Watercolor Brush 101 {Everything you ever wanted to know about watercolor brushes that viewers weren’t afraid to ask!}

Hi friends! I have been wanting to go through my watercolor brush collection, get my brushes all in one place and see what I had. Since I have a full studio/supply storage area in my basement and an art table in my office stuff travels and sometimes I have doubles where I don’t need then or am missing something upstairs that I do need. I sorted all of my brushed by type and shared a pic on Instagram. I also made a flower doodle testing out some of the brushes.

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I asked my IG followers if they would be interested in a brush tour and they loved the idea, I decided to make it a live stream and asked my hubby to monitor the chat and send questions my way as they came up. What we ended up with was a really in-depth watercolor 101 brush talk and demo. If you ever wanted to learn more about watercolor brushes check out this video! Feel free to let the video play as you create or do chores as most of the info can be absorbed audibly. I apologies for the furnace and telephone ring towards the beginning but that clears up soon. Actually our furnace went kaput yesterday so a newer quieter one will hopefully be in out future and I’m going to see about heating my basement studio while I am at it! Wearing a coat to work in the winter is getting old LOL!

Brush overview:

What is a brush?

  • A brush is made of 3 parts: A handle that can be made of wood/bamboo or plastic/acrylic, bristles (called a tuft) to hold the paint and a metal (bird quill or plastic) collar called a ferrule that holds the bristles securely to the handle.

What makes a watercolor brush different from other brushes for acrylics and oils?

  • Watercolor brushes are designed to hold a lot of water and paint so they are generally made with softer and more absorbent bristles.  Because watercolor is fluid and paper is more fragile than canvas the hairs are softer and less stiff. Many brushes are sold as multi purpose (although I recommend keeping different mediums brushes separate once you have assigned them) so you can use soft golden taklon or nylon acrylic brushes or soft mops ment for oils for watercolor.

What kids of bristles/hairs are tufts made of?

  • Bristles are either natural (animal fur) or synthetic (plastic). Most natural hair watercolor brushes are referred to “squirrel”  or “kolinsky sable” but they can use any rodent/weasel fur. If a brush is referred to as a squirrel it has soft, absorbent bristles that come to a sharp point when wet but has little spring or snap. If a brush is referred to as a sable or kolinsky sable it is an absorbent brush that is a bit springier but might not come to as sharp a point. Synthetic versions of those brushes will have the same attributes. Hog/boar bristle brushes are stiff and usually used for heavier paint like oils and goat hair is soft and sheds and is used often for Sumi-E painting. I don’t recommend goat, OX or hog brushes for direct painting. Synthetic brushes are made from plastics such as nylon or polyester (taklon.) The plastics are dyed, treated and flagged so they will resemble natural hair brushes and they have come a long way! Brush makers use a variety of thicknesses in their bristles in one brush to create a brush that has spring and carries watercolor well. My favorite of these faux fur brushes is the Creative Mark Mimic Squirrel and for a budget version try the Menta line from Royal and Langnickel. No matter what kind of hairs your brush is made of take care of it because it will last you for years if you only use them with watercolor.

What kind of brush shapes are available for watercolor?

  1.  Rounds: Your first brush should be a #8-#12 round brush that comes to a nice point. You can do 90% of all of your painting with this. You can get rounds from the tiniest size with short bristles for detail or long bristles (liners) for long continues lines to fat rounds that can carry a sky wash load of paint. Rounds are the most useful for watercolor painting.
  2. Flats: These are useful for wetting the paper and applying washes as well as painting things like leaves and architecture. I recommend a 1″ and 1/2″ flat wash made from taklon. The Majestic line from Royal and Langnickel is excellent as is the Zen & Menta all media brushes.
  3. Angles: These are flat brushes with a straight taper to the bristles at a shallow angle.These can be used just like a flat and whether you chose an angle or a flat is personal preference. I like angles for side loading as I can remember what side the color is on easily.
  4. Filberts/Oval Wash/Cat’s Tongue: these are a flat ferrule brush that have the bristles tapered like and round (oval-shaped) and if the hair comes to a point when wet it is called a “Cat’s tongue” brush. An oval taklon brush is handy for flower petals and a cats tongue can paint wide washes and fine details and everything in between.
  5. Mops: These are used to soften or blur large areas. They can tend to shed so not as useful for direct painting.
  6. Quill: These brushes are named “Quill” as they used to use a birds quill for the ferrule. These are distinguished by having the soft (usually squirrel) hair attached to the handle with a clear plastic and wire element. These brushes are very absorbent and come to a fine point when wet.

Other specialty brushes:

  • Dagger: A steeply angled brush with a slight curve to the slope of the angle resembling a knife blade. Handy for some flowers as well as long lines and tree branches and grasses. If it has very long bristles it is called a sword.
  • Rake: A flat or filbert brush with alternating long bristles for painting fur and glasses. A Wisp brush is a more dramatic version of a rake.
  • Texture brushes: A deer foot stippler is a chopped off round brush that make marks in the shape of hoof prints. A foliage brush can be a flat or angle brush with thick stiff bristles meant for pouncing on tree leaves or bushes. *You can make these brushes by chopping off old battered flats and rounds!
  • Wedge/Triangle/Pyramid brush: This decorative painting brush is designed to make lovely leaves and flowers. I will be adding a section on this brush to my new course Watercolor Flower Workshop in July.

I hope this brush overview helps you pick the best brush for you and get more use from the brushes you already have. If you enjoyed the brush stroke demonstrations today and would like to learn to paint loose flowers effortlessly please consider my new Watercolor Flower Workshop course and save 50% through 6/30/18. Use coupon code FLOWERPOWER if the discount doesn’t show up automatically.

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Thanks for stopping by and til next time happy crafting!




6 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Tracey in Maine and commented:
    So much great informative!


  2. Lindsay, thank you for this information. I’ve always wondered the parts of a brush in particular. Obviously I’ve had no training but was still curious. Peg


  3. Just hearing the word “watercolor” and I get excited to create a new piece of art. This is one of the most beautiful and expressive mediums to work with. Thank you for sharing the information about the various brush types and their uses. 🙂


  4. Thank you Lindsay for this blog post. I loved the video, but having the info in writing helps me too. Sorry to say that I have not as yet gotten to play with my new brushes, nor Koi paints and watercolor sketch book either. I know you said “if you only have 20 minutes, etc etc, etc. But my home doesn’t seem to be condusive to doing any kind of creative type hobbies and it saddens me very much. I do appreciate your patience in teaching and would love to take all of the courses you offer, BUT without my own income I don’t see that as a possibility. Thanks for listening, since I know you are extremely busy.
    Sincerely Becky B from Arkansas


  5. Thanks Lindsay for the teaching on watercolor brushes…I am looking forward to setting up my art things and start painting!


  6. Thanks so much for this tour! It helps to see things actually demonstrated. I have been stressing about spending for additional watercolor brushes-this helps me narrow down what will work for me.


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