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Flat Brush

Stunning red roses on fabric

Most of the projects I teach my students are painted in class on wood or MDF (medium density fibreboard).

Having said that, the beauty of what I teach in my decorative painting classes is that you can paint the same subject matter on many other different surfaces. The medium we use – acrylic paint – is very versatile and can be used to paint on canvas, metal, leather, fabric, even candles and plastic!

Today I had a class with a student who had a red piece of linen-like fabric on which she wanted to paint roses. When completed she would have the painted fabric fitted onto the cover of a tea-box which she will give to her sister for Christmas. I suggested really red roses and she loved the idea. Red is after all, very festive this time of year.

Really red roses on red linen

The finished painting was really very nice, bravo! I’m sure her sister will be very proud to receive such a nice piece of work, and for sure its going to be a family heirloom!

Painting on fabric is an easily learned skill, especially if you have painted the subject matter on a wooden item before.

Some things to note about painting on fabric are as follows:

Your fabric should, preferably, be “mounted” onto a piece of cardboard. This serves two purposes – firstly, your fabric won’t move around when you scrub your strokes, and secondly, the cardboard absorbs the paint that seeps through the fabric. I use masking tape and this is easily removed once the painting is completed.

As with painting on wood, you can trace your pattern onto your fabric using the regular transfer paper or if you prefer, the transfer paper specifically produced for fabrics. You would buy this in a haberdashery. Of course you can also free-hand a design onto your fabric using a water soluble pencil or fabric pencil.

Pattern hand-drawn and painting begins!

The brush is normally “scrubbed” into the fabric otherwise the paint doesn’t get transferred to the fabric – so you would need a flat or angle brush with stiffer bristles than those used for painting on wood.

With fabric medium, the paint is easily scrubbed into the fabric

Because I paint mainly with acrylic paint, I have never tried fabric paint to paint any of my designs on fabric. I simply use my acrylic paint with a fabric medium and it works out really great. I can use my favourite colours and apply my colour palettes to any of the projects I want to paint.

There are many different brands available on the market but I have used DecoArt Americana fabric medium as well as Jo Sonja’s textile medium and both convert acrylic paint into a fabric paint which easily penetrates and bonds with fabric. Both are permanent on the fabric once heat-set and the painted fabrics are hand-washable.

Once painted, your fabric needs to be heat set to create permanence. Heat setting also softens your painted fabric.

Its easy to have a go at fabric painting: all you need are your decorative painting instructions, a piece of fabric, an old shirt or T-shirt, you acrylic paints and some fabric medium and you’re all set!

Mastering side loading

Side-loading is a very important decorative painting skill and many of my students still find it a little daunting when a project involves side-loading!

All I can say is – everything is easy if you know how and that applies to panting skills too.

What is side loading?

Side loading is one of the principle methods for applying acrylics. A side loaded brush has paint on only one side for placing graduated colour. This technique is sometimes referred to as floating colour. And indeed, the paint should float on a layer of water in order to dry smoothly. Side loads are used to place shading, highlighting and accent colours within the design. The contrast between light and dark values creates depth in the painting. Like other painting techniques, side loading requires practice to master.

Sharyn Binam, CDA, author of “The Sideload Book”

That’s right. Practise. Practise. Practise. There’s no running away from practise.

Basic side loading involves loading a flat brush with paint on one edge of the brush and water on the other edge. I usually tell my students to use the biggest brush possible for the project. A small brush is more difficult to load….that is until you master the technique. The brushes I use the most for floating are the 1/2” angle or #10 flat. But get a 3/4” angle and save it for floating – you’ll never regret it.

23-Carat Tulips on Desk Box

Side loading was the major technique used in painting this tulips deskbox project. The floating technique was used here to layer the highlights to create depth and the “light within” effect.

The key points for a successful float (other than perfecting the technique of course!) are:

  • a flat or angle brush in PERFECT condition – in other words, like new, with a perfect chisel edge
  • clean water always for dressing the brush
  • a clean wet palette for blending the brush to dress it
  • fresh paint – certainly without lumps. Leftover paint is not advisable
  • less is better – use very little paint to load your brush

Start by dampening the brush in clean water. Blot the excess by touching the brush only once on each side on a folded paper towel. Pick up a small amount of paint with one corner of the brush. Hold the brush vertically and blend the paint into the brush by pulling a short strip on your palette towards you. This is called the “blending strip” and it shouldn’t be more than 1”. Maintain the brush position and push and pull the brush back and forth so that you spread the paint across the brush and create the dark-to-light gradation.

A good side-loaded brush will have colour on one side diminishing gradually to nothing on the other side.

If the colour has travelled completely to the other side you will have a strip colour when you paint the float. When that happens you must wash the brush and dress it all over again.


No, we’re not talking about swimming here! “Floating” in decorative painting refers to the application of colour to an object to create shadows and highlights.

It is a basic skill decorative artists learn so that they can paint realistic, three-dimensional objects. This skill is used in painting many subjects including fruits, flowers, inanimate objects, even teddy bears.

What are shadows and highlights anyway? In painting, there is something called the “light source” which is basically something the designer or you yourself can decide. It is the direction in which light is coming from in your painting. This determines where the shadows and highlights will fall—shadows occur in parts which are hidden from the light and highlights occur in the brightest parts where light hits the object.

Floating colour is done by loading a flat or an angle brush with colour on only one side. Only a little colour is applied to the brush. The brush is then blended back and forth on a palette until the brush paints a stroke which ranges from a solid colour of the paint on one end of the brush hairs fading into nothing at the other end. This colour is then “floated” on the object usually at the relevant edges where you want to create the shadow or highlight.

The colours used depend on the object being shaded or highlighted. Highlights are floated in colours lighter than the base colour of the object and shadows, with colours darker than the base colour.

Floating applied to a fruits design

This fruits project illustrates the use of the floating technique to create shadows and highlights.

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