Watercolor Brushes

Choosing a Good Watercolor Brush

By Rick Jones

It can be a daunting task just learning how to paint in watercolor. Finding the best brush for you can be almost as challenging. This article reviews most of the types of brushes used for watercolor painting and differentiates them from brushes used in other mediums.

A brush that holds a good load of pigment and water is essential. Select a brush made of natural hair that’s wider in the center and tapers to a fine point. Some natural hairs will do this better than others. Pure Kolinsky sable from the sable marten is the best. Its large belly and long, tapered hairs hold a lot of fluid. The hairs in these brushes come from the tail hairs of the male. For a truly satisfying watercolor painting experience, invest in a pure Kolinsky sable brush at some point. There are no better for watercolor painting. Unfortunately, pure Kolinsky sable was banned in the U.S.A in 2014. The animals had to be trapped and sacrificed for their hair. This activity still goes on, but it is the reason sable marten hair is now banned in America. True red sable from the sable marten is now only available where manufacturers had back stock that retailers have purchased and put on the shelves. Today’s Kolinsky sable comes from the tails of Siberian weasels. Still, they are fine brushes, and the animal isn’t sacrificed to harvest the hair.

But never fear, you can find good watercolor brushes without going all out for pure Kolinsky. These are squirrel, goat, horse and “camel” to name the rest of the naturals. Then there are the synthetics such as nylon, silicone, and faux this or faux that. Try as many as you can until you find what works best for you and your personal style. By the way, earlier you saw that I put camel in quotes. That is because camel hair brushes are made from other critters’ hair such as horse, goat, or squirrel. Also, many times these mixed hair brushes are just marketed as natural hair brushes. There is also ox, which comes from inside of cows ears. Sabeline is ox hair that has been bleached, then dyed to look like red sable.

There are other considerations when buying brushes including a well-made ferrule (the metal thing that holds the hairs), short or long handle (short is usually preferred by watercolorists), and handle material (wood or plastic). The ferrule should be put on, as well as the hairs, with waterproof glue. The handle should be sealed well if made from wood.

Your brushes will last for many years if you buy good quality and take good care of them. One more tip: brushes last far longer if you always pull, and never push them across the painting surface.

There are several brands of good quality brushes. In better art supply stores you can find Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher, Princeton, Simmons, and Liquitex, to name a few. Visit this link for more information: http://www.rfasupplies@gmail.com