Try using a Single Brush to do a painting.
By Ed Bertolet
Using a single brush to do a painting will do two things for you... it will keep your work loose by preventing you from attempting too many fussy and distracting details thus allowing you concentrate only on the basics. And, it will provide you the opportunity for exploring the surprisingly large number of strokes and effects which can be achieved with only a single brush. I think you might be surprised at how well this painting will turn out.
For this exercise I recommend using a No. 8 or 10 flat (or filbert). Depending on the size of your canvas, you can go up or down a size, but no more than that. I also strongly suggest you leave all your other brushes in the car and take only the one brush with you to the easel as the temptation to use a smaller brush will be overwhelming and you will not be able to resist it. Trust me on this!
The Grip and Motion
First, hold the brush near the end, away from the ferrule and bristles. Don’t hold it like you would a pencil, as that grip is too restrictive and will not allow you the variety of stroke or freedom of movement you will need to be successful. Grip it more in the manner a symphony conductor would grip the baton. Use your whole arm to move the brush, not only your wrist and fingers.
You will be drawing, daubing, twirling, scumbling, dragging, and "carving out" lines, shapes and textures. Imagine yourself as a conductor and the painting as an orchestra!
Lightly pulling (not too much pressure) the brush on its edge will give you a nice line. Twirling the brush as you pull it will give you a wavy thick-thin line.
You may also vary the width of the line by the angle of the brush until it is as thick as the width of the bristles.
Daub and pull, then daub and lift and look at the difference results these two different strokes produce.
Try twirling the brush as you apply the paint - it will give you some marvelous effects you can use for foliage or swirling water.
"Smooshing" the brush down will also provide a different effect than twirling or daubing.
Using a single brush will also help you understand the importance paint viscosity plays in the nature of the brushstroke made (imagine a paint consistency of either cream or molasses). Start with thin paint on and work up to thicker paint as you finish up (the fat over lean you are always reading about).
It might help your confidence if you experimented with the different methods of application on a small “test” canvas before beginning your actual painting.
Good luck, and have fun with this.
The two following examples are very different in approach, subject and feeling but both painted with one brush!
This was a fun little alla prima painting done with one brush by artist Heidi Malott.
This painting was done with one brush by Russian artist Sergei Postinkov.