Art supply catalogs can quickly overwhelm you with their huge selection of brushes. Choosing depends a great deal on how or what you like to paint, as well as your experience level. Most important, they are the critical connection to the paper from your hand, eye and brain. It’s as simple or complex as that, even as you try to determine bristle types (synthetic, natural, blend), shapes and sizes. My first instructors demanded full sheet work (inexpensive BienFang paper), forcing me to start painting with larger brushes. This brought comfort to use just about any size brush for any size painting, depending on subject and design. If you’ve been using the same sizes or shapes of brushes for some time, I suggest challenging yourself to try a different brush or two. It can lead to discovering new textures, pigment application methods, and happy accidents worth repeating for better paintings. For ideas take note of what brushes workshop instructors, artists in DVDs, magazine articles, and friends use.
By exploring different brushes, you’ll become familiar with their carrying capacity of color and water, stiffness or softness and handling feel. A couple of years ago I purchased a good-sized Quill (mop) and a small ¼ inch dagger, which gave me some new effects and brush stroke results.
Here are some different watercolor brushes that work for me:
FLATS 2, 1 ½, 1 and ½-inch flats bring a lot of control to washes. A large flat often helps me establish a starting point of a painting thanks to big, loose strokes of color, dry or wet into damp – even double loaded with color. Favorites: Winsor Newton Series 965 Wash Brush 2-inch flat feels good in the hand and smooth on the paper. Miller’s Golden Fleece 2-inch flat (Cheap Joe’s). Surprise: Sharp corners and bottom give you great edge control when desired.
ROUNDS 12, 10, 6, 4 with the smallest having a sharp tip for detail. I use them for foliage, foreground, shadows, loose skies, scumbling, scrubbing; most anywhere. Replace when worn out.
OVALS: ¾ and ½-inch. Started using these only a couple of years ago to try something new.
Use for florals, shrubs, snow, trees, water. Can give controlled effects quite different from rounds.
RIGGERS Fine lines; power, fence, rocks texture, water, tree limbs. Useful tool in many ways.
DAGGER ¼-inch; sharp tip for fine, straight lines, can be dragged for effective tree foliage.
Suggest practice and experimenting for best results. I think you’ll be surprised.
FAN Size 1, an oil bristle brush. I have two, one chopped irregular, and one a fan shape.
Used for spikey brush and tree limbs (winter), indicating rain from clouds, rock texture.
AQUARELLE 1 and ½-inch flat; the classic watercolor brush for decades. Mine are now so-o-o-o old and worn that I am about to treat myself to two new ones: Winsor Newton Series 995 Flat. Holds plenty of color. Handle end is beveled sharp for scraping pigment when still slightly damp to make tree trunks, branches, fence posts, highlight points, etc. A basic essential!
There are scads of other brushes available, Hake, Poly, lettering brushes, and so on. Perhaps when painting with others you can borrow an unfamiliar brush to try. Above all, care for yours, washing with mild soap in tepid water after each day’s use. Dry them lying flat to keep water out of ferrules and handles. For that brush you have struggled to like for too long, toss it! Or, if not worn out, give it to another painter to try and hopefully keep. Hmmm, I might just have a give-away.
Good painting, Jack Dykstra, Boise, ID https://www.jackdykstrafineart.com/
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