The Technical Side: Watercolor Brushes

In every painting, the materials that the artist uses are of great importance. A great artist can overcome inferior materials, as evidenced by masterpieces such as those of Toulouse Lautrec painted on cardboard. But genius is the exception.

Using poor quality brushes in watercolor sets up a huge hurdle for the artist. Bad or inferior paper is no picnic either, but a poor brush is nearly insurmountable. The very finest watercolor brushes are made from kolinsky sable, which are from the tail hairs of either a Kolinsky weasel or sable, which traditionally live in Northern Europe from the Ural Mountains of Russia to Siberia. Due to the rarity of the material and the craftsmanship required to manufacture such brushes, prices are usually very expensive. In order to perform well, a watercolor brush generally has a substantial "belly" to hold pigment, but also must have the ability to come to and hold a point so that the artist can draw with the brush while depositing pigment over a large area. A small brush is usable for minor details, but to really paint, a large brush/ large belly is essential.The classic watercolor brush is the Winsor & Newton Series 7, number 10, which can cost upwards of $160 or more. The #12 is currently available from Jerry's Artarama for $299.

Thankfully, there are some very good alternatives to the Series 7 brushes.

Cheap Joes offers their Golden Fleece synthetic watercolor rounds at a very inexpensive price. A huge brush, the number 32, is available online for $18.29. I have painted some of my favorite watercolors with that one brush. I used it exclusively for several years. It was recommended by Milford Zornes, a wonderful painter and a National Treasure, who passed away last February at age 99.

Luxartis also manufactures a terrific kolinsky sable brush at a reasonable price. I ordered both #14 and #12 and find myself constantly reaching for their brush. Currently, a #16, large and pointy, is listed for @ $36. Prices online are quoted in the British Pound, but are easy to translate. Shipping is extra, but seemed minimal.

The last brush that I can personally recommend as both inexpensive and a very good value is the Yarka Kolinsky sable watercolor brush. While I have bought other Yarka products in the past, and been genuinely underwhelmed, their watercolor brush is exceptional. Sadly, I just noticed that Richeson will be moving the production from Russia to India and will sell the Yarka brush under their own name. To buy any of the originals before they're gone, go to Aardvarkart.

If anyone has a great brush that I've missed, please let me know and I'll include the name in a future follow-up post.


Anonymous said...

Hi there... I fell upon your blog just a few days ago... love it!

Re: brushes, I've been very happy with the Escoda brushes that I bought last year from Jerry's Artarama. Made in Spain, they've held up very well for me. They also are very inexpensive for the quality.

I believe that Escoda is the manufacturer of Cheap Joe's 'Dragon's Tongue' and 'Lizard's Lick' brushes. These have even lower price points than the Escoda branded brushes, but if ther're the same, they would be a real deal.

Joan DaGradi said...

I've noticed Escoda at Jerry's- thanks for passing along the positive feedback.
Ya know, it's amazing to hear about great deals on fabulous brushes.
Now, I'll have to order a #14 or something comparable of each....
Thanks for sharing!
Feel free to send any other tips on materials or things that work for you.
What type of palette do you use? Metal, plastic or porcelain?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with brushes. I am in the market for a rigger brush and will check out your suggestions.
Thanks Jean

Joan DaGradi said...

Jean, you're very welcome.
Also check out the Escoda brushes from Jerry's, as well as their Creative Mark brushes. A Kolinsky Creative Mark was included as a bonus from Jerry's when I bought paper recently; I just tried it today and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. It points

Bugeyedmonster2 said...

Creative Mark? Which line? I got a couple Creative Mark Performen brushes several years back, in the early 90s, and they frustrated me. The Escoda was so much nicer. I still have the Performen, I've just been using them for my pottery projects.

I have some Colorpia 20RQ squirrel and horsehair quills. (The quill is flexible plastic rather than natural quill.) They are fabulous! Not as soft as the regular squirrel mops, and with a bit of 'spring' like a kolinsky. I think I might like them a little more than some of my Kolinskys.

The only slight problem was that the wire wrapping had prickly ends where it was fastened together. I just put a drop of glue on that and no problem with prickly wire ends since.

(I'm slightly annoyed at myself for not having bought more when Abbamart was discontinuing their supply of them on eBay.)

If you google Colorpia series 20RQ (two zero R Q) you might find more sellers.

Another brushmaker I've heard good things about is Rosemary & Co. out of the UK. She has some very nice looking brushes available on the web. And when you run the prices through the pounds to dollars converter they're cheaper than Winsor & Newton.

Of course, there's the old standby of eBay or Etsy where folks sell off discontinued or used merchandise. I bought a few Grumbacher 190s and 187s that way.

Kikashi said...

Are you familiar with the M. Grumbacher series 190 with the seamless copper colored ferrule? This is not the Beaux arts 190 series. I believe it is sable but am unsure. It is a vintage brush.