Watercolour Tip #4 – Brushes

September 27, 2017 by Diane Marcotte

As with choosing the right type of paper, it pays to buy the best brushes you can afford.  This does not mean you need Kolinsky Sable brushes!  In fact synthetic brushes are all you will ever need.

Type of Brush

For personal reasons I choose only synthetic brushes. To be considered artist-quality a brush must be strong, have a good ” spring” to it, and be able to retain its shape . It must also be able to hold a very fine point. The following brands meet all these requirements.

Recommended Brands (all brushes are synthetic)

Michael Wilcoxhttp://www.michaelwilcoxschoolofcolor.com/brushes/.  I’ve used a selection of his brushes for at least five years and they remain in excellent shape. Michael Wilcox says “Few artists realize that the Kolinsky is on the endangered species list. They should! If you wouldn’t wear it, why paint with it? For this reason, and because of the method of killing, we will only ever offer synthetic brushes. To this end we spent many years searching for an alternative to the animal product. A recent break-through by a small UK company has given us what we feel is a synthetic brush that is as close as it gets to the most expensive ‘Kolinsky’”.

Sterling Edwardshttp://sterlingedwards.com/workszoom/1450243. These brushes are amazing! Sterling Edwards says “These brushes reflect a lifetime of tinkering to find the best brush money can buy for easier blending and glazes. Most wash brushes hold lots of color but I wanted one that I could use on wet paper. The bristle hair holds a lot of paint but little water, so you can lay larger and bolder shapes into the wet paper. Cold Pressed and rough surfaces are lovely to work on but when I need to blend, I really need a brush that will work its way into the tooth of the paper. The stiffer bristles do this better than softer hairs. You’ll find them to be excellent for loosing edges and blending.”

Princeton’s Neptune™ – Synthetic Squirrelhttp://www.princetonbrush.com/neptune-series-4750-princeton-brush-company-brush-4750/.  I love the two that I have. The company says “When we set out to create a synthetic version of squirrel, we developed a brush that may actually outperform the natural version. Neptune™ is our softest and thirstiest synthetic brush, delivering oceans of color. Experts in natural hair have been incredulous that this is actually synthetic. We are proud to offer Neptune™ in a beautiful range of shapes including mottlers and quills with rich wood tones and sea glass aquarelle handles.”

There are many synthetic brushes available nowadays.  Please refer to an earlier post of mine for more suggestions at http://dianemarcotte.com/blog/animal-friendly-brushes/.

Common Shapes and Their Uses

Round – a round ferrule with a round or pointed tip. Comes in a variety of sizes and lengths.  Useful for detail work, washes, and thin to thick lines. They are the most versatile and widely used brush for watercolour painting.

Flat – a flat ferrule that is square-ended with medium to long hairs.  Great for bold sweeping strokes. Hold the brush on its edge for fine lines.

Bright – a flat ferrule with an inward curve at the tip. Width and length of brush head is about equal. Excellent for short controlled strokes.

Filbert – a thick flat ferrule with oval-shaped medium to long hairs. Great for blending.

Fan – a flat ferrule with spread hairs.  Good for texture work or creating grasses in a landscape.

Liner/Rigger – a round ferrule with narrow, very long hairs that come to a fine point.  Holds a lot of paint and is great for details and long continuous strokes.

Choosing a Size

A good range of round brushes is recommended, but buy brushes selectively depending on how you plan to use them. Sizes can differ among manufacturers but usually the larger the number the bigger the brush.  For beginners I would recommend buying three rounds – a 4, 8 and 12. If you like to do detail work buy a Liner or Rigger brush. If you prefer to work expressively buy a large size 18 as well.

Care of Your Brushes

Cleaning – Unlike acrylic and oil brushes that require to be cleaned immediately after use or they are destroyed, watercolour brushes will survive if you don’t wash them right away.  Do get into the habit of washing them though as it will extend their lifespan and prevent dried paint from being embedded in the ferrule which causes the hairs to spread and clump.

Run the hairs under warm water, gently swirling them in the palm of your hand, until the water runs clear. Moisten a bar of hand soap and carefully rub some soap into the hairs. Repeat the swirling motion in your hand.  Rinse until all soap residue is gone. Dab dry with a paper towel and lay flat to dry thoroughly.

Storage – Many artists prefer to store their brushes flat to prevent water draining into the ferrule and loosening the glue. However I ensure the brush is completely dry and then I store it upright in a jar or similar container.

One BIG Don’t – Don’t let your brushes sit tip down in your water bucket!  If left soaking too long the hairs will set in a bent position. Water will also soak into the brush handle causing the wood to expand and damage the ferrule by forcing it to expand and loosening it from the handle.

What Watercolour Tips would YOU like to see in future blogs?

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