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Hake Brush

We all have our favorite brushes - ones for big, calligraphic marks, ones for tiny fine details, others for precise, geometric shapes, some for big even washes - the list goes on and on. When I think which brushes I’d consider my favorites probably the last one to come to mind would be the Hake Brush, but it probably does more work than all my other brushes combined.


It never gets dipped in water or paint, but is used dry directly on the painting. This is probably not the intended use for such a brush, but I find it works like a magic wand for smoothing out washes, getting rid of blooms, adjusting the intensity of washes and generally keeping things under control. Lets look in more detail at what this brush is and the tricks it can perform.

Hake Brushes
What is a Hake Brush?

The traditional Hake brush has a raw wooden handle and fine, soft , goat hair bristles bound and glued into a split in the wood. They tend to shed hairs initially, but a couple of gentle washes usually gets rid of most of the loose hairs.


There are pig bristle brushes that look similar to the goat hair hake, but they will not perform near as well. The brushes are designed for producing large, even washes, but, for me, their real value comes from using them dry. I always have a piece of old towel to constantly dry the Hake bristles, as once wet they will no longer soak up moisture and smooth out problems.

Drying a Hake Brush
Smoothing out a wash with a Hake Brush

A rough wet wash can quickly be made flat and even by carefully feathering over it with a dry hake. The strokes are made in different directions and barely any pressure is applied. The brush is dried on a towel between strokes.


What happens is the goat hair bristles quickly soak up moisture and move pigment particles around as you make the strokes. As soon as the wash is even, stop brushing. In this example the uneven patchiness is completely removed with a few gentle strokes of the Hake brush.

Before Feathering with a Hake Brush

Softening a Mark with a Hake Brush

Here a wet mark is gently brushed back along its length to lift pigment and soften the trailing end. Again the brush is completely dry and kept so by rubbing on a towel during the process. This is a handy technique to draw attention to one end of a mark, leading the eye back to a focal point.

Before Feathering with a Hake Brush

Removing Blooms with a Hake Brush

If you have ever dropped water into an almost dry wash you will know the feeling of panic and frustration as you watch the gathering ring of pigment float and intensify as the paper dries. If you catch this problem while everything is still damp, a gentle working over with a dry hake brush will magically make the blemish disappear. The secret is to keep the brush dry and very gently and quickly feather it in different directions to smooth out the pigment.

Blooms Before Feathering with a Hake Brush

Dragging Reflections with a Hake Brush

This example shows the stumps of an old jetty. A simple way to suggest reflections is to wet the area under the, still wet, stumps and gently drag a dry Hake brush vertically down over the marks. Several gentle strokes should be enough to drag the suggestion of reflections into the water.

Graded Side Washes with a Hake Brush

I often use graded side washes to concentrate light around the focal area. This requires big wet washes graded over a thoroughly dry under painting. The washes are applied, with as little agitation as possible, using a bristle or taklon brush, then gently adjusted with a dry hake. It is important not to stir things up too much or the under painting will be disturbed. A soft Hake, gently applied is ideal for this.

In this painting a cool Grey  wash was graded over both sides of the painting to intensify the contrast in the focal area. Smoothing the wash with a dry Hake brush avoided any disturbance to the under painting.

A number of warm Grey washes were applied to the top right and bottom left corners of this painting, as was a thin layer of gesso. All these washes were gently feathered out with a dry hake brush to make subtle adjustments to the intensity of these areas.  This encouraged a band of diagonal detail through the work, focusing attention down in the focal area.

Remember, the secret to using a Hake is to keep it always dry and use very delicate, gentle strokes. Amazingly, the brush stays very clean. I wash mine out with soapy water about once a month

Given the choice of just one brush, a hake might not be the brush you wish to be stranded on a deserted island with, but once you get used to a Hake, you would feel very lonely without it.

Author: John Lovett

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