Watercolor painting is an interesting medium to dive into because on one hand there are so few moving parts (paint, brush, paper) that, generally the quality of each piece plays a huge role in your satisfaction with the end product.
On the other hand…
You could paint an absolutely stunning piece with some water, mud, and paper!
I mean I could have a hard time making that work but I know plenty of artists that could knock that out of the park.
So I am writing this article to try and illuminate the pros and cons of each of these types of watercolor brushes so that you can pick which ones might suit your style the best.
I am not going to give any recommendations and in no way am I suggesting that you NEED one of each of these brushes.
In fact when you are beginning I highly suggest you pair down all your art supplies to the bare minimum and constrain yourself to only one or two brushes and a few colors of a single brand of paint.
When you learn to express yourself gracefully with those few tools then you will have no problem painting anything you want with any brush/paper/paint you can get your creative hands-on!
On to the brushes…
The first thing is getting you familiar with the anatomy of the brush and the terminology that goes along with it.
Every brush has 3 main components:
- The Handle
- The Ferrule
- The Bristles
The handle of the brush is traditionally made from wood but can come in any number of synthetic materials. If it is wood it will usually be covered in a colored coating that both helps protect the wood below and make it easier to read the useful information that is printed on the handle of the brush.
The Ferrule is the small metal piece that attaches the bristles to the handle. As you can imagine that is a pretty important job. The ferrule is broken down into two parts. The “Heel” and The “Crimp.” The Heel is where the ferrule meets the handle and the crimp is where the bristles meet the ferrule.
The headline of this watercolor brush show is the bristles. These can either be synthetic or natural fibers that absorb, hold, and dispense the paint and water that you use to paint with! The bristles on a watercolor brush are generally more sensitive and need a little more care than an acrylic brush needs.
Because of this do not use your watercolor brushes for anything but watercolors. Oil-based paints and Acrylic paints may damage the delicate bristles of your prized watercolor brushes!
Now let’s finally get into the different kinds of watercolor brushes that are out there.
Round brushes are probably the most prevalent and most popular style of watercolor brush. These brushes have an almond-shaped set of bristles and are great general-purpose brushes. If you are going to only use one brush then I highly suggest that it be a Round brush. Their almond shape allows the Round brush to carry a sharp tip while the belly of the bristles can hold a lot of water.
The smaller Round brushes are great for detail and line work while the bigger round brushes (the biggest ones being called “Mop Brushes”) are good for washes and covering large areas evenly with paint.
One thing to remember is that the bigger the Round brush gets the less defined the tip will be.
The Flat brush is characterized by, you guessed it, its flat ferrule and flat bristles. This style of brush is great for straight lines and block strokes. The bigger Flat brushes are great for large, even washes of color.
The small version of the Flat brush is often called a “Bright” brush. This miniature flat brush has stiffer bristles so it is even better at painting crisp lines but because it has a smaller belly it can not carry much water.
Another version of the flat brush is called an “Angle Brush.” The Angle brush is a flat brush where the bristles are cut at an angle. This makes it so that you can still have the width of a flat brush when you need it while also having a sharp tip on the brush that is easy to use. You can also achieve some pretty neat techniques where you load up one side of the brush or the other with paint. There is another type of Angle Brush called a “Sword Brush” that is basically a hybrid between an Angle brush and a round brush.
This brush is more commonly used in oil painting but you can achieve some cool and unique shapes with it. The Filbert brush is the love child of a Round Brush and a Flat Bush. It is a wide, round brush with a flat ferrule.
Cat Tongue Brush
This is another weird, less common brush. It is basically the same as the Filbert brush but with a sharper tip.
The Fan brush is a wide brush where the bristles are fanned out. The fan brush is perfect if you are trying to create interesting textures in your pieces. You can also manipulate the bristles by clumping sections of the bristles together to create multiple little brushes.
These are the brushes you are going to run into the most when you walk down the isle of your local arts and crafts store.
Another weird one that I should mention is a brush called a “Liner Brush.” This is a smaller brush where the bristles are long and slender to help paint long, consistent lines. These brushes are very similar to the brushes sign painters use and are very popular among artists that also dabble in calligraphy.
I hope you learned a thing or two about the wonderful world of brushes and to sum it up, if I was forced to only use one brush for the rest of my life I would choose a nice, medium round brush.
But once again...this is art...you could make a brush out of your own eyebrows if you wanted to!