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.
I have started a series of colour pencil paintings of Rylstone, New South Wales, a tiny historical stone village on the edge of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park. Many of the buildings date from the early 1800s.
My Supplies for Colour Pencil Paintings
Stonehenge paper (specifically made for colour pencils)
The photo printed at the size to fit the painting on the drawing paper
A palette selection from my gorgeous Prismacolor™ Premier® pencils in
pigments to match the photographs
Foamcore™ board for attaching the drawing paper
Push pins to pin the corners of the paper to the board
White plastic eraser
White mounting putty for gentle erasing
Sharpener (hand held) with sharp blades
F or HB pencil for light preliminary drawing
The first two paintings
Historic Rylstone Station
The railway used to operate here and the old station building still stands, although is now privately owned.
Painted from a mid morning photograph with diffuse shadows.
A Stone Cottage
No one lives in this cottage at present. Constructed of stone quarried locally, it has interesting quoins. (Quoins are the joined corners at the ends of stone walls of buildings.)
I took the photograph for this picture in the late afternoon, so the shadows are dark and long.
I have several more photos and plan several more colour pencil paintings from around the village.
Don’t throw your ‘failed’ watercolour paintings in the bin — recycle them!
Jan T’s top 10 ways to recycle watercolour paintings
There are many ways to recycle a painting that you are dissatisfied with, including:
Tear it into pieces for collage.
Alternatively, find an area you do like and crop it into a smaller painting.
Glue painted rice paper to mask the poorly executed areas.
Note the ragged edged pieces of tan, and lilac rice paper in the background on this recycled watercolour painting.
Paint over some parts with gouache. Although John Lovett does not paint gouache on his paintings for this reason, I was inspired to fix one of mine this way with white opaque watercolour paint, and then it sold.
Paint over some/all of it with opaque paints.
Draw/write with watercolour pens on top of the painting. This painting was also successfully recycled this way.
Cut into smaller ‘paintings’ to glue to greeting card blanks.
Another technique to try is to journal on top with markers and use the piece in your art journal.
Use the back to start over.
Stencil over the parts you dislike with very diluted acrylic paint.
New art from discarded paintings
As a result of rescuing your binned artwork, you will be surprised how much you like the recycled watercolour paintings, and your friends will love receiving art on the cards you send.
Buddi has been Denise's companion for fourteen years. He talks to me at my feet when I sit down in her loungeroom. My two little dogs love him, but he is old and sick now, and not too fussed any more about two young ruffians hooning around.
Working on the colour pencil drawing
I started his colour pencil portrait this week and Denise came to see the work in progress and was really moved.
The paper I am using is Canson Mi-Tientes in mid blue, which contrasts very well with his light coat.
Working for an hour each day, it is progressing quickly.
Buddi portrait in progress
Sadly, Buddi is going to say goodbye to his mum today, so it's a timely pet portrait.
Watercolour paper is finicky. It is either too soft, too thin, too smooth, too rough, can have insufficient sizing ...
Paper for painting is sold by its weight in pounds (lbs) or grams, in sheets or blocks or pads, its surface texture, and its content.
In the picture at the top, I used 300 gsm sketchbook. This paper absorbed less of the water and so the pigment was more diluted, drying paler, and could be glazed for deeper colour. There is no cockling.
In the other (110 gsm) sketchbook, the cockling is very evident. The paper absorbed more water, making it buckle, and glazing would not be satisfactory.
300 gsm watercolour paper
Cockling on 110 gsm watercolour paper
In metric terms, the weight of 500 sheets of paper can be:
90 grams per square metre (gsm) — great for sketches, notan thumbnails, but too thin for watercolour. Imperial equivalent is 60 lbs.
110 gsm/74 lbs — often on a school requirements list, but not recommended by most serious artists for paintings. Again, great for sketchbooks.
The two most popular papers for watercolour painting are:
300 gsm/140 lbs is the paper of choice for many artists, although it may need stretching to prevent cockling, especially if you are using very wet washes.
640 gsm/300 lbs is excellent for painting your 'masterpieces'. Although the cost is greater, the results are far and away worth paying the extra.
When studying watercolour painting techniques, I kept hearing "Practise, practise, practise!"
Any discipline, be it physical or mental, involves practising. A marathon runner needs daily practice, so do artists. In order to get better at art, you can start your day in the studio with warm-up exercises, such as colour mixes or trying different brushes to discover their potential strokes.
I have been exploring palettes, water, pigments, paper, brushes, and reading many digital books on the subject. As well, I have watched several videos, and completed many online video courses on watercolour painting techniques.
Review and revise
On the opposite side of my studio from where I paint, I place practice pieces, beside works in progress. The distance helps me see 'errors' and decide which painting technique will fix these.
Techniques for painting with watercolour are numerous and, depending on the instructor's ideas, can be different from one book or video to the next.
Playing with watercolour is both exciting and frustrating!