Rigger Brush Tips from Artist Tina Jones

Tips for Painting with a Rigger Brush

Rigger or liner brush tips
Photo ©2012 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

A rigger brush is a like a brush equivalent of an ink pen. Perfect for painting delicate lines and dots, details such as hair and eyelashes. I hope this list of tips will help you discover the joys of using a rigger for yourself! Be a little patient when you start, as you're not scrubbing the paint onto the surface as when using oils with a stiff hair brush. It's more like tickling the surface.

1. Use Mixed Hairs
My favorite rigger brushes contain a blend of sable and synthetic hairs.

The former is great at holding lots of paint and the latter helping keeps the shape and strength. 

2. Size Does Matter
The riggers I use range from a 0 to a 4. The bigger the number, the more paint the brush will hold and the broader a line it can make. All, however, can be used to make very thin lines if you let only the tip touch the canvas.

3. Paint Consistency
Take the time to prepare the paint you’re going to use with a rigger. An ink-like consistency works best for this brush. I in fact often think of it as my brush equivalent to an ink pen. With watercolor or acrylics, thin the paint by dropping some water onto the palette next to your paint. Touch the tip of the brush in the paint and then move it across into the water; repeat until you get an opaque or near, ink-like paint. With acrylics, you can add glazing medium to make it flow better. I've even used craft mediums, but water alone will work.

For oil paint, I use the same technique but to increase the ease of flow in oils, add in some oil, such as linseed, or an alkyd medium such as Liquin, or odorless thinner.

4. Loading the Rigger Brush
Don’t be hesitant about getting paint onto the brush. Lay the entire side of the bristles in and roll the brush gently to absorb color.

Once it’s well covered with paint, and still rolling the brush in your fingers, begin to pull the brush out of paint, not by lifting it straight out, but by dragging it from the paint and onto your clean palette, and only then lifting. This encourages the paint into the tip of the brush hairs.

5. Eliminating Drips
If there’s a blob of paint sitting on the end of the bristles, touch the brush to your palette, roll and drag it until no drip remains. Be sure and check the ferrule too, as often a drop of water or turpentine there will come straight down the rigger and cause a blob of color where you want a fine mark. Dab these off on a paper towel or paint rag.

6. Hang Loose!
Don’t grip the brush tightly at the ferrule in the belief it’ll give you more control. It won’t. Hold the rigger loosely several inches up on the handle, which will not only give you better control of the brush but will keep your hand from blocking your view of what you’re painting.

7. Thin Lines
To paint thin, even lines, pull the tip of the rigger brush across the surface. For a broader line, lower the angle of the brush so you’re using the side of the brush not merely the tip. Resist the urge to press down with the brush.

Pulling the brush is what gets a consistent line.

8. Getting Dotty
To make tiny dots with a rigger, use only the tip of the brush in an up and down motion. Keeping the brush vertical will use gravity to continuously load the tip of the brush.

9. Treat a Rigger Kindly
It's worth spending the time to clean a rigger well, to get all the paint out the ferrule every time. Otherwise ​, it gradually builds up and clogs up the hairs.