Favorite Watercolor Brushes
Use brushes only designated for watercolor. They are softer and made to hold water. Brushes I use are in different categories.
You know everyone has their favorite. Good paper I feel is most important, but brushes is second. Don’t skimp on brushes if you are serious about watercolor. Avoid the inexpensive student brushes (less than $10)! Don’t waste your money. See them as in investment.
Most common brush size for 11×14 size painting is a #12 or #10 round (about $10 – $20). Bigger paper needs bigger brushes. You will still use these size brushes for painting smaller but if you are painting 5×7″ cards you will also need smaller brushes. Other common size brushes are #10, #6, #0, ½” flat and 1” flat.
When you paint with others don’t hesitate to ask them about their brushes and their thoughts. You could ask them if you could try a little swish with them. (Some might be hesitant because brushes are sort of personal, but you can use any of mine!) Wet Paint Store in St.Paul will let you try their brushes before you buy them. They have an excellent selection of brushes and talented workers to help.
Things to look at when you try a brush:
When you get the brush wet, flick it and see if it comes to a point.
When it is wet stand it up on the tip. Soft moppy brushes bend a bit. Cheap stiff brushes won’t bend much. They both have uses, see below.
While wet gently move them on a surface back and forth like a mop. Cheap brushes will make stiff zig-zag marks, not flowing ones.
I am a portrait artist and here starts the bias.
Using multiple brushes at all times:
When I paint I will always use several brushes at the same time!
I am cheap and like to blend my colors constantly. Instead of rinsing color off my brush to change color I will lay that “blue” brush down near the blue on my palette and grab the “burnt sienna” brush to blend in the hair. (Sometimes I get confused which is which. Get in a habit and stick to it! Always have a scrap of paper in front of you on which to test)
Always in the later stages of a painting I will have one brush with color and another in my other hand with clean water to dampen the paper or soften an edge.
When doing backgrounds I will use a larger brush for the big juicy areas and a smaller pointed brush ready in my other hand for getting close to the edges. Might be two in my left hand while using another in my right.
Soft round tipped brushes. With these I can make 80% of my strokes.
I stress the use of a mop strokes in my classes. Keep your brush on the paper and gently swish it back and forth. Soft brushes will not disturb the paper and layers of paint below. Conversely, cheap stiff brushes have a risk of disturbing the layers below. More on them below.
Suggested brands: Robert Simmons Sienna, Jack Richeson Series 9000 or 9010 flat , Robert Simmons White Sable (synthetic) and many more in that price range. Brushes Size #10 #12 are around $15-$20 or so.
Sable brushes. The good thing about sable brushes is how much paint they hold and how soft and lovely you get smooth strokes. Sable also comes to a natural fine point for details, so a twofer. The problem is with the larger sizes is they hold SO much paint/water. You are always rinsing/wasting a ton of paint when you change colors. They are also so soft that when they are almost empty they bend over and end up in an L shape. Kind of annoying. I let my wife buy me one of these beautiful, very expensive, Raphael Kolinsky Sable brush 8404, #14. (She got credit for a fancy Christmas present!) If you are going to buy the best, do it, buy a Raphael. You deserve it!!! They are about $200 or more for a #14
Sizes are dependent on the scale of what you are painting. For 1/4 sheet portraits I like #12 for a utility brush. The cost about $12-$14 for a synthetic brush.
Soft brushes with a point. I like Silver Black Velvet brand brushes. They are a blend of squirrel and nylon. I use a #4 round, #10 and #16 rounds and a couple others of theirs that I don’t use very much. Jumbo Round Medium and a Oval wash. Very nice brushes but too soft for lifting.
Pointed detail brushes, stiff. For painting eye, nostrils, jewelry, details, and for small lifting, I bought Escoda : Perla : White Toray : Synthetic : Series 1430 : # 6 $7.00. JacksonArt.com. This small brush is very stiff and almost like using a pen for detail and stiff enough to lift small details. Not a blendy brush at all! When I use it I will have my soft #4 Silver Black Velvet in my other hand with water to blend.
Other pointed brushes I just bought are Loew Cornell 7020. They are pointed almost to a fault! If you are a negative painter and need pin-point control, these are for you. I am not… I can not get the soft tipped moppy strokes I prefer with their 7020. These rounds can be used as I described with the Escoda above for painting detail but too soft for lifting.
Lifting Brushes. (Not Scrubbing) Use caution and go slow. Lifting is using a firm but soft brush to gently lift surface layers of paint to lighten. Which ever brush you choose, your first strokes dampen the paint and then you can blot off the paint. You must go slowly. If you keep stroking you will soften the paper and possibly damage the surface. If the surface sizing on the paper is disturbed the next layers won’t match the area around it. For detailed lifts I use 4 different sizes depending on the shape I am lifting. Mine happen to be angle brushes. They are not stiff scrubbers.
Scrubbers. I bought a set of cheap scrubbers. I don’t like designated scrubbers at all (you can get a set for $5-6). Scrubbers are intended to lift all layers of paint down to near white. If you have no intention to put paint back down and your are looking for highlights, these are for you. If I want a glint on jewelry or in the eye, I will mask off the tiny little spot and use a scrubbing action to lift back to the white. Masking off the edge and scrubbing is a good way to get sharp detailed highlights back on tops of rocks and items in the focal area. Remember paint will soak in and look muddy on top of scrubbed paper so scrub at the very end. AND in my opinion MUCH better than using white paint!!!
Pentel Aquash Water Brush Round, Large $7.65 x12 = $96
Of course, never leave your brushes sitting in the water. That maybe OK for oil painter, but NOT for watercolor brushes! The water can go up into the wood and split it. These brushes will last many many years if cared for.