The Professional Artist Series is a look into the world of the working artist, featuring tutorials, tips, and personal perspectives about art from those who really know the ropes.
Artist: MaryAnn Cleary of Spirit River Studio
Currently Studying: Landscape Painting
Influences: Sargent, Georgia O’Keefe, Nicohlai Fechin
An Introduction to Basic Brushes for Watercolor Journaling
Brushes are the tools and the life line of watercolorists. For someone just starting, the vast array of brushes can be absolutely mind boggling. They vary in prices, sizes and shapes depending on quality and materials.
Watercolor brushes typically have short handles, but long handled brushes are available as well. Your choice depends on personal preference and portability.
Short handled brushes are a good fit for use with a watercolor art journal because they are so easy to tote around.
As an avid traveler, I always have a stash of watercolor supplies close at hand for quick stops along the countryside.
For making my journal pages, I prefer the Koi watercolor set that includes a little palette and small brush. Nice, compact and great colors. Besides the wonderful self-contained water brush that comes with the Koi set, I like to use a variety of brushes for painting different effects in my water color journal.
- I have two half-inch flat brushes. One is a kolinsky sable (B) that I bought more than twenty years ago. They are the creme de la creme of brushes. I also have a half inch flat synthetic hair brush (A) that has very soft, bouncy and flexible fibers. The fibers are a bit longer than my old sable brush and I find that I use and like it better than the sable.
- I also carry a few round brushes. One is synthetic – and totally sucks, but I like the effect for some things. The rest are all natural hair brushes that I picked up in China during the two years that I lived in Suzhou. They work great.
The main thing to look for in a brush is the feel and look of the fibers of the brush.
A good brush will have a sharp point. (I have been known to spit on them to see their point shapes correctly when wet.) It’s difficult to tell by just looking at a dry brush, especially with the starch the companies apply to hold the shape. A good art store will have a glass of water where you can dip and play with the brush to see how the water flows from the brush and what the point shape looks like when wet. Some are excellent. Other brushes suck.
Also, be sure to gently pull on the fibers to make sure they don’t fall out. This is a typical problem with cheap brushes that results in scattered hairs all over your painting. Very frustrating.
I would stay away from the darker and thick looking natural fibers where the shape is inconsistent, but the price is cheap.
With brushes you get what you pay for. An artist needs good tools.
Also, stay away from the stiff, synthetic types. There are some great synthetic fibers now and there are also brushes with a blend of synthetic and natural fibers. Those can be pretty amazing, too, and very cost effective.
Brushes in the image and a test of how they paint:
- A – a synthetic 1/2 inch flat brush. Paints nicely and holds the paint very well. (No. 6 1/2″ Umbria Flat Princeton Art and Brush Co. 6250F)
- B – sable flat. It used to paint a lot nicer before an old boyfriend used it for something other than watercolor (1/2″ flat Aquarelle by Grumbacher)
- C – synthetic fibers (no. 12 Sablette by Utrecht)
- D – natural fiber about the same size as the one above.
- E and F – natural fibers Chinese brushes – I wanted you to see the points on these. Compare the look of these to the stiff synthetic of C.
- G – white synthetic that came with the Koi watercolor kit. Excellent. A brush like this helps you achieve very fine lines.
Next we will play with the actual paint and I will show some techniques with how to use it. Enjoy!