Beginner’s choice of brushes


The shape

There are many different types of watercolor brushes. But for ordinary painting, the round brush is the only sensible choice. It can be good to have other types of brushes as well, but it is the round brush that is most useful.

The size

The size of a brush is indicated by a number, but it is only an approximate indication. Size 8 only indicates that the brush is larger than a brush 6 from the same manufacturer and in the same series. There are brushes with other sizes, e.g. so-called French binding (mop) which has a completely different system for numbering than the usual English. To increase the confusion, there are manufacturers who specify the size in mm and so on. The only reliable way to evaluate the size of a brush as a beginner is to look at it and assess the size. After a few years of watercolor painting and experience, it is easier to understand the different dimensions.

Both of these brushes are size 8 from the same manufacturer but different series, the most expensive (lower) brush is larger even though they are both listed as size 8.

The most common type (English) is available in sizes from 00000 (5/0) which is a very small brush smaller than 0.3 mm to huge: size 20 and even larger. I usually recommend my students to initially get two brushes: one large and one small. The small brush should be size 4 to 6 and the large one 12 – 16. (or equivalent size in other measurement systems)

Number of brushes

There are watercolor painters who have a very large number of brushes and who constantly change brush depending on what they want to achieve. Personally, I prefer to use one or two brushes for one and the same painting.

A brush makes a certain impression on the paper, it has its own calligraphy. If you only use one brush in a certain painting, you will also get the same type of brush print on the entire painting. Calligraphy becomes more coherent. With a large brush it can be difficult to paint details, if necessary I use a smaller brush. But that’s all that’s needed, really: a big and a small brush.

The large brush is your most important tool, it is used for almost everything. It should be so large that you can easily paint large wet surfaces without effort while it can be used for small details. This places great demands on this brush. Unfortunately, large quality brushes are expensive

Brush hair

There are natural hair brushes and brushes with synthetic hair. The classic natural hair brush is made of sable hair or squirrel hair. The sable brush has the advantage (if it is of high quality) that it is elastic and pointed. The squirrel brush can be pointed but it lacks elasticity, it is very soft. Some watercolor painters prefer the soft squirrel, I personally think it is too soft and prefer the elastic sable, but it is a matter of taste which one you prefer.

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The elastic sable brush bounces back while the soft squirrel is much softer, if you are going to try this the brush hairs must be wet when testing.

Common types of natural hair are also: cow, ferret and goat but they are not as common as sable and squirrel.

The synthetic brushes are also of different quality, the price determines how good it is, but they are almost always cheaper than the corresponding brush in natural hair. Expensive brushes are usually of better quality than cheap ones. The advantage of the synthetic brush, in addition to the price, is its elasticity and that it sometimes has a good tip. Its major disadvantage is that it is unable to hold much fluid.

My choice for only two brushes

Large brush

A good and cheap brush from Zahn.
A good and cheap brush from Zahn.

There are two brushes that I recommend to my students, the big one is made by Zahn who is a German manufacturer. They let their dealer put their own name on their brushes, so it has different names depending on where you bought the brush. The brush is made of a mixture of synthetic and squirrel with the synthetic hair concentrated in the top for elasticity and the ability to have a nice pointed top. The squirrel hair is in the base of the brush to hold a lot of liquid, it works great: the brush has a pointed top and is elastic and thanks to the squirrel hair it holds lots of liquid. It’s also really cheap.

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You can paint both large and wet as well as small with this brush.
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See how fine lines you can draw with this large brush.

The size is stated in mm and No. 10 is the best for general use. There are both larger and smaller, but the one called 10 mm is suitable.

I have been looking a lot for a store that has penels in the US and only found one:

Small brush

daVinci Maestro, I highly recommend it. Size 4 is suitable as a small brush.

The small brush should have two qualities: it should be pointed and it must have elasticity, it is mostly used to paint small things with, then these properties are important. I think you should invest in quality when it comes to the small brush. A really good brush does not cost that much in small size. sable hair is best for such a small pointed brush with elasticity. My favorite is the daVinci Maestro, I highly recommend it. Size 4 is suitable as a small brush.

Some stores that have the brush:

(Series 10 is the “regular” Series 35 is “extra pointed” and Series 11 is “Full English Body” myself, I usually buy Series 10)

This brush is not common in the United States, but I have found some.

Both of these brushes are less common as you can see from the number of stores that carry them, unfortunately I did not find one that has both but you have to, if you want them, order them separately.

When buying a good brush, it is important to be careful with your new tools, so read this.

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Mr. S.
3 years ago

This informs is very clarifying. What do you think of calligraphy brushes?

2 years ago

Thank you for going to the trouble of including links on this post!

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