Nicole Black.


Brush Crush (A look at watercolour brushes)

One of the questions I have been asked a lot recently (both in my classes and on instagram) is what brushes do I recommend using? 

Whilst a 'good craftsman never blames his tools' the difference between a good brush and a not-so-good brush can impact effects of a delicate art form such as watercolour painting. It is worth noting that there are not such extremes as 'good' and 'bad' when it comes to buying art materials with personal preference playing a large part in the decision making process. 

So rather than recommend I will endeavour to give you some useful information and hints that might help narrow down this process without having to invest and trial in a large variety of brushes! 

The main difference to note is between 'soft' and 'stiff' brushes. The softer brushes are ideal for watercolour as they are a much better match to the nature of the delicate medium as opposed to the stiffer brushes which are better suited to physically having to push paint around- like you would have to with acrylic and oil painting techniques. So the brushes you have lying around the house may not be suitable for achieving a specific look and it is worth noting what brushes will generate what outcomes. 


Sable Brushes

Soft natural hair brushes that holds the watercolour paint in a very different way to a synthetic brush (some have noted that it has longevity to the brush stroke) These brushes obtain their hair from the Sable which is a small mammal that dwells in regions between Siberia, Russia and Asia. The other common form of hair found in these 'sable brushes' is from the Kolinsky- a small weasel-like animal found in similar regions as the Sable. 

I am currently using a couple of larger Camel hair brushes and they hold a lot of water which is great for doing backgrounds or blocking in sections of the watercolour painting.

Recently I purchased some combination (synthetic and sable) brushes from the Winsor and Newton collection which were slightly less of an investment compared to the full sable brushes. I have really enjoyed using them as they have a bit more 'spring' to the bristles- which I am assuming is because of the synthetic element. This suits the more detailed work I like to bring into my pieces. To start my sable brush collection I have invested in a size 2 and 6 and a 

What I am aiming to achieve with my own work does not require that I invest in the really small brushes and I find I can achieve that level of detail working delicately with a size 2 brush.

Synthetic Brushes

Whilst the synthetic brush ranges don't carry the same prestige as the sable brushes they do enable an economic way of familiarising yourself with the medium. These days you can buy a set of brushes in a variety of sizes that will give you a great starting point for your watercolour set. 

For example a set of synthetic brushes will start at around the $20 mark (AUD) as opposed to a set of Sable's that you'd be lucky to buy for under $40 (AUD)

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when in the market for new brushes:

  • What style are you trying to create? (i.e are the brush marks looser or more detailed?)
  • What is the scale you like to work on? Do you need to invest in a variety of brushes to help you cover a large page or can you work with a few smaller brushes on more compact work?
  • Are you still getting used to the medium and how you like to use it? (In this case watercolour) If yes, maybe it is better to purchase a set of cheaper brushes that will allow you the time to take note of your preferences before investing in more expensive brushes. 

I would love to hear about your favourite brushes! Feel free to add your comments below :)

Happy Making!




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