A Well-Shaped Tracing Brush

Here’s what to do when you need to use a tracing brush to paint a really fine line:

  1. Load your brush by twizzling it in the paint as usual
  2. Then draw your tracing brush against the palette and twirl it as you go so that the hairs all roll up like a rolled-up umbrella

This gives a beautiful point to the tips of the hairs.

A well-shaped tracing brush

A well-shaped brush

It also slows down the descent of paint, because the paint must now go round and round in a spiral (rather than dropping straight down the vertical hairs of your tracing brush).

Here’s a close-up shot. Look at the umbrella-like shape. Look at the pointed tip of the brush.

See how, with a shape like this, the paint must go round and round until it reaches the glass?

Imagine the delicate line that it’ll paint.

Gorgeous!

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20 thoughts on “A Well-Shaped Tracing Brush

  1. Will you recommend some good tracing brushes? What size do you usually use? Right now I’m using a set endorsed by Peter McGrain and they seem to be fine. I just wanted to know if there are any on the market that you prefer.

    Donna Helms

    • Hi Donna,

      Thanks for your question and comment. We ourselves mainly use the same tracing brushes as water-colour painters would use.

      The small sizes (00, 0, 1 and 2) end in a good point, and they aren’t prone to radical hair-loss. These smaller sizes are the ones we mainly use for copy-tracing and for strengthening lines. We use the larger sizes (3 through to 7) mainly for half-tones, and, whilst some of them have pointed ends, some of them have chisel-shaped ends.

      Most of our own tracing brushes happen to be made by A.S. Handover in London (series 99), but there’s nothing inherently magical about them. They just have a good point and don’t lose too much hair. (Handover’s website unfortunately isn’t very good. So if anyone’s interested, I’d suggest asking them for a mail order catalogue, and ordering over the telephone.)

      I hope this helps.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  2. I once took sumi-e painting lessons with a Japanese tutor. He taught me how to use the special sumi-e brushes and I have never used any other brush since then.

    They are sold in Chinese and Japanese shops, and there is bound to be one that you especially like.

    The special tracing brushes have long hairs and they will let you paint long lines in one flow of the brush.

    All the best,
    Ellen Goldman

  3. What a wonderful photo and explanation! I hadn’t really thought of the spiral effect, but it does make perfect sense. Thank you!

  4. As an amatuer with pretensions I have found your guides and tips to be invaluable in my etching pursuits.

    I work primarily with an Ammonium Biflouride goo which precludes the use of brushes and is of an entirely different consistencey from the stains which you employ with such great skill. In fact the etched images I enjoy are in many ways the polar opposite of your dark lines, which seek to restrain light in order to reveal the luminous spaces in between. The etched line is more a mirage which comes and goes from sight depending on the momentary angle and conditions of the illumination.

    In spite of all this I take such great joy in studying your techniques and tutorials and dream of someday joining you across the pond to paint with stain.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    William (of Whitehorse Studios)

  5. Hello William,

    Thanks for your comment. I perfectly understand – and indeed I also salute – your interest in techniques even though you don’t have a current use for them.

    “Nourishment” from various sources is such a good way of keeping our minds stimilated and alert to the potentials of our craft.

    All the best,
    Stephen

  6. 3 weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure to spend a wonderful weekend with you. As I mentioned to you there I almost didn’t make it but I’m very glad I pushed it because it was a great experience. I had the opportunity to received extraordinary teaching and as a bonus I’ve got to enjoy your company and the students’, and I also had the chance to visit that beautiful part of the country. As I said, it was a remarkable weekend from which I’ll always be thankful to you.
    Having said that, I’m ready to start practicing some serious stained glass painting and I’m about to order brushes form Peli and have them sent over to the US. However, regarding paint I might just follow your advice and order it from a supplier here in America. Do you know any?
    Best regards,
    Consuelo sierra

    • Hi Consuelo,
      Thanks for your message.
      It was also a great honour and pleasure for us to meet you.
      And we hope to meet you again.
      Now you ask where to get Reusche glass paints now that you’re back in the US.
      Reusche themselves have a minimum line order of 8 ounces, which, if you know you’re going to continue with glass painting, is certainly fine for tracing black.
      But as you know it’s also a good idea to mix in some bistre brown (one reason being, the two paints slowly separate, which serves as a visual reminder to you to mix and re-mix them all the time).
      And if you’re happy to get 8 ounces from Reusche, that’s your call.
      There are suppliers who will sell you smaller amounts of course.
      There’s a list on Reusche’s website.
      Their catalogue is here.
      All the best,
      Stephen
      PS Will you please e-mail me your new address and I will send you the glass you painted when you were with us.
      PPS I hope you are all happy in your new home.

  7. Sirs, being new to your newsletter and great! tutorial, I have a question that may have been answered. The dregs left over in the dipping glass, can they be reconstituted after drying, or are they too contaminated?

  8. Spin!

    Please excuse the delay in replying but yes indeed everything can be re-used. There need be no wastage. That said, at the end of a day’s painting, it is always important to do everything you can to keep the paint fresh for the next time you’ll use it. So, a damp natural sponge on top of the paint: a lid on top of the sponge and the paint: a damp brush to seal the lid to the palette. There’s a coming newsletter which shows one way to reconstitute dried paint. But I need to say, each time it’s different. The main thing is, never ever to add too much water.

    All the best,
    Stephen

  9. I follow the flock by saying “Great tip!” – truly!

    But what to do when your brush looks more like a second-hand broom than anything else?

    I lately found out that I’m also suffering from that ‘buy-always-“better”-brush’ disease you wrote about recently. I can’t stop trying to get the perfect brush …

    Can you tell some more about the maintenance of the brush?

    Do you trim and twirl your brush back in shape again ?

    And how the holy stained Lord does that point keep so stiff? (Is it camel hair?)

    Namaste,
    Ulysses

  10. I just want to say that even after designing and placing 20 windows in a Church in Ottawa, I learn a lot from you: thanks for all your good advice.

    Will Dekker

    • Hello Will,

      Thanks!

      I reckon the willingness to listen and learn divides us into two groups of glass painters, and it doesn’t matter whether someone’s a beginner or a professional.

      Some beginners want to bodge and rush; and so they won’t give what it takes to learn – whereas others listen and pay attention and join in here (because they understand that good advice is helpful).

      And some professionals believe they know enough, so they too won’t give what it takes to learn – whereas you and many other people join in here (because there’s always something more).

      My best wishes to you and every other glass painter who understands how the windows we make live after us, so it is important they are the best we can make.

      Stephen

  11. Many thanks for the tips. Am in the process of uprating my kiln controller
    from “near enough” to “almost accurate” – then I can make full use of your information.

    Regards,
    Bill J.