Brushes! What a quandary.
Watercolor brushes, which to choose? How will the right Brush Help me?
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.
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.
- The major type of brushes I use and why.
- 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.’
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 result often can be too many short “dobbing” strokes,
- too many random hard edges,
- lack of sufficient sense of depth in the distance through the foreground
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.
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.
I also use Niji plastic portable waterbrush pens.
- 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.
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
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
- you really only need 1 good brush; especially, when you first start
- natural hair brushes are more absorbent than synthetics
- natural hair squirrels, tend to have very, very, Fine tipped points
- good brushes can last, a lifetime
- know what type of “control” you need, buy the brush to suit
- double loading a brush with 2 colors, creates more tonal variations, depth
- protect the tips of your good brushes, at all times
- your brush, is an Extension of your arm, heart and mind
- dance with your brush, don’t beat it to submission
- practice. play, experiment, have fun with your chosen brush, often!
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!!!
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.
- 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.