On home improvement shows, the host always tells you that the ability to do any job well requires the proper tools. Many makeup application techniques require specific tools, too!

Just as hardware stores have a dizzying array of power and hand tools to choose from, the number of available makeup tools appears endless. MAC, for example, has 14 brushes for applying and blending eye shadow alone and 8 just for lining the eyes! Add blush, powder and lip brushes and you could be looking at upwards of 3 dozen brushes taking up valuable space on your bathroom vanity.

Of course you don't have to buy every brush for every specific application technique, but there are some basic brushes you need in your arsenal to give the best results with some products. Buying the best brushes possible doesn't have to be an expensive proposition, either, as you'll learn later on.

In recent years, makeup companies have been touting brushes designed just to appy foundation. They claim that using this particular brush will give you a smoother application with a flawless finish, but you can put me in the camp of those who believe that foundation brushes are not necessary. The advantages of this brush are that it can reduce your use of liquid foundation and using it helps prevent bacteria getting into the bottle or tube.

Notable makeup artists Bobbi Brown and Sonia Kashuk recommend applying liquid foundation with your fingertips and working the product into your skin. Pat the foundation on, don't pull at your skin. Put it only where you need it and add more where you think it's necessary -- over blemishes and around the nose.

For cream and powder foundations, a latex sponge is recommended, though a foundation brush is popular for applying these. Don't use the small sponges that come in the compact. Larger ones are available in bulk at many drug and beauty supply stores. Make sure they are latex (unless you are allergic); sea sponges absorb too much product and other types disintegrate quickly. My favourite is a large oval shape. It's great for blending out foundation after application.

Concealer can be applied with small, pointed sponges or a brush designed just for this purpose. However, I find most makeup brushes sold for this application to be too small to be useful. My first was 3mm wide (.11 inch) tapering to 1mm (.03 inch) at the tip. I replaced it with one 5mm (.19 inch) tapering to 3mm (.11 inch).

Two brushes that every make up aficonado needs in her collection are a medium fluff brush for powder blush and a very large fluff brush for powder. Blush brushes come in round or slightly angled styles -- they're equally good, let personal preference be your guide. However, when selecting a blush brush, don't choose one too large. You want to concentrate blush on the apples of your cheeks and along the cheekbone, not brush it everywhere.

When choosing a powder brush, look for very soft bristles about 50 mm/2 inches long. A full, round, slightly-domed shape is ideal. This can be used for applying both loose and pressed powder.

To work on your eyes, you really only need three brushes: a medium shadow brush with sturdy bristles, a larger shadow brush with very soft bristles to use for blending, and a small angled hard bristle brush to use for lining and to fill in eyebrows. For those of you who like liquid liners, a very long, thin-bristled brush should be in your kit. If you tend to layer colours on your eyes on a regular basis, you will want to have more than one shadow brush in your collection (or wash daily!). Short-handled brushes are easier to work with than those with long handles.

A lip brush will complete your collection. These really do tend to give better application of lipstick, and are a very good investment for the lipstick junkie. I've had my MAC # 316 travel lip brush for more than 5 years.

Proper care of your makeup brushes will help them last longer. Wash them with a gentle soap or shampoo, using warm water. Lather once, working the soap into the bristles, then rinse until the water runs clear. Carefully reshape the bristles and dry FLAT! Never dry them standing up -- the brushes will lose their shape if you do.

In professional brushes, popular models are MAC, Bobbi Brown, Trish McEvoy and Sonia Kashuk at Target.

With the cost of a single shadow brush ranging from $18US at MAC to $32US at Kevyn Aucoin and higher for face brushes, gathering together a collection can be an expensive proposition.

This is why most of my makeup brushes come from the art supply store. Artist brushes are designed for constant use, so they will last as long as any makeup brush. Long handles can be easily cut down and sanded to fit your hands. And the price is right! The suggested retail price of my favourite eyeshadow brush -- Maxine's Mop 3/8” size from Loew-Cornell -- is $3.95 US. Michaels Craft Stores regularly discount their open stock artist brushes -- sometimes by as much as 50%.
Most high-end makeup brushes are made of natural animal hair -- some may have a mix with synthetic fibres -- usually Taklon. Natural fibres, goat, pony, squirrel and sable are best for use with makeup. As almost every type of makeup available has some type of oil in it, when buying brushes at the craft store, look for those designed for use with oil paints.<

With great brushes to guide you, your finished face can become your own personal masterpiece!