My Favorite Watercolor Supplies and Tools Part 3: Brushes

As I've already shared, having good paper and paint is important when you're creating with watercolor. And, of course, so is having good brushes. The type of brush will depend on what sort of watercolor paintings you're creating. For my detailed botanicals, I need to have brushes that will keep a nice point and allow me to paint sharp, careful lines and tiny details.

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One of the things that frustrated me when I was first learning how to paint was that not only did I not have enough control to paint careful, fine lines, but my brushes also weren't capable of painting them.

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Upgrading your brushes goes a long way towards helping you and your art improve.

Choosing brushes is not an easy task. There's a dizzying number and variety of types and brands. Different sizes. Different shapes. Different types of hair. It's hard to know where to start.

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I buy almost all of my art supplies online and one thing that's been helpful to me is reading product reviews (though I do take them with a grain of salt -- it's amazing how two people can give completely opposite reviews of the same product, but it does happen).

The brushes I use most often are what are called "pointed round" watercolor brushes with short handles, but there are many different types for use with different techniques. You can find a good overview that explains the different shapes of brushes here.

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Quite a few years ago I purchased a set of round brushes from Dick Blick. I chose the Blick Master Series synthetic brushes in part because these brushes have a lifetime guarantee. They were also reasonably priced.

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I was happy with my first set of brushes and have slowly bought more, both smaller and larger than the brushes in that first set.

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I've also tried a few of the Blick Master Kolinsky Sable Brushes in the smaller sizes, thinking that the natural fiber would give a better point.

In truth, I wasn't entirely happy with how those little brushes held their shapes. My original size 0 synthetic brush had become fuzzy, too. The brushes are guaranteed for life, and knowing I wanted to write a post about brushes, I finally stopped putting off contacting Dick Blick to get replacements. I worried that it would be difficult -- I'd had the brushes for years already -- but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy and quick it was. After providing the order numbers and item numbers of the problem brushes, I was emailed a FedEx return label and given tracking numbers for my replacement brushes. They arrived the next day.

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Choose whichever brushes most appeal to you and your working style and make sure that they're of high quality. Cheaper brushes can have all sorts of problems. Low quality brushes won't keep a nice point. The hairs might even fall out (my big mop brush, a Michaels brand brush, sheds hairs). The ferule (the metal part that attaches the hairs to the handle) might be wobbly (or it might fall off). With the cheapest brushes I've even had problems with the varnish flaking off the handles.

There are more subtle problems, too. Cheaper brushes might not be as good at absorbing water and paint or they might be too absorbent and not so good at releasing the water and paint onto the paper. If you're doing a lot of lifting of paint, a cheaper, softer brush might not be so effective at this.

If you paint a lot, you'll probably adjust your painting technique to make up for your brushes' failings, but if you're new at painting, low quality brushes will needlessly frustrate you. As your budget allows, try a variety and see what you like and don't like.

Although I've tried a few other brushes, I keep coming back to the Blick Master Synthetic (I have no affiliation with the company, I just like the brushes!).

Recently, I've tried some Princeton Velvetouch brushes with a couple different shapes.

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I like how they perform (that tiny spotter is my smallest brush and paints a nice, sharp fine line) and they're very reasonably priced, too. I haven't tried any of their round brushes, but I like that they offer round brushes with both long and short tips.

No matter what brushes you choose, it's important to take good care of them so that they'll last as long as possible. Never leave them with the bristles down in a jar of water for any extended period. Wash them after each use (plain water is usually fine, but if they're very dirty you can use a little soap). Store them with the bristles pointed up.

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I hope that these art supplies posts have been helpful to you. I'd love to know what other questions you might have or what topics you'd still like me to cover.

Have a wonderful weekend!

(P.S. Thanks for all the birthday wishes! I had a perfect day.)


  1. Great advice on brushes Anne! Isn't it annoying when the hairs fall out into your paint? I can see how you find the finer ones useful for adding the veined detail on leaves and acorns above. I like to use big flat brushes for creating a wash for a background. Thanks for all the information on this mini series of paint, paper and brushes! :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Simone. With good brushes I don't have that happen very often, but I remember how frustrating it was when I was painting more with acrylics and using some very cheap brushes. Ugh!

      Have a great week!


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