• Karen Thomas

What makes a good watercolour brush?

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

Around May last year, I started to feel the urge to change things up a little in the brushes department. I wasn't dissatisfied exactly, but it was little things. The problem was, fixing the little things came with a prohibitively big price tag, as anybody who has explored the ins and outs of 'rolls royce' watercolour brushes will tell you!

As usual, I dived into the subject 110%. I gradually tested brushes from most of the world's top manufacturers. If you've heard the name, chances are I tried it. I started in the mid-ranges, then (wincing) tried the top end. Here's what I learned ...

Firstly, I won't go into the qualities of the best type of hair. This has been well documented time after time. It all has to do with hydrophilic qualities, suppleness and elasticity.

Once the best hair has been decided upon however, there's another consideration. What isn't so well documented, in my opinion, is that a lot of top manufacturers also place a premium on a particular shape of build.

Let's say that you're an expressive artist like me. You want a brush that can hold lots of water - no careful going over areas and under confident scrubbing around. You want that brush to deliver the mixed water and pigment in a controlled manner, not just gush it all out on first contact with the paper. You want a softness and spring, but a certain inner stiffness and resilience, otherwise you'd want a mop brush. Lastly - and this seems to be the holy grail when combined with the other traits - a really sharp, expressive point that lets you go wild with mark-making!

Admittedly, that's asking a lot of a brush. As a result of my testing, I've found that even the top end brushes that promise all this aren't equal. Some get too soft after a couple of weeks use. Some get blunt, quickly. Some release their water too fast. Brushes purportedly built from the same hair, across manufacturers, performed very differently. I certainly got some surprises. I found three brushes that came close to what I wanted. Unfortunately they were in the £70 upward-per-brush price category. I was beginning to get disheartened with my search.

I figured I'd scoured google and watercolour sites for manufacturers until there weren't any options left! But being a determined character, I cast my net wider. I'm ashamed to admit that my non-native language skills are non-existent, so with the help of google translate and a huge slice of luck, I finally found a brush manufacturer in Germany that sounded promising.

I waited for the delivery of brushes with baited breath. They arrived, and they were good! I used them intensively for a couple of weeks. They were durable. I knew I'd spent far too long on this project, so I figured if I was going to act at this stage they needed to be perfect. So, after a round of discussions with the company owner and another round of testing, I had my perfect brush and a fantastic brush partner.

So here they are. My dream-team set of brushes. Two high-performance kolinsky sables and a medium-soft synthetic. Sizes 12, 9 and 6. The tips are hand-cupped and tied by a master brush maker to the exact steeple shape that involves a dense hair-count, a full, tapering belly and a wickedly sharp extra long point. I'll get some properly-done photos of them soon, but for now I'm too busy using them!

The hairs are set deeply into the seamless ferrules, producing a fantastic spring and return. The water release rate is simply a joy to work with for a watercolour geek such as myself. We've made the kolinsky handles extra-long in order to allow your grip to travel further up the handle, away from the control end, for more expressive work.

The handles are hardwood. They're a reassuring weight in the hand, and the balance is perfect. I paint more often than anyone I know, and can certainly vouch for their longevity.

I'm proud to have put my name on them. Best of all, the price stacks up incredibly well to anything else I've found close to their league.

When you're next in the market for a new set of brushes, I humbly hope you consider giving them a try. I'm sure you'll love them as much as I do! You can order them here .