How to Buy Your First Watercolor Brushes

First Watercolor Brushes

Using the right tools is important for all painters regardless of experience and medium. For beginners, the right watercolor brushes can help build skill and confidence in an artist and create a proper understanding of the techniques that can be achieved using watercolor as a medium. Here are some of the most commonly used watercolor brushes, their main uses and characteristics.

Brush Shapes

There are many different watercolor brush shapes but most beginners will only need and use a few. These are:

Round – so-called because it has a full body of bristles and is usually tapered at the tip.

Flat – has a flat, rectangular shape; absorbs and holds more paint and is often used for blocking and for painting wide, straight lines.

Mop – has a teardrop shape; excellent for quickly painting and wetting large areas of the paper or fabric.

Fan – shaped like a fan or a broom with a straight tip; used for blending, smoothing, creating texture and other special effects.

Filbert – oblong-shaped with a blunt end, often used for blending.

Rigger – long and pointed, often used to create lines and very fine details.

Spotters – stubby with a fine, pointed tip, often used for detail work.

Types of Watercolor Brush Hairs

Synthetic Bristles

Synthetic brushes are usually made from polyester or nylon, often etched or abraded to make them hold paint more effectively. These brushes are very durable, easy to clean and will not attract insects.

Hog Bristles

The hair is sourced from hogs, the best of which are obtained from China. This brush does not fray easily and can be used to create even and smooth strokes.

Ox Bristles

Ox bristles are silky-smooth and quite stiff. To make ox brushes more resilient, ox hair is often mixed with other softer types of hair.

Pony Bristles

Pony hair is strong but soft to work with. Most brushes sold commercially are often mixed with other hair.

Sable Bristles

Sable is sourced from a small animal known as the sable marten. The hair, which is smooth and fine, allows the painter to enjoy better control of the brush during painting. It is also highly resilient and absorbent, and thus not likely to become deformed and cause problems with the strokes.

Caring for Watercolor Brushes

Watercolor brushes last longer if they are well cared for. To care for your brushes and extend their useful life, here are tips to keep in mind:

1. Wash brushes immediately after use. Although watercolor paint can be dissolved in water, it could damage the bristles and cause a permanently deformed brush.

2. When washing brushes, do not let your brushes soak too long in water. The wooden handle of the brush can absorb water and become deformed. Use a mild, plain soap or buy soap that is especially made for cleaning brushes. Rinse thoroughly until the water is clear. Once paint has been removed, dry the brushes between each painting session using fabric or paper towels.

3. When storing dry brushes, keep them in an upright position. Wet brushes may be hung upside down until they are dried. Dry brushes also do not attract insects which may feed on and damage the bristles.

4. Do not use the same brush for different media. A watercolor brush should only be used for watercolor or gouache paint but not for oil or acrylic.

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