Wednesday, 14 February 2018

My Favourite Paint Brushes

A reader got in touch after my last post and asked if I'd do a feature on my favourite brushes - well, it tied in nicely with my Favourite Paints post from last week, so I thought, why not.

There are a whole heap of brushes out there, different styles, types, sizes and brands so if you're just taking your first tentative steps into making art then it can feel a bit daunting and confusing to say the least.  To make it simple, I thought I'd share my favourite brushes with you, the ones I use for both watercolour and acrylic and you then have a starting point to go from.

Acrylic Brushes

I use a range of sizes and brush shapes for my acrylic work, depending on whether Im working on a big painting or something small.  I also lean towards just three brands, and I must just add here, are all the short handle version (to me the long handle brushes are just too awkward and big).  I've accumulated a fair few brushes over the years, but here are the three that I use all the time at the moment:

Pro Arte
Daler Rowney
Royal Langnickel

These brushes are all pretty durable, and don't cost mega bucks.  I mostly use the tiny, pointed brushes for detail work such as in my flower paintings, and larger ones for first washes and layering up the painting in places that need a lot of paint.

There are a few types of brush I work with, which are:

Round (these are the ones that are short with a pointed tip)
Filbert (flatter bristles, with a rounded tip)
Flat (a squared tip)
Rigger (usually about an inch long or so, these are fabulous for painting stems and rigging on boats etc).

All the brushes I use are synthetic and specifically for acrylic paint, I tend not to use hog which I think suits oils better (I recall hog brushes when I had a dabble with oils in my teens many moons ago and they were rather bristly and scratchy).

Synthetic acrylic brushes are usually soft and good for detail.  I initially start with a big paint brush, something akin to a 1" emulsion brush to lay washes on big canvases or panels (see large, black handled brush in my photo above), and then I like to use a 12mm flat brush to work more on background layers, moving on to smaller sizes of filbert and flat (size 5mm) and then rounds for the detail, from size 0 to 2.

Hidden Shores, acrylic on gesso panel

Pro Arte and Daler Rowney are the dearer options, and these I tend to buy directly from Jacksons Art online.  I have picked up a pack of the Royal Langnickel soft grip paint brushes from The Range, they are super cheap and just as good as some of the more expensive brands.

I'd encourage you to start off with a Round 0 and 2, and a 12mm and 5mm flat brush to begin your collection.  You can then add to this as you go, as you'll discover that you might want something bigger or smaller depending on your style and size of work. 

I have to replace my smaller brushes more often than my larger ones as the ends can get a bit scruffed up or splayed due to use.  This is my only real bugbear with acrylic paint brushes but could be down to the way I use them, you may find that you don't have this problem.

Watercolour Brushes

My favourite watercolour brushes without a shadow of a doubt have to be the Escoda Reserva series and Winsor and Newton Kolinsky Sables. 

Right off I will just say, I completely understand if you're against using animal products in your brushes, and there are excellent alternatives available nowadays.  However, I have had my sables for many years now and they still perform as well as when I first got them which is why I am still using them.

I love to use the Pointed Round series by Escoda from the Reserva series, the No.4 is my favourite, it's very versatile as it holds plenty of paint, and it forms an excellent point for super details.

A corner of detail from a watercolour painting of Fowey

For my really detailed work (such as the windows in the painting above) I use my Winsor and Newton Sable No.1 round series.  Again, this forms a beautiful point when painting and is excellent for smaller, more detailed work.

For washes, I use a very ancient No.10 Cotman watercolour brush which I've had for over twenty years - I'm not sure if these are still available but an equivalent would be the Jacksons Studio Synthetic range (size 10).  You can also use a mop brush for big washes, which looks exactly as it sounds!  I do have one in my stash but again, perhaps from habit, I just usually go straight for the No.10.

Prices for watercolour brushes will vary, of course the synthetic versions are cheaper as they are manmade fibres, but if you are wanting a sable, you can pick up a No.1 for about £5 - £6 depending on brand.

For beginners just starting out in watercolour, whichever fibre you decide on, I'd recommend a nice large No.10 for washes, and a No.4 and a No.1, all round series.

I purchase all my brushes these days through the fabulous Jackson's Art in the UK.  They offer a super range of brands, shapes and sizes, from student through to Artist grade.  If you're lucky enough to live near a good art shop (sadly, I'm not) then it's worth popping in to have a look at the different sorts of brushes available for your medium - you'll be amazed at the quality and difference available.

*Please note, this post is based upon my own opinions and preferences of what to use and where to shop, I have no affiliation with Jackson's, I just think they're a really good online art store.


  1. Yay!! Thank you, that was super helpful. I have those sizes of watercolour brushes but am at a loss when it comes to acrylic, so now I feel well armed to go shopping! Jenny xxx

    1. Thanks Jenny! I'm glad you found this blog post helpful! Enjoy your shopping spree!

      J xxx