Brush loading. Why be concerned about it? Isn’t loading a brush just loading a brush? Of course you know the answer isn’t simply no (or there would be no column on this topic)! While painting we often read or hear our teachers say, “Sideload your brush, blend it, walk it out…” before we apply the paint. If you don’t know what even one of those terms mean, you can end up with your paint too concentrated on one side of your brush. If your objective is a smooth, nicely blended painting–that can be detrimental. You can end up with globs, paint lines, and a “coloring book” effect rather than subtlety. In some styles of painting, that is exactly what you want, but the following addresses the steps you want to take to create a smoothly blended look.
CHOOSE A BRUSH: The size of the area to be painted will determine the size and type of your brush, and the amount of paint you load. Practice with different types of brushes: filberts, flats, and angle shaders.
SIDELOAD: Wet your brush with water to soften it, then tap it on a paper towel to remove the excess water. Dip the tip and one side of your brush into paint. Your paint should extend about a third of the way across the brush (for practice) and about halfway up the bristles—not up to the ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles).
BLEND IT: I usually hold my brush at a little more than a 90-degree angle to the palette when I am doing this. Simply move the brush from side to side, slightly picking it up at the end of each stroke and then going the other way. Your paint will start to move across more of your brush, but the greatest concentration will still be where you picked up the paint. This is what gives you that smooth and gradated application of paint, as the paint starts to naturally fade across your brush as you blend.
WALK IT OUT: Continue to blend the paint in your brush on the palette, but start to move the brush away from where you first touched down. For ease of explanation, let’s start in the middle of the palette and work our way down. The side that you loaded the paint on will face the top. As you move your brush back and forth and down your palette, the loaded side will still face the top. What you are doing is moving the paint through more of the brush, and extending that fade. This is especially useful when highlighting and shading, or when you are using a broad brush in a large area and need a large but subtle transition. Water or other mediums are your friend when blending!
CONTINUE TO PRACTICE: Use different sizes and types of brushes, and draw some shapes or objects on a piece of Bristol board: circles, ovals, pears, limes, flower petals, leaves, clouds, and horizon lines. Touch down on the inside edges of these shapes and pretend to shade them. In the photos, left, I am using sideloading to “clean” the edges of a leaf. Keep the paint-side against the leaf, and gently blend around it. In an actual painting, you would load your base-color in your brush. This technique will help you to correct the unwanted “fuzzy” edges of objects in your painting without creating paint ridges, and is another example of how to use sideloading in a practical application.
As you practice, work on each aspect and focus on the basics. By choosing the proper brush for the technique, sideloading correctly, and blending the paint correctly, you will achieve beautiful strokes that will lead to gorgeous paintings.