Monday, February 01, 2016

Watercolor brushes

Since the stamping world is abuzz with watercolor info, I thought I'd jump in with a post about my favorite brushes, and some information that might be helpful as you pick out brushes of your own. While we were overseas, the selection of brushes was limited to poor quality sets from China, and these brushes were just not working for me any more........... eek.

What I actually found the most helpful in choosing new brushes is a rating scale in the Jerry's Artarama catalog that notes the stiffness of the filaments of each brush, and how well they perform with different types of paint (watercolor, acrylic, and oil). These ratings appear on their website as well, if you don't have a print catalog.

By the scale shown here, my preference for brushes is a stiffness of 3, and this seems to be a good all-purpose stiffness for all types of paint. I like the snap of synthetic brushes (snap refers to the way the brush returns to a straight position and a nice point when it is lifted from the paper). There are other options as far as filaments - different types of synthetic fibers, blends of hair and fiber, and different types of hair (softer brushes may use squirrel hair; mongoose hair is also used).

I purchased my brushes from Blick, so I'll share their links - these are affiliate links that kick a little commission my way if you buy at no extra cost to you, so thanks in advance if you do just that! This isn't a comprehensive list, and I haven't tried a brush from every brand, because brushes can get expensive! These are just the brands I've purchased that work for me.

Robert Simmons Sienna brushes
My favorite brushes have been the Robert Simmons Sienna brushes from Daler Rowney - these come with a lifetime guarantee, which is a great testimony to the quality of the product (actually, all the Robert Simmons brushes are guaranteed for life! Love that.). The shape of the handles is comfortable to hold, and the handles are nicely weighted. The brushes (a blend of synthetic filaments) have a great snap and a stiffness of 3 on the Jerry's scale. They come in sets and open stock, and the line includes a wide variety of brush shapes. Price for a #6 round brush (the size I usually grab first) - $6.75.

Grumbacher Goldenedge brushes
The next brushes on my list are from the Grumbacher Goldenedge line. These are synthetic sable brushes made of golden taklon fibers. Again, the handles have a nice curve and weighted feel, and the stiffness is comparable to the Sienna brushes. These brushes come in open stock. Price for a #6 round brush - $5.92.

DaVinci Nova brushes 
The DaVinci Nova brushes are really nice too - similar in feel to the two above. The synthetic filaments of these brushes are ridged to control the flow of paint, which is a nice feature. The handles are nicely weighted. There is a set of 5 brushes available if you're trying to build your collection or try a variety of sizes or styles.  Price for a #6 round brush - $7.99.

I bought some angled brushes from a couple of different sources because I wanted a variety of widths. The clear handled brush is a synthetic sable by Princeton - only the wash brushes in their line are clear acrylic; they do have other styles as well.  The blue handled brushes here are from the Robert Simmons Sapphire line - they are beautiful and similar in feel to the Siennas, but made from a sable and synthetic filament blend. They're great brushes too, and have the Simmons lifetime guarantee. These also come in variety packs, if you're trying to build your collection. Price for a #6 round brush - $6.79.

Simply Simmons brushes
 This line of Simply Simmons brushes by Daler Rowney is a lot of fun - there are soooo many different shapes and brush types to choose from, and the price per brush (any size) is just $3.29 (cheaper if you catch a sale!). Shop around for sets at a discount - Jerry's has them and they're also on Amazon (this one HERE is a great value and nice sampler set). These are great beginner brushes, especially at the price - a great way to get some variety into your collection without breaking the bank. I did get one with a wiggly ferrule but I tightened it easily with a pair of crimping pliers. Price for a #6 round brush - $3.29.

These Silver Black Velvet brushes had been recommended by a couple of different artists, and I got them, and ended up not loving them... The filaments on these are a blend of synthetic fibers and squirrel hair, which is softer than sable (a stiffness of 2 on the scale above). They do hold a lot of paint, which is great - I just am more accustomed to a snappier brush, the tip coming back to a straightened point when I lift the brush. Here's what I mean...

That said, they are a quality brush, and obviously worth consideration since they're used by artists that I respect! Price for a #6 round brush - $9.61.

I used a few different brushes to complete this little painting, based on a drawing in my sketchbook that can be purchased as a stamp HERE. I filled a palette with Brusho powders and water just to try something new (each well has 8-9 drops of water with each powder color mixed in, plus a couple of Magenta Nuance powders to fill out 2 remaining wells). Because of Brusho's properties, I could also use bleach to remove color and add highlights, which was fun too. I started with a light wash and added some loose colors, then worked in the negative space at the top to add depth and just practice that concept. The hot pink powder was a little intense for the background so there are a few areas of dark color I'm not excited about, but it was fun to just play... I'm trying to remember to do that more!

Hopefully I've shed a little light on how brushes can differ, and what you might consider when looking for brushes yourself. If you do have questions, please leave them in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. That fuchsia painting is so lovely. I like that new IO image as well. If only I hadn't overspent into next month already! I know, it's art and feeds my soul.

  2. Thanks Dina for the great tutorial. The video was also helpful. My goal this year is to learn to water colour and I am on a very limited budget for my crafting, so I rely on the internet & people like yourself to learn. I pinned this for reference and will try to play with my brushes today to become more familiar with them. Thanks again.

  3. Thanks SO much for your brush comparison and explanation. Being a novice to painting, it is helpful to me to know why artists prefer certain supplies. I have a feeling that I will like the brush snap to be a little stiffer than the ones I purchased for class. I think I'll pick up a few that you have suggested and give them a try.

  4. I have been looking for suggestions as to what to purchase. Can you recommend 3 sizes for a starting point that are best for water coloring.

    1. Good question! I might devote another blog post to this. 3... hmm... for small paintings and stamped images I think the brushes I use most are a #1 and #6 round, a #4 flat shader. For larger paintings, I would add in a #12 round, and maybe a 1/2" angled wash.

  5. Good info that I certainly needed. Thanks,

  6. Can always count on your for informative and timely information. Thanks so much

  7. Thank you so much for this info. I've been buying cheapish brushes as I'm a learner but they don't last well, false economy I think! Your painting is so beautiful, Cathy x

  8. I was just pondering this very question the other day, so thankful you took the time to post this. I have no idea what I like in a brush so I will just buy what Dina likes in a brush. :-D

  9. I am so glad you explained "snap". I do like that about some brushes but did not know how to describe it. I do have the brushes that you referred to and happy that I did not have to go out and purchase. lol Good article and great brush stamp!

  10. Thank you for this helpful review of brushes post, Dina. I am looking for better brushes instead of buying those cheaper ones at store. I am saving this post for future reference :) Terima Kasih banyak!

  11. ooh thanks so much for this post Dina, I have a handful of brushes that all came from different mfg. so, the video was the most helpful part for me watching what the brushes will do.