10 Great Tips: Paint Brushes for Watercolors

miniature watercolor landscape with squirrel brush, Rekab 320s, debiriley.com, brushes for beginners

Brushes!  What a quandary.

Watercolor brushes, which to choose?  How will the right Brush Help me?

miniature watercolor landscape with squirrel brush, Rekab 320s, debiriley.com, brushes for beginners
One Inch Miniature watercolor landscape,  using  Rekab320s brush



I know that going into an art shop looking at all the brushes on display is overwhelming.   And especially so for beginners.

I’ll share a few tips and secrets about watercolor brushes I’ve picked up and hope they can help you understand brushes just a little bit better.



brushes watercolour
Watercolor Brushes


Watercolor Paint Brushes


What a dilemma!   You go in to the store for a brush.  You leave with 15. And none of them end up being what you really like or need.  Never mind understand how to use.

The  watercolor paint brush selection available in art shops and online stores is quite daunting for beginners.


Its a rather big topic.  (You may want to go get yourself a cup of tea…)


I’m going to break it down to a few major items.

  1.  The major type of brushes I use and why.
  2.  The Shapes I use and why.



I think the most important thing to understand about Brushes is Type.

What ‘natural hair‘  watercolor brushes will do  vs.  the  ‘synthetic blends‘ capacities.

Basically,  It comes down to how much fluid (paint)  you want to be in and on your brush.  ie its about the feeling of being in  ‘control.’



Synthetic Brushes 

With a Round synthetic type nylon blend, you will get less fluid in this brush.

Resulting in a ‘stiffer’  more Controlled stroke.

Beginners often feel more at ease with this.

But it comes with a price.



The Downside:


If,  you choose to get a synthetic brush and purchase a wide, Flat brush…. of about 1 inches width,   this brush can achieve some interesting things.

Being wider, flatter, the paint will naturally flow much better.  These Flats perform differently.

So, yes,  in essence I am saying:  I think its better to use a synthetic Flat rather than synthetic Round brush.  In order to optimize depth, perspective, design in the painting.



Natural Hair Brushes 

There are many, many types.  From goat, camel, horse, badger, sable, squirrel.  Over the years,  I’ve experimented with all.

Side Note:  If you’re working in acrylics you probably do not want to use your lovely and quite expensive sable hair brushes as the acrylics tend to ruin them in a blink of an eye.

However, if you’re working in watercolors, natural hair brushes are a very useful type of brush – ideal really – in my opinion.



Natural hairs ie  squirrel or sable

  •  will load paint up very well to give a nice big long, stroke right across the paper.
  • There will be no ‘dobbing’  no ‘streaking’  effects often obtained by beginners using the common round synthetic style brushes.
  • Natural hair brushes provide you the ability to create fantastic details with its fine point.
  • But,  it is a case of Learning How To Control the brush.  ie,   Practice!
  • It is like a sponge. Absorbing vast amounts of water, fluid, paint.
  • So….. simply,  ‘shake it off’   just a bit,  to get rid of some of that surplus fluid.
  • When the brush is shaken of the excess paint and has that exquisite fine tip point (seen in the photo)  it is ready to create Fine tiny details.   Eyelashes.  Earring details. etc.


Debi riley watercolour brush
Rekab 320S brush  #2


Best Watercolor Brush 

My all time favorite paint brush for

sensitivity,  durability  and versatility is the Rekab 320S  #2    – and isn’t too  expensive ($28) or so.


I suggest, beginners only need this 1 brush; it will do more than 7-8 brushes combined.

As you can see,  it comes to an exquisitely tiny, fine point, perfect for details – plus it has a big soft absorbent belly that will hold a great deal of paint.

Perfect!  With the  Rekab 320S you can paint a small 1 inch miniature or a half sheet painting – with the one brush.


Please,   Refer up  to the Featured Tree Landscape Painting in golden browns….  this is a 1 inch x 1 inch miniature watercolor landscape painting.

I Used the Rekab 320s.  #2  as shown.  The Rekab, is That sensitive and responsive. Yes,  I’ve done my homework and practiced over the years. But, the other brushes will Not do this for me.






Brush Care and Storage

If you look after your brush, it will last a lifetime.

  • Just use cool water to rinse completely thoroughly
  • Dry it off gently, bringing into a nice point.
  • Let it Air dry and laid down flat, not upright.
  • Don’t store brushes  in plastic or in airtight bags. Let them ‘breathe.’
  • Don’t let brush stand in a water dish, it bends the tip –  ruining the brush.
  • Protect the brush tip – make or get a brush holder, for transport.



Other Sable and squirrel brushes

The squirrel watercolor brushes I also have are – Winsor and Newton, Isabey 6324 and Raphael.

  • They tend to be little bit Chunkier.
  • Somewhat more spendy. Not as exquisitely finely pointed –  but I do like them.
  • My deluxe Kolinski Sable brushes ie  the ‘Rolls Royce’ of brushes….. I rarely use.
  • They are ok. I just don’t care for their response.
  • They are much Stiffer in response.
  • Much Tighter and Rigid than what I enjoy with Rekab’s sensitive flow.
Isabey 6234 brush
Isabey 6234







waterbrush pen
waterbrush pen


I also use  Niji plastic portable waterbrush  pens.

plein air landscape watercolor painting, paint brush tips, debiriley.com
Plein Air Landscape, using Niji waterbrush pen, on location at dusk


  • Great for hiking, travelling, on the go and don’t want to pack everything.
  • The cool thing about these is you fill the inside up with water, then touch the tip to your paint color and paint away.
  • Squeeze a bit and it acts like a ‘wash’   or use it on the drier side like a pen for more of a drawing approach.
  • And then you can – combine the two.
  • Sketching like this is very discreet if thats your style and are more comfortable with that.
  •  I usually take 2 or 3 with me as they are super light, just like a pen.
  • The water-brush pens aren’t costly, ($10)   so  if it gets lost, I won’t be heartbroken like I would with my Rekabs!
  • There are different Brands out there.  Niji is just one that I have at the moment.
  • Cheap Joe’s have these watercolor brushpens,  so does Dick Blick art shop, Jerry’s Artarama, The Art Scene in Sydney, Jackson’s and  Riot Arts & Craft art shops  also carry the waterbrush pens.



Hakes, chinese brush
3 Hakes, 1 Chinese brush

This photo  shows 3 Hakes          and 1 small delicate Chinese brush.



Hake Soft Asian Flat Brushes

Hakes are soft hair flat brushes,  are super absorbent.

They can be a bit  bendable and floppy.

The Hake brushes are useful for

  • wetting areas
  • very large washes
  • ink washes
  • creating foliage and grasses, foreground effects when the brush is semi dry

These Hakes were a bargain at $1.99  each at the local art and craft shop.

I love that  little Chinese brush, its a handy gem for details, especially when my other brushes are already “dirtied up.”

Its great to create fine definitions on flowers, leaves, branches, etc.

I picked it up at  Jackson’s  art shop in Perth  for under $3.00



Flat brush
Small Nylon Flat brush

This is a ‘Bunnings hardware store’  small  flat brush.

In the photo, its the small brown brush standing right in the centre.

  • $1.39  is what this one cost at Bunnings Hardware!
  • I like to use it for flat sides of buildings, rails, trees or edges….
  • Quite fun to load up with 2 colours and then paint it onto a just dampened area for some great effects.
  • Tree trunks,  hills, rocks,  escarpments.
  • It is a handy and cheap brush, I like to keep around.
  • Its not something I can paint a large object with, but I understand its limitations and its assets and make full use of its pros.
  • This brush is perfect to use with inks, acrylics, alkyds, oil pastels.
  • Just be aware not to use the same brush for watercolors IF,  you’ve used it with oils.






10  Watercolor Brushes – Tips
  1.  you really only need 1 good brush;  especially,  when you first start
  2. natural hair brushes are more absorbent than synthetics
  3. natural hair squirrels, tend to have very, very, Fine tipped points
  4. good brushes can last, a lifetime
  5. know what type of “control” you need, buy the brush to suit
  6. double loading a brush with 2 colors, creates more tonal variations, depth
  7. protect the tips of your good brushes, at all times
  8. your brush, is an Extension of your arm, heart and mind
  9. dance with your brush,  don’t beat it to submission
  10. practice. play, experiment, have fun with your chosen brush,  often!





Books and Artists that Inspire:      

Tony Smibert has  some brushes he prefers, have a look at his website and his incredible book “Landscapes from Your Imagination”   A book … to get!!!

Smibert, Tony
Published by Australian Artist Publishing (1997)
ISBN 10: 0958681619 ISBN 13: 9780958681612



David Taylor also has a great website and a book,   Solving the Mystery of Watercolours. You can see what brushes are in his art bag as well.

  1. Solving The Mystery of Watercolours     David Taylor  International Artist Publishers ISBN 1929834209

They both paint watercolors in a wonderfully fresh, sensitive and heart felt manner in which their brushes are an extension of that mindset.

I’ve known David since  the 1990’s and finally met Tony while he was here in Perth a couple years ago.  Both,  are authentic, generous, and extremely nice people. If you can acccess their wisdom, counsel, tips from their books, workshops, videos –  I absolutely recommend doing so.




We’ve discussed  in brief:  natural hair brushes, synthetics.  Flats, Rounds. Squirrels, Sables. Waterbrushes.  Hakes and Chinese brushes.


At the end of the day when it comes to watercolor brushes –  Rekab 320S  remains my tried and true favorite for its sheer versatility and sensitivity.


It does what I want and need it to do, without Resistance or stiffness. Just nice and easy.

Its a lovely dance, the brush and I.



Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at society6.com/debiriley and, redbubble.com/people/debijriley/shop

44 thoughts on “10 Great Tips: Paint Brushes for Watercolors

  1. This is a most fantastic post Debi, I had a quick read, but I need to leave for work, so I will take a better look tonight, with a cup of tea. My gosh I love that top painting, that brown I just love it…..always a sucker for natural shades, can you remember the brand and colour?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! might need a small glass of wine….. its the longest article I’ve done.
      the colors are – burnt sienna and raw sienna, both are PBr7 and most likely…. Maimeri or Venezia. but daniel smith have them; check for the pigment #, otherwise they’ll most likely be a hue or synthethic blend, not this clean clear color.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, we don’t get that brand easily in the uk, but I have found a source on eBay, I love my browns, and this brand has a gorgeous tone,…..it’s probably the way you have used them, but I still think they have a lovely tone about them…..getting glass of wine 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh… I tried many years back, and was so embarrassed by my awful work that I decided to stay with drawing stick insects!

        So now, between that, photography and writing, my life is pretty full!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. both writing and photography would take a lot of time your time, that is for sure Rajiv.
        And I must confess I can’t quite ‘get’ computer things. It can be embarrassing and off putting, especially when every one else… is doing it!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh… Well.. I think we each have our own medium to work with. For instance, when I look at the crazy stuff people do with Photoshop, I say to myself – how the hell?

        Some of it, in my view, goes out of the realm of photography, and into the realm of digital art.

        What I also do, is to experiment with fractal designs on the IPad. I have not yet fully explored all the programs on the computer.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great miniature Debi! Lovely! And great post all about brushes I know there is a lot to say, use and choose… 😉 Happy July Debi let’s keep up with this ultimate world challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great info Debi. I must keep trying my rekab more. It is so loose 😜. I’ve mainly used for washes. I’m going to try playing with it more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jodi! yes, it is loose when real wet…. try flicking it, till you get all the excess out! and its nice and tight… and then vice versa 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. once you’ve loaded it up with paint/water mix & need to make the brush less ‘sloppy’… just give it a flick, or ‘tap’ to get rid of the excess fluid that you don’t want.


  4. I love your miniature painting! How do you do it with such a big brush? Lady magician, that’s how! I don’t think I can get those here, Debi, I know when you first started mentioning them, I looked them up. I like being able to return a brush if I don’t like it, which I can do if I order from Blick. I don’t work with my big brushes nearly enough, but I need to reconsider this. Thanks for all of the info and inspiration, as always! 💜 ((((((3d))))))

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That miniature painting is just super love! You and your brush dance so well. Thank you for sharing this Debi. It’s absolutely informative especially for beginners like me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for all the wonderful information here Debi! I will have to say I love my Kolinsky’s. But my travel kit has very inexpensive brushes and they respond well too. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. my friend, Jan Vincent swears by her Kolinskys!! and she loves the Raphael. another friend paints with twigs and fingers!! really!
      we each, are unique and respond to brushes our own way… its a good thing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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