Dry brush is a painting technique in which a small amount of paint is put on a dry paintbrush. No water or medium other than paint is used to wet the brush. This technique can be achieved with both water-based media, such as acrylic paint, tempura, or watercolor; and oil-based paint. However, dry brushing is most often used with watercolor paintings. It is not difficult to learn how to accomplish dry brushing techniques, but most people find it easier to experiment until comfortable using this method.
When using the dry brush method with water-based paints, the brush should be dry or somewhat damp prior to loading it with paint. It is then applied to a dry support or platform. In addition to paper, it is possible to dry brush on wood, plaster of Paris castings, papier-mâché, and other similar items. Dry brushing with watercolor is oftentimes used to create a scratchy, rough-textured appearance. In water paintings, dry brush techniques are employed most often on objects like foliage, bark, stones, clouds, etc.
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With oil-based media, a similar dry brush technique is used. However, after loading the brush with paint, it should be squeezed dry of oil or solvent. The use of dry brushing with oil paint is often achieved while painting portraits. It is used to create highlights, and when applied over wet paint, creates smooth passages within the painting. Brushing or blending over wet strokes is usually not recommended, as it takes oil paint longer to dry and also requires great skill to implement this dry brush technique effectively.
For the most part, dry brushing is fairly simple; however, learning this technique takes practice. Generally, a stiff bristle brush works best. The brush is usually dipped about an inch or less into the paint media—just enough to dampen the brush. It should not become soaked or overly saturated. In fact, it normally helps to dab the paintbrush onto a paper towel or simply pick up only minimal color at a time.
Once the brush is prepared, it is basically skimmed across the paper. The harder it’s pressed, the more color results; however, dry brush strokes will gradually build up in color and texture. Color plays an important role in dry brushing. Depending on the object, it should be dry brushed with a contrast color that enhances the item. Typically, one uses a light contrast for a dark color or a dark contrast for a light color.