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Mastering Watercolor: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Caring for Brushes

The Art of Watercolor: Choosing the Right Brushes

As a beginner or experienced watercolor artist, you will quickly learn that selecting the right brush is key to achieving the desired results in your painting. There are many types of watercolor brushes with each designed for a specific purpose.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of watercolor brushes and how to choose the correct brush size for your painting.

Types of Watercolor Brushes

1.1 Brush Hair Options

When it comes to selecting the right brush, the type of hair the brush is made of plays an important role in its performance. There are two types of brush hairs: natural and synthetic.

Natural hairs are more expensive and come from animals like sable, squirrel, goat, and ox. Synthetic hairs are made of polyester or nylon and are more cost-effective.

Natural brushes have better resilience and perform better than synthetic brushes, especially in watercolor techniques like washes, blending, and detailing. They hold more water and pigment than synthetic brushes.

Synthetic brushes are ideal for painting sharpness edges and intricate details, which require stiffer bristles. 1.2 Sable Brushes

Sable brushes, which are made of weasel hair, are the most popular natural bristle brush.

Kolinsky sable brushes, a type of sable brush, are the most superior and more expensive. They are highly resilient and capable of producing sharp and precise brush strokes.

Pure sable brushes are made of sable hairs that are shorter and slightly softer than Kolinsky sable. They provide excellent control and are perfect for washes.

Red sable brushes are cheaper versions of Kolinsky sable brushes made of slightly inferior hair. They are still high performers, although they are less resilient than pure sable and Kolinsky sable brushes.

1.3 Squirrel, Goat, and Ox Brushes

Squirrel hair is one of the softest and most absorbent hairs used in watercolor brushes. Brushes made with squirrel hairs are ideal for spreading washes, blending colors, and creating soft edges.

Goat hairbrushes are coarser than sable brushes, ideal for lifting pigment and painting dry brush strokes. Ox hairbrushes are affordable and have strong and firm bristles.

They are useful for producing sharp lines and capturing fine details. Brushes made of ox hair are not as durable as other natural hairs and may require regular replacement.

1.4 Synthetic Brushes

Polyester brushes are stiffer than natural hairbrushes, perfect for creating sharp and precise brush strokes. Nylon brushes are less resilient than Kolinsky sable or natural hair brushes, but they make up for that by being cost-effective and easier to maintain.

Synthetic brushes are also more durable than natural hair brushes and do not require regular replacement. 1.5 Camel Brushes (to be avoided)

Camel hair brushes are made of a blend of hairs from various animals and not from camels.

They are lower-priced and do not perform well, producing inferior quality lines that lack sharpness and precision. Camel brushes need to be avoided, especially for watercolor painting.

1.6 Hog Brushes

Hog brushes are the go-to for large wash brushes and are highly durable. They are the most reasonably priced natural hair brushes on the market and provide the best value for their quality.

Hog brushes perform well in rough and direct techniques, and when stored correctly they can last for many years.

Choosing the Correct Brush Size

2.1 Determining Brush Size

Choosing the correct brush size is essential in ensuring that the intended brushstrokes and marks are achieved in your painting. Brushes come in varying sizes, and to determine the right size, consider what you will be painting.

For large washes, choose a large brush. For bold strokes, select a brush with a thicker handle.

Large brushes are also good for producing broad stokes. For a regular stroke, choose a mid-sized brush.

For detailed work like painting fine lines, select small brushes. 2.2 Versatility of Brush Sizes

Mid-sized brushes are more versatile when it comes to watercolor painting.

They are perfect for blending colors, creating soft edges, detailed work, and even washes. Smaller brushes, like size 0 and 2, are useful in producing fine lines, and painting delicate details that require precision.

2.3 Recommended Brush Sizes for Beginners

For beginners, select brushes that are easy to control but provide enough range to achieve the desired result. Size 3, 6, and 12 brushes are good starting brushes for beginners.

A size 3 brush is ideal for producing fine details and painting in small spaces, while a size 6 brush is versatile when it comes to painting and can be used for washes, painting streaks, and a range of other painting techniques. A size 12 brush is best for large washes and painting big areas.


Selecting the perfect watercolor brush size and type is crucial to producing the desired outcome in your painting. Identify the kind of painting and colors you’ll use, then select the brush with the right type and size for the job.

Keen attention to detail is essential, as this is what makes the difference between amateurs and professionals in watercolor painting. With the right brushes and a little practice, your watercolor will be flawless in no time.

Understanding the Parts of a Water Paint Brush

Watercolor painting is a beautiful and rewarding art form that requires an understanding of the parts of a brush. A watercolor brush is composed of several parts, each of which plays a crucial role in the quality of the brush.

In this section, we will be discussing the components of a water paint brush in detail. 3.1 The Handle

The handle of a brush is an essential part of its anatomy.

A durable handle is necessary for the longevity of a brush. Artists may require control and comfort when using their brushes for extended periods, making an ergonomic handle necessary.

The grip of a brush handle must be comfortable for the artist. The use of a lacquered wooden handle prevents it from splintering and eliminates the risk of it overheating while painting.

3.2 The Ferrule

The ferrule is the metal part of the brush that secures the bristles to the handle. It is the barrier between the handle and the bristles.

The ferrule must be rust-resistant and adequately crimped to secure the bristles. The use of copper and nickel-plated ferrules makes them durable and corrosion resistant.

3.3 The Heel

The heel is the upper part of the bristles that clamps the hairs together, ensuring they are neatly packed with no blobs of glue. This allows the brush to retain its shape and maintain its integrity over time.

The type of glue used in the heel is essential for the durability of the brush. The use of high-quality glue prevents the hairs of the brush from falling out after prolonged use.

3.4 The Tip

The tip of a brush is the part of the bristles that tapers towards the end, comprising the fine tip, flat brushes, and bent hairs that are necessary for creating fine lines and details in a painting. A fine tip is crucial for creating intricate details, while flat brushes are useful for washes and bold strokes.

Bent hairs, on the other hand, allow the artist to achieve a variety of brushstrokes. 3.5 The Belly

The belly is the area between the heel and the tip.

It is the part of the brush that holds water and paint, and its size determines the amount of liquid that can be held and how it is distributed on the canvas. A brush with a large belly is ideal for painting washes, while a brush with a small belly is suitable for detailed work.

Recommendations for the Best Watercolor Brushes

4.1 Versatile Brush Set Recommendation

The ALERIE Watercolor Brushes Set is a sophisticated and versatile brush set that comes with multiple brush sizes, including size 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 round brushes and size 4, 8, flat brushes. The brushes are made of high-quality non-shed synthetic bristles, providing excellent water and paint holding capacity.

They are ergonomically designed with long wooden handles for comfort and ease of use. This set is perfect for artists with a wide range of skill levels and is excellent value for money.

4.2 Detailed Work Brush Set Recommendation

The AIT Detail Brush Set is a handcrafted set in the USA. It includes ten different brushes of different sizes, all made from pure red sable hair.

These brushes are perfect for artists looking for fine detail work. They have high water holding capacity, pointed tips and significant resiliency, making them a pleasure to work with.

The set comes with a lifetime warranty, assuring customers of its quality and long-lasting durability. 4.3 Wash Brush Set Recommendation

The PATELAI 3 Pieces Flat Hake Brushes set is handcrafted with 100% natural sheep’s hair bristles.

These brushes are large and flat, perfect for watercolor washes and creating bold strokes. The handles are made of solid wooden material, giving them a reliable and sturdy feel.

This set is ideal for artists who want to create a lot of ground coverage using watercolor paint.


A watercolor brush is an essential tool in creating beautiful artwork. Understanding the anatomy and the different types of brushes available enables artists to make informed decisions when purchasing their brushes.

Choose a brush that suits your needs and painting style, always look for high-quality and durable brushes, and maintain them correctly to keep them in excellent condition for a long time.

Looking After Your Watercolor Brushes

Maintaining and caring for your watercolor brushes is essential to ensure their longevity and optimal performance. In this section, we will discuss the best practices for taking care of your brushes, including using them with the right medium, prewetting the pigment, using the brushes correctly, cleaning them properly, drying them correctly, and avoiding soaking.

5.1 Using Your Brush with the Right Medium

Watercolor brushes are designed specifically for watercolor painting and should be used exclusively with this medium. Avoid using your watercolor brushes with other mediums such as acrylic or oil paints, as these mediums have different properties and can damage the bristles.

By using your brush with the appropriate medium, you can maintain its effectiveness and prolong its lifespan. 5.2 Prewetting the Pigment

Before applying pigment to your brush, consider prewetting the surface of the pigment.

This practice helps to soften the surface, allowing the paint to spread more smoothly and evenly. Prewetting also helps to enhance the vibrancy of the colors.

You can achieve this by using a spray bottle or mister to lightly mist the pigment before loading your brush. 5.3 Using the Brush Correctly

When using your watercolor brush, it is important to use gentle and controlled strokes.

Avoid pushing down on the brush or using excessive force as this can damage the bristles and affect the performance of the brush. Instead, allow the brush to glide over the paper with minimal pressure.

Remember that a watercolor brush is not meant to be used as a shovel. Use it delicately to achieve the desired effect.

5.4 Cleaning Your Brushes Properly

Proper cleaning is essential in maintaining the quality of your watercolor brushes. After each painting session, rinse your brushes thoroughly with clean water.

Use your fingers or a gentle brush cleaner to remove any excess paint from the bristles. Avoid using soaps or solvents as they can damage the bristles.

Make sure to clean the brush until the water runs clear to ensure all pigments are removed. 5.5 Drying Your Brushes Correctly

After cleaning your brushes, reshape the bristles to their original form.

Use your fingers to gently reshape the brush and repoint the tip if necessary. It is important to properly dry your brushes to prevent damage and maintain their shape.

Lay them flat or hang them upside down to ensure proper drying. Avoid storing your brushes with the tip facing downwards or leaving them submerged in water, as this can cause the bristles to become misshapen or damaged.

5.6 Not Soaking Your Brushes

While it is essential to keep your brushes wet during a painting session, it is important to avoid soaking them for extended periods. Wetting the tip of the brush before using it is sufficient to keep the bristles moist and ready for use.

Soaking your brush for long periods can lead to waterlogging, which weakens the bristles and can cause them to become loose or fall out. Additionally, be mindful of protecting the ferrule from water damage, as excess moisture can cause the ferrule to rust or loosen over time.


Caring for your watercolor brushes is crucial to maintain their longevity and optimal performance. By following the best practices discussed in this section, including using your brushes with the appropriate medium, prewetting the pigment, using gentle strokes, cleaning your brushes properly, drying them correctly, and avoiding soaking, you can ensure that your brushes remain in excellent condition for years to come.

Treat your brushes with care and respect, and they will reward you with beautiful and consistent results in your watercolor paintings. Caring for your watercolor brushes is crucial for their longevity and optimal performance.

Using the right medium, prewetting the pigment, using gentle strokes, cleaning them properly, drying them correctly, and avoiding soaking are essential practices. By following these tips, you can maintain the quality and effectiveness of your brushes for years to come.

Treat your brushes with care and they will reward you with beautiful results in your watercolor paintings. Remember, the key to creating stunning artworks lies not only in your skills but also in how well you care for your artistic tools.

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