Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Favorite Brushes, Paper & Paint

     Today’s blog might seem boring, and may only appeal to actual artists.  But it’s a subject I feel strongly about, and after all, this is my blog, right?  So here goes:  I can’t impress upon you enough, the importance of starting a painting with quality materials. 
     To paint at a high level, or to paint at all, demands a lot of skill, persistence and time.  To start with inferior materials just makes it more difficult for you.  To begin a work of art with student-grade paint, (which is not quality paint), or inferior brushes, (just because they might be a little bit cheaper), is a sure-fire way to sabotage yourself.
     Folks, I know that Winsor & Newton Series VII brushes are $100 a pop, so everyone can’t run out and buy 9 Kolinsky Sable brushes, but there are some things you can do and I’m going to try to give you some ideas and see if this might solve some issues you might be having.
     The brush is your connection with your paper.  Everything you do on your painting is transferred through your brush.  So it is imperative that you start with a quality brush.
     Now, I understand that when any new artist goes to buy their art supplies, they are usually on a budget, and it’s hard to pick a good brush.  So I’m going to give away my first secret!  It’s the name of a good, quality brush, and it’s not expensive.
     Are you ready?  Silver Brush Company makes them and they’re called Black Velvets (think Elvis, if you must), and they are a round brush.  You can buy them in sizes that range from 000 all the way up to 20.  And they cost around $5 - $12.
     These are good, quality brushes.  When they wear out, throw them away and buy some new ones.  When you paint on watercolor paper, it tends to wear out the tip of the brush, and if you paint all day long like I do, they don’t last long.
     So save your Series VII’s for when you need a bigger brush with a wider tip on it, and use them for big washes and background washes.  Buy these Silver Black Velvet Rounds for detailed work.  They hold a nice point and they’ll last a long time.  They’re Squirrel brushes and I’ve had really, really good luck with them.
     My next favorite brush is one of the expensive brushes.  I really like the way this brush holds up, and I’ve even had the same one for 2 or 3 years.  I use it mostly for broad background washes.  Isabey Brush Company makes it, and it’s called the Isabey Black Onyx.  It’s also a Kolinsky Sable and it’s about $100.  It’s made in France and will last a long time if you take care of it.  It’s a great sketch brush, a great Plein Aire outdoor brush, and I use it in my studio for Studio paintings.  It’s a great brush for medium to large areas, and it points well.  You won’t have to buy but one.
     With the Silver Black Velvet Rounds and this Isabey Black Onyx, you can accomplish just about anything you run across.
     Now on to Paint!  If you start with Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith professional paint, you’ll eliminate all the problems that arise from the use of student-grade paint.  Your painting won’t look chalky, the value won’t be all the same or weak, and most importantly, you’ll be happy with the outcome.
     Let’s move on to Paper.  I start all my workshop students with Arches Coldpress 140 lb. paper.  It’s the most forgiving.  You can scrub on it, you can erase on it, and you can really punish the paper and it can take it and still deliver a quality piece.
     You can put masking fluid on it, erase all your pencil lines and not worry about harming the fibers of the paper.  So the bottom line is this:  you don’t have to worry about the paper receiving your next wash after you’ve erased.  That’s one more point in its favor.
      Everybody wants to paint on hand-made papers, (which come with their own unique set of issues) but I think you should learn to become proficient on Arches and you’ll eliminate a lot of problems when you move on to the more expensive hand-made papers.
      My advice would be to work on developing your painting skills for maybe a year or so on Arches before tackling these specialty papers.  After 12 or 18 months, order some Twin Rocker or other nice hand-made paper and slowly move into the more expensive brands.  Then you won’t be wasting $15 per sheet because you’re using cheap paint or the wrong brush.    
     OK, if you follow these tips, you have won half the battle!  With the proper paint, paper and brushes, you can then concentrate on your drawing and painting skills.  The War of Art is hard enough without fighting your materials. 
All content and images © J. Mark Kohler Studio.



  1. I have been using these Black Velvets since attending a MK workshop earlier this year. They are nice, and I like the price too.

    However, I'm waiting for a newer model that will allow me to paint like Mark:)

  2. Rob,

    Thanks for the compliment! You have the talent, and remember: it's not only about the skill level, it's about the ability to persist. And that's up to you!