Choosing a Watercolor Brush

There are many factors to consider when choosing brushes including shape, size, hair (natural vs. synthetic,) and personal preference.  A quality watercolor brush has hair that is soft, can keep a precise point or edge, will hold large quantities of water and will distribute the water evenly during the brushstroke.  High-end watercolor brushes hold more paint, allowing the artist to use fewer brush strokes and to acheive a fluid paint style.  Natural hair brushes such as Kolinsky Sable, Red Sable, Squirrel and Mongoose are revered for these qualities.  Synthetic and synthetic blend brushes offer similar advantages to natural hair, yet are a more affordable option. Also consider the construction of the brush and ferrule (where the hairs are joined to the handle.) Quality watercolor brushes are made by hand with materials that don’t rust and prevent the loss of the brush hairs.  Watercolor brushes generally have shorter handles than oil brushes and can be used in a variety of water-based media. 

When choosing watercolor brushes choose a range of sizes broad brushes for washes, medium brushes for larger shapes, and thin brushes for details.  Please see the chart below for more details.

WatercolorBrush

 

Types of Hair


Kolinsky Sable
Highest quality brush hair. Brushes maintain a very sharp point through repeated use and have the highest degree of resiliency and snap. The best Kolinsky brushes are made from hair from the tip of tail of the Siberian Kolinsky’s winter coat.

 

Red Sable
A very high quality brush with a high degree of resliency and snap. A more economical choice than pure Kolinsky with many of the same attributes. The hairs can come from anywhere on the coat and from a variety of members of the weasel family.

 red sable brush

Siberian Blue Squirrel
In fine art brushmaking, Siberian blue squirrel hair is the finest (diameter). With the most hairs per square inch it will hold the highest volume of water. Though it does not snap to point the way a sable brush does, it holds a relatively fine point and the high paint capacity make it the optimal choice for large, flawless washes.

 Siberian Blue Squirrel Mop

Natural/Synthetic Blend
A blended brush offers a nice combination of the snap and paint-load capacity of a natural hair brush while adding the additional stiffness and support of synthetic filaments.

 Sable Synthetic Blend

Synthetic
Synthetics vary widely in price and performance. A good quality synthetic brush will use filaments that vary in diameter and taper to a fine point. This combination of multiple diameters of tapered filaments lock together to hold a fine point or tight edge that more closely mimics natural hair.

 

 Kaerell Synthetic
Brush Shapes

Shapes of watercolor brushes