Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't Get Mired!

     I wanted to talk to you today about something that might seem trivial, but can actually impact your painting in a huge way.  Have you ever considered switching up your brush selection?  Too many watercolorists (in my humble opinion) get mired in a rut of using the same three brushes.  I know there is a sense of security in familiar brushes, but don’t get stuck with playing it safe with your “tried and trues”.
     We’ve discussed some of my favorites in the past, but let’s go a bit more in-depth.  Let’s look at some brushes you might not have considered.
     ROUNDS – Let’s get our Rounds on the table right off the bat.  We all have our favorites and 95% of our painting is probably done with some type of round.  My favorites are Winsor & Newton Series 7s and Silver Brush Co. Black Velvets.  These are my most used, “workhorse” brushes and I am guilty, like most, of leaning on them too often.  They’re a must, but let’s look at an opportunity to use a different brush.

     CAT’S TONGUE – I discussed the Cat’s Tongue in an earlier posting.  This has become a staple in my paint box.  The Cat’s Tongue allows the artist to produce a wide range of paint applications.  Fine cut-ins and larger washes can be done with the same brush.  I find it particularly useful for painting backgrounds around foreground images.  The Cat’s Tongue also charges up with a lot of water, which I find a plus.
     My next favorite brush is a LANGNICKEL 5590 Sable Flat.  Richard Schmid made these brushes famous when he used them for his oil paintings, but the Sable charges up nicely for watercolor work, too.  They last forever when used as a watercolor brush and are relatively affordable.  When you want a flat hard edge, the Langnickel fits the bill.  I also like to buy cheap synthetic flats in small sizes, for doing small details like rope work.
     My final suggestion for a change in your brush inventory falls into the Round Category.  These brushes are made differently and have an interesting look.  Typically, the ferrule is wrapped with plastic and wire.  The brush is full-bodied, and holds a lot of water.  It makes a large, round stroke and I find it particularly useful for foliage and plein aire painting.  I actually have two favorites that I prefer:  the Isabey #0 Onyx in Kolinsky Sable, and Winsor & Newton Series 250 Squirrel brushes in sizes 2 and 3.  
     Give these brushes a try and see if they don’t change up your technique and add a new dimension to your paintings.  Good luck!


  1. I am with you on the black velvets. I bought a couple at your suggestion and I really like them, I bought the 4, 8 round and a jumbo round I have a problem using a jumbo round type brush. Guess I need to practice more with them as I cant seem to get the control down with it. It also requires alot of paint mixed to fill it so I cant seem to gauge how much paint to mix up to do a large section. Is the cat tongue type easier than those jumbo rounds?

  2. David,

    The Jumbo round is good for covering big broad areas fast. I actually mix up my paint in a bowl just for use with that brush, because it soaks up so much water. The Cat's Tongue is probably what you're looking for. Buy a Silver Brush Co. Cat's Tongue in the Black Velvet and try that. It should work better for you.