Watercolor Brushes: Using the Right Tools For the Job

Have you ever jerry-rigged something because you didn’t have what you really needed to get the job done? Boy, I have. The instance that has gotten the most laughter from my friends is from a time before I finally learned how to sew. I had a Halloween costume that needed some alterations just before I left the house to go to a party. I actually used–no joke–a stapler.

Other than the staples occasionally poking me throughout the night as I sat, stood, and mingled about, it worked! No one else was the wiser, and I even got compliments on the costume. Since then, fortunately, I’ve learned how to use a needle and thread, and even crochet quite a bit. I began using the right tools.

Painting is no different. We can take shortcuts, but the results are bound to be less than their potential. There are so many different types of paint brushes, for example, that it’s hard to even know which one you should use. That’s why I asked Karlyn Holman, featured in a series of art workshops online and on DVD, to explain which watercolor bushes she uses, and why. ~Cherie

Know your watercolor brushes | ArtistsNetwork.com

Images courtesy of Karlyn Holman

Watercolor Brushes: Using the Right Tools For the Job
by Karlyn Holman

The paint brushes you use for watercolor each create a unique look. As I experimented with natural and synthetic brushes and brushes of different shapes and sizes, the choices became clear.

Know your watercolor brushes | ArtistsNetwork.com

#14 and #8 round synthetic paint brushes

#14 and #8 Round Synthetic Brushes

My first big decision was in choosing a selection of round synthetic brushes based on their lower cost and their ability to “spring back” to their proper shape. The strength of this stiff bristle creates crisp lines, as well as the “thick to thin” expressive style line I like. Most importantly, synthetic bristles soften and lose edges better than any other type of bristles.

I commonly use my synthetic #14 and #8 round brushes. The #14 round brush has a great point that can be used to get into tight places, such as when painting flowers. The #8 round brush can be useful for painting details.

Know your watercolor brushes | ArtistsNetwork.com

Synthetic script paint brush

Synthetic Script Brush

The synthetic script brush is a workhorse that I use all the time, especially for fine details. It holds a lot of paint and will allow you to use endless strokes of continuous lines.

Know your watercolor brushes | ArtistsNetwork.com

Oriental small squirrel hair paint brush

Oriental Small Squirrel Hair Brush

My Oriental brush is made from squirrel hair and is the only natural bristle brush that I regularly use. Squirrel hair holds more paint than any other brush, and the soft bristles allow the paint to release from the brush easily. Because it readily releases paint, it is essential when I throw paint to create foliage and textured areas. Synthetic brushes hold the paint and don’t release it as well, so they don’t work for this particular “fun and free” approach.

Know your watercolor brushes | ArtistsNetwork.com

Synthetic wash, 1” Flat, and ½” flat brushes

Synthetic Wash, 1” Flat, and ½” Flat Brushes

My 1½” synthetic wash brush and the 1” and ½” flat brushes complete my favorite brushes. The wash brush holds a lot of water and is just the right size to wet your painting for a wet-into-wet start. It’s also perfect for laying in big washes of color. The 1” and ½” flat brushes are excellent for creating strong lines and straight edges (such as buildings), as well as for lifting paint with the thirsty brush technique.

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