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How to Use a Fan Brush for Painting?

how to use a fan brush for painting

If you are a beginner at painting, you are probably wondering how to use a fan brush for painting. The weird shape of this brush makes it quite a mystery for most beginners, so they tend to avoid getting one. However, if you know what it can do, you will surely love it.

This article will teach you the different things that you can do with a fan brush. You will also learn what to use instead of a fan brush for painting in the absence of one. Once you finish reading this, you will want to place an order for a new fan brush yourself.

What is a Fan Brush?

Before you learn how to use a fan brush for painting, you should know what it is. The nice thing about fan brushes is that you won’t mistake them for other brushes even if you haven’t seen one before.

These are brushes that have spread out bristles in the shape of a semicircle. The way the bristles fan out from the ferrule is the reason for its namesake.

What to Prepare:

  • Fan brush or two of different sizes
  • Your choice of paint (acrylic, oil, watercolor, etc.)

Dry Brushing with a Fan Brush

Dry brushing is when you only want to put a bit of paint on the brush and apply it loosely to the canvas.

Step 1: Load the Brush with Paint

Take a dry fan brush and touch the tips in the paint a couple of times. The paint should be a bit on the firm side with the consistency of soft butter. The paint should only sit on the tips of the bristles.

Step 2: Touch the Canvas and use Short Strokes

You can either brush or press the bristles into the canvas. The idea behind this is to create unique and seemingly random patterns and textures. You can also use this technique when you need to make a lot of small marks quickly. It is also ideal when planning to create various effects, including flowers, grass, and leaves on a tree.

It will take a bit of practice to know if you have enough paint on the brush but with practice, it will soon be second nature to you. When in doubt, it is always to have less paint than too much. You can always add more paint, though, this is kind of hard to remove excess.

Striping with a Fan Brush

This is a technique that allows you to create varied stripes of different widths. You can use this when you want to create grass, hair, fur, or any other similar textures.

Step 1: Separate the Bristles

Soak the brush bristles so that they separate into random chunks. You can pat the bristles on a rag to remove excess water.

Step 2: Load the Bristles with a lot of Paint

Dip the brush into some paint. This will work best if you thin out the paint a bit with some water or thinner.

Step 3: Drag the Brush Across the Canvas

Now pull the brush across the canvas. You will be making several stripes of different widths. Furthermore, you can make the lines thicker or thinner by varying the pressure you put on the brush.


If you have ever watched a Joy of Painting episode, then you know that Bob Ross is quite fond of using a fan brush. One of the things that he uses it for is to create flowing streams of water.

Step 1: Load the fan Brush with White Paint

When creating flowing water, you do not have to paint every little current. Just make it look like it is flowing. You need white paint to convey the shimmer on top of the water.

Step 2: Hold the Brush Sideways and Curl the Bristles up or down

Hold the brush sideways, pull it to the side slightly and then pull the brush up or down. This will create random feathering strokes. Aside from flowing water, you can also use this technique to draw different kinds of grass and other plants.

Multiple Colors

Because fan brushes are so wide, it is possible to load them with up to three different colors at a time. This is great when planning to create bark textures because you can apply both the base color and the highlights at the same time.

Step 1: Load the Brush with Paints

Soak the fan brush in some water and tap out the excess water on a rag. The bristles should be sticking together as much as they can.

Next, dip one side of the brush into one color. This will be the base color of whatever it is you are painting. After that, dip the other side of the brush into a similar color, but with a lighter value. This will serve as the highlight.

Step 2: Apply the Paint to the Canvas

The important thing when using a fan brush to apply multiple colors is that you need to hold the brush at the same position regardless of whatever direction you are pushing the brush. This will ensure that the colors are still distinct.

You can also dab the colors onto the canvas. This provides a nice texture with multiple colors going on at the same time. However, you should do this sparingly. Do it too much and the colors will start to blend.

What to Use Instead of a Fan Brush for Painting?


If you do not have a fan brush yet but you want to get a somewhat same effect, you can use a flat brush. On the other hand, you can turn one of your old paintbrushes into a homemade fan brush.

What You Need to Prepare:

  • An old paintbrush
  • Waterproof glue
  • Tin snips
  • Masking tape

Step 1: Trim the Ferrule

Grab a sharp, small pair of tin snips or wire cutters. Make a slit along the sides of the ferrule, around 10mm deep is enough. This is where the bristles will fan out to the sides.

Step 2: Fan out the Bristles

Grab the bristles at the side of the brush and push them out of the slits in the ferrule. Try to make the bristles resemble a fan as much as you can.

Step 3: Apply Glue at the Base of the Bristles

Carefully apply a liberal amount of glue at the base of the bristles. Try to keep the glue from getting too far down the bristles. Just keep the bristles from going back to their original positions.

Step 4: Pin Down the Bristles

Place the brush on a non-stick surface, like a plastic sheet, or on top of a bit of wax paper. Secure the bristles in place using strips of masking tape. Make sure that the bristles will not be moving while you are waiting for the glue to dry completely.

Step 5: Trim the Bristles

Once the glue is dry, remove the masking tape and inspect your new fan brush. If you want, you can use a small hammer to flatten the end of the ferrule, right at the base of the bristles to make the bristles fan out more. You can also trim the tips of the bristles to your desired shape.


The fan brush is one of the staple brushes that should be in all artists’ arsenal. If you know how to use a fan brush for painting, that one brush can help you create a multitude of different objects. It is one of the most versatile paint brushes ever.

Now that you know the basics of using a fan brush, you should get one as soon as you can and start practicing. You will wish that you’d gotten it sooner.