Basic Brush Stroke Tutorial

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The most widely accepted methods of teaching brush strokes involve the use of a flag on your brush handle and an imaginary clock to indicate direction or brush position.

First, flag your brushes. Cut out several triangles of cardstock or other stiff paper and scotch tape them to the tops of your brush handles. Which direction your flags point on your round brushes isn't important, but when flagging flat brushes the flag must be in line with the width of the brush. If the black bar in the clock to the right represents the bristles of your flat brush when held perpendicular to the clock surface, your flag should be pointing to 12 o'clock.


flagged brush handle       painting techniques, strokework


Next, find a comfortable position. Your painting surface should be about lap height when you are seated. That great painting table you bought last year is likely too high and will restrict your movement when doing stroke work. The keys to good brush strokes are that you be comfortable and relaxed with no strain on your neck or shoulder muscles. Working at lap height will allow for freer and more fluid movement of your hand, arm and shoulder. Your mileage, however, may vary and you should experiment with different positions to find the one that's most comfortable for you.

Your brush should be held perpendicular to the surface you're painting on, straight up and down, and should NOT be held at a slant like a pencil. Brush stroke movement should come from the shoulder and your entire arm should move through the stroke. Many artists recommend using your little finger to balance on, moving your little finger along with your arm through the stroke. Others recommend having no hand contact with the surface at all. Try it both ways and use whatever works best for you.

And, of course, always use quality brushes in excellent condition. Using brushes in poor condition, such as a round pointed brush whose point is no longer well defined, can be very discouraging and may cause you to give up on learning stroke work when, in fact, the brush is actually the problem.


The comma stroke in all its variations is one of the most useful strokes to learn. You can use a liner brush, a round brush or even a flat brush to make comma strokes and you can vary their appearance by using different sized brushes, by shortening or lengthening the "tail," applying more or less pressure, or by straightening or putting more "curve" in the belly. This example was done using a round brush.


right handed comma stroke


Load your brush and then pick up a little extra paint on the tip. Start the stroke at the head by applying pressure and pausing slightly to allow the brush hairs to fan out some. Begin pulling toward you, gradually releasing pressure as you reach the tail. Avoid sharp decreases in pressure and strive for a nice, smooth curve in the belly.

Now try a comma stroke in the opposite direction. left handed comma stroke

Now try a straight comma straight comma stroke


The S-stroke is another common stroke and, again, variations can be achieved by the type of brush you use, the size brush you use, and by altering the pressure or the length of the stroke. Again, S-strokes can be done with either a liner, a round or a flat brush, although a flat brush is best if you're just learning. This example was done using a flat brush.


s stroke


Start the S-stroke by placing your brush so that your flag is pointed at 1 o'clock. Slide on the chisel edge slightly toward 7 o'clock, gradually applying more pressure. While continuing to apply more pressure, gradually change directions to 5 o'clock. Then head toward 7 o'clock again, gradually releasing pressure. Stop on the chisel edge of your brush. Your flag should remain pointed at the 1 o'clock position throughout the stroke. Aim for smooth transitions in the stroke and avoid sharp angles.

Now try an s-stroke going in the opposite direction, starting at 11 o'clock and heading towards 5 o'clock. basic s-stroke

The crescent or c-stroke is commonly used in decorative painting for flower petals and decorative borders and is well worth the effort to learn. The c-stroke can be done with any size liner, round or flat brush. The first example was done with a flat brush.

flat brush c stroke

Start the c-stroke with your flag pointing to 11 o'clock, slide on the chisel edge, increase pressure as you near the top of the stroke, decrease pressure and slide on the chisel edge, coming to a stop with your flag pointing toward 1 o'clock. Your flag will rotate somewhat as you go over the top curve of the stroke.

Now try the c-stroke with a liner brush.

liner brush c-stroke

A few fun things you can do with these strokes:

comma stroke daisy, comma stroke daisies

 c stroke rosebuds, c-stroke rosebuds

painting borders

decorative borders

paint decoration

comma stroke mums


The more you practice your brush strokes, the more rewarding your results will be. Keep a brush, a bottle of paint and practice paper handy and practice as often as you can, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Keep your supplies by the phone and practice while you talk. If you're like me and cannot possibly do only one thing at a time, practice while you watch TV. Date your practice pages so you can refer back to them and chart your progress. And remember, your strokes don't have to be perfect. Minor variations give them character and make your painting unique :-)


 free decorative painting patterns

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