A few years ago, a video of Joan Collins randomly came across one of my social-media feeds. She was applying her makeup during an interview at some point in the mid-’80s. There’s this one part where she says, “I use brushes from the art store.” At the time, I didn’t take it seriously, but I thought more and more about it later on in my career when I started using fewer powder-based products and more liquid and cream products.
Generally speaking, when you’re working with products that have a liquid or cream texture, you want to apply them to the skin with brushes made from synthetic fibers, meaning fibers not sourced from animal hair. Most of my professional makeup brushes are made with animal fibers. Those kinds of brushes are good for powder products because they’ll hold on to the powder so you don’t get what’s called fallout, when the pigment goes everywhere. Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, are not as porous as animal fibers. They repel liquid rather than hold on to it, which means instead of the brush absorbing that liquid product, synthetic fibers get more of it onto the skin. Synthetic brushes from your favorite beauty brands come with a markup, and art-supply-store brushes are much more affordable.
Collins’s hack started making sense to me. I went into Blick one day and started playing around. I found all these unique brush shapes that would give me a lot more control over liquid products than standard professional makeup brushes could accommodate.
I now have four art-supply brushes in my rotation. I probably use them more than my other brushes because they’re less expensive; I don’t feel like I’m exploiting them when I use them over and over again; and they get the job done. They’re the first brushes in my kit to be dirty. They’re all from the brand Princeton, and they are all watercolor brushes. (Oil and acrylic paintbrushes tend to have very long handles; they’re usually pretty far away from your canvas, whereas the watercolor-brush handles are much more comparable to a regular makeup brush, so they’re a little bit easier to control.)
The only downside is they don’t last as long as my professional brushes. In my line of work, brushes will get cleaned with a very harsh professional-grade makeup solvent two, three, four, five times a day, and then shampooed at the end of every day, and then sanitized with a rubbing alcohol. So synthetic brushes aren’t as resilient as some of my Japanese professional makeup brushes. Still, if you just need a brush with a very specific shape to get a very specific effect, I think that it justifies the pretty low cost and maybe short shelf life.
This is my No. 1 brush that I use from Princeton. It’s actually a mixture of natural and synthetic fibers, which is probably why I enjoy it the most. It has a nice shape for applying cream products like Danessa Myricks Beauty Pigment to the dome of the eye. It just tugs the surface nicely, and I’ve never seen a makeup brush that’s shaped quite like this. It can nicely and precisely place the color on the outer half of the eyelid or the inner half, so it’s useful for creating what I always call a halo eye or Bambi eye, where it’s darker at the inner and outer corners and nice and bright through the middle. It’s great for a really saturated look, too, because it’s going to put down a lot more product than a regular makeup brush. It’s definitely the kind of thing you would use for a look you want to last all night and will remain visible even in the most overexposed lighting.
The No. 6 Filbert brush — she’s more of a powerhouse. It’s great for applying lipstick, eye shadow, and, if you’re into this kind of look, carving out the arch of an eyebrow. I’ve also found that it can be useful for creating a nice, clean contour line, especially down the sides of the nose. It’s wonderful for doing a cut crease as well. This brush has what’s called a crimped ferrule, meaning the silver part that holds the brush hairs is pressed down flat, and it’s got a long, thin fiber bundle with a rounded top. I find that I use more and more brushes that are more paddle-shaped the more experienced I get because they put down color really quickly and keep it saturated. They keep the edges clean so that you can blur, or you can keep them nice and crisp, depending on the mood of the look.
This is just a mini-version of the No. 6. It has a much smaller fiber bundle, which makes it great for an even more precise lip application. I find myself reaching for this one when I’m doing the outer corners of the mouth, to really place color precisely there, or for applying just the perfect amount of highlight near the tear ducts of the eye. It really grabs that little area nicely. This one is also great if someone has a very narrow eyelid, where you can’t really do a cut crease with a wider fiber bundle.
Overall, this brush is great for blending. It has a stubby, domed, almost pencil-like tip, which is great for blending out a drop shadow — the eye shadow under the lower lash line when you’re doing a smoky eye. It’s also good for blending out lipstick and for doing very specific spot concealing. If you have a blemish in one area, this gets that very small area covered without replacing one problem with another. When you have one of these very specific needs and you need a brush that’s gonna do just the right thing, the art-supply store is probably the place to go because they have a whole buffet of options you can choose from and you can probably find just the right thing for what you’re looking for.
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