How do you know which are the best brushes?
Choosing watercolour painting brushes is not simple. When you visit your art supply store, are you bewildered by all the types, sizes, handle lengths and composition, bristle types, price?
While there are many and varied types of watercolour brushes, the ones that are most often chosen by watercolour artists are listed below, with the hair (bristles) types shown at right.
John Lovett, a renowned Australian watercolour artist, has a very good article on brushes for watercolour as well as some tips for caring for your watercolour brushes.
Watercolour painting brushes on my mixing palette
Some Bristle Types
From most expensive to least
- Kalinsky sable
- Red sable
- Synthetic —Taklon, Nylon
- Sable/synthetic mix
Round Brush: Work-horse
You can do so much with each brush type, but for a general 'work-horse' choose a round brush.
One of the online courses I took when I began watercolour painting was “Dictionary of Marks” on Art Tutor. (Previously I always painted in acrylic.) With a number 8 round brush, I made all the marks you see in this picture, and more on other pieces of watercolour paper.
Since that course, I have learned much about brushes from taking other online lessons, and from my own practice. Most often I use a number 12 round brush for almost all the work I do. Any time I need fine detail, I use a rigger.
Quality of Watercolour Painting Brushes
You may have read that you need a pure Kalinsky sable brush for watercolour painting. These can be many hundreds of dollars.
The truth is that you can get beautiful results like the wonderful paintings of Heidi Willis with good quality white taklon brushes.
While participating in one of her classes, we had to practise making marks with a number 8 round taklon. The picture shows marks on 300gsm cold pressed Arches™ paper on the left and on Stonehenge™ coloured pencil paper on the right. (The only smooth surface paper I had on hand.)
Sable/synthetic mix bristles in a watercolour brush give you the best of both worlds.
Marks made with a round brush
Marks with No 8 Taklon round brush after class with Heidi Willis
Which Are The Best Watercolour Painting Brushes For You?
While there are many types and styles of watercolour painting brushes, it comes down to the style of paintings you want to produce. Rough (cold pressed) paper, big brush strokes in a loose manner with little fine detail, or smooth (hot pressed) paper, fine brushes and even finer detail? When you find your style, you will know what brush type is for you.
Daffodils in loose watercolour technique
Therefore, The Best Idea Is To:
buy the best quality brushes (and indeed all your equipment) that you can afford, take good care of them and they will reward you with good service for years to come.