of a Short Flat brush with it's bluntness and obvious ' thereness'.

Then think of the gentle edge of a soft Round brush, it's line blending with the background.

A fan brush, used either low and flat or on edge will produce a staggering range of marks and that's not to even touch on Filberts, Riggers, Spotters, Hakes and the huge and wonderful variety of brushes which are out there and available to us all...

The brush we choose at every point of a painting has the capacity to change our work beyond our ability to see how we did the thing we did and isn't that why we paint?

Surely we paint because each time that we pick up a brush, there is always that chance that we might just surprise ourselves and go beyond what we were capable of doing. We might just make a better painting.

I can't think of much better than that feeling and I do believe that at the heart of that room for artistic improvement which I hope we all feel we have inside us, is our choice of brush.

And happily, there are so, so many choices available to us all...

Peace and Love.

John Worthington

John Worthington has work currently with :

Jonathan Cooper Gallery , London

Panter and Hall Gallery , London

Lilford Gallery, Canterbury

His work can be viewed and he can be contacted via www.johnworthingtonstudio.com

Posted in Artist, John Worthington