The Interesting Art of Watercolour Painting: How to Choose Your Brushes

There is something magical about watercolour paintings. Maybe it’s the way the colours flow into each other so softly or the watered-down paint’s soft and delicate effects. The thing is, this type of art has a beautiful allure that can entice everyone.

Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, you might enjoy the art of watercolour and the technical aspect of creating a beautiful painting with it. But to ensure you have a positive experience, you’ll need to invest in the right tools. Today I’m going to talk about watercolour painting brushes.

Do You Need Certain Brushes for Watercolour?

watercolour brush
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Well, depending on the type of brush you use, you’ll notice a significant variation in their performance and durability. Given that your brushes will endure hundreds of paintings, it’s worthwhile to invest in decent models that suit your painting style. 

Beginners frequently purchase big sets of brushes that include dozens of different types and sizes. However, most people do not use many of the brushes that come with these sets, thus most of them go to waste.

To start painting, you really need just a few key designs. But with so many options of watercolour brush available at the art stores, how can you choose the correct ones without wasting time and money? Below is everything you need to know about this purchase, including factors like hair type, size, and form, so you can pick the best one for your project.

Hair Type: Synthetic vs. Natural

watercolour brush
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You’ll find watercolour brushes for sale featuring natural hair from animals and synthetic versions that imitate animal hair. As you may have guessed, brushes made with natural hair are more expensive than the ones with synthetic hair.

Natural hairs are soft and delicate and have little scales that hold more water. The most common type of hair is sable hair, which is smooth, long and generally taken from the tail. The most expensive is the Kolinksy sable, which is derived from a weasel rather than a sable and may cost hundreds of dollars for a single brush! Other common hair kinds include squirrel for large mop brushes, and goat and ox for less expensive natural hairs.

Synthetic watercolour brushes are made to look like real ones but with synthetic filaments. Taklon is the most common type of synthetic hair, and it is commonly ‘gold’ to simulate sable hair, however, it can also be brown or white. Truth be told, modern synthetic brushes paint and perform pretty similar to animal hair brushes – the quality is nearly identical.

Many find synthetic brushes stiffer and better able to keep their shape than natural ones, making them easier to manipulate. This is referred to as having a “good snap”, which means that the fibres snap back to a straight position after being lifted off the paper.

Brush Shape

watercolour brush
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Different watercolour brush shapes are available. The most common include:

Round Brushes

These are the most common kind. The round ferrule inspired the name. They function as two-in-one brushes as they feature a pointed tip for creating fine strokes and a larger belly for creating thicker strokes when pressed down on the watercolour paper.

Flat Brushes

These brushes often feature a flat ferrule with short, squared bristles. They work nicely for lines, edges, geometric forms, and watercolour washes. A broad flat brush can swiftly cover the paper, ensuring an even water content that is ideal for mixing.

Mop Brushes

These are large round brushes usually made of animal hair, such as squirrel fur, and with the ability to hold more water. The plastic ferrule distinguishes them from the other brushes. They’re great for painting loose work or with a lot of water.

Cat’s Tongue Brushes

Another kind of rounded-edged brush can be used flat or on their sides to generate intriguing marks.

Liner Brushes

These brushes feature lengthy bristles that are useful for drawing long, smooth lines.

Brush Size

The final step is deciding on a size. Brush sizes are numbered, with the larger the number indicating a wider brush. Sizes typically range from 0 to 10, then grow in two-digit increments up to 24 or even larger. Keep in mind that sizes can vary between brands.

When it comes to what size brushes are best for watercolour painting, a size 6 round brush, which is an excellent medium size, is the most commonly used type by watercolourists. For details you can choose a smaller round brush, such as a size 2 or 1, and for looser work and watercolour washes a larger round brush, such as a size 12 or 16. 

If you decide you need a mop brush, keep in mind that their sizes differ from typical round brush sizes – size 6 mop will be quite huge. For something medium, you should start with a size 2 mop. As a beginner, you’ll do fine with these sizes. With time, you’ll find out which sizes you like best.