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A Review of Watercolor Brushes: What Type of Watercolor Brush is Best?

With so many choices available on the market, how can you decide on the best brushes to use for watercolor? First, watercolor is a transparent medium. It goes on in thin layers of color and lets the white paper act as a white light source for your hues. How you want to put down those colors is as much personal choice as it is functional device. So, you want the feel and comfort of the brush to help guide your decision.

From a practical perspective, you want a brush that loads up with paint well to eliminate constantly dipping the brush into the paint or water. You want a brush made with natural hair that has a nice "belly", wider in the center, that tapers to a good point. Some natural hairs do this better than others. The best, in my opinion, is pure Kolinsky sable. Its large belly and long, tapered hairs hold a lot of fluid. These hairs, in the finest brushes, come from only the tail hairs of the male. So, for a truly fabulous watercolor painting experience, splurge on a Kolinsky sable brush at some point. These are the finest brushes for watercolor. But, keep in mind that pure Kolinsky sable was banned in 2014. Pure red sable from the sable marten is no longer available. Hence, today's Kolinsky sable comes from the tails of Siberian weasels. Still, they are fine brushes.

You can certainly find good watercolor brushes without going all out for pure Kolinsky. These are squirrel, goat, horse and "camel" to name the rest of the naturals. Then there are the synthetics such as nylon, silicone, and faux this or faux that. Try as many as you can until you find what works best for you and your personal style. By the way, earlier you saw that I put camel in quotes. That is because camel hair brushes are made from other critters' hair such as horse, goat, or squirrel. Also, many times these mixed hair brushes are just marketed as natural hair brushes. There is also ox, which comes from inside of cows ears. Sabeline is ox hair that has been bleached, then dyed to look like red sable.

Other considerations when buying brushes include a well-made ferrule (the metal thing that holds the hairs), short or long handle (short is usually preferred by watercolorists), and handle material (wood or plastic). The ferrule should be put on, as well as the hairs, with waterproof glue. The handle should be sealed well if made from wood.

Your brushes will last for many years if you buy good quality and take good care of them. One more tip: brushes last far longer if you always pull, and never push them across the painting surface.

There are several brands of good quality brushes. In better art supply stores you can find Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher, Princeton, Simmons, and Liquitex, to name a few.

In our store in Hamilton, Ohio, you can see many of these brushes and touch before you buy.


Art Pencil Drawings with Watercolor and Ink

One of my favorite ways to make art is by using pen, ink and watercolor. I learned about this method from Claudia Nice, who holds workshops at her studio in Oregon. Claudia has a lot of animals at her place, and workshop participants are able to see exactly how a horse's fur should be drawn by looking right at the horse!

When starting your drawing, you will first choose a subject or scene that you want to draw. If you're new to drawing or to this form of art, choose something simple, such as a flower. The first step is to work up a pencil drawing sketch. You can use art pencils or just a regular pencil to do this.

By now you're probably telling yourself that you can't draw and we want you to keep reading to see why this just isn't true! Anyone has the ability to draw or sketch using a piece of paper and a pencil. You can start by tracing your subject onto the paper using a picture or photo. Another way is to look at a picture in a book and rough sketch it while looking at it. You can also create abstract art by drawing shapes on your paper -- just whatever comes to mind.

Some supplies that you will need are:

A pencil Watercolor paints, watercolor sticks, or watercolor pencils A small paint brush and some water Ink pens -- the ink must be waterproof, smudge proof and archival Watercolor paper - 130 lb is a good choice A picture or an idea of what you'd like to draw

Once the pencils drawing is complete, the ink work is added next. This is simple to do by just tracing over the pencil lines you've just drawn with the ink pen. Adding depth and dimension using extra ink in areas to darken can be done by looking at your original photo or picture and adding shading where needed. If you're drawing an animal, you can add lines or strokes of ink to darken the fur around the eyes and ears.

The watercolor is next so it's time to choose the areas where the color will be added. If you're using watercolor paint, get your small brush ready and some water. Be careful not to put too much water on your brush so that the colors don't all run together; that is, unless you want them to! You're the artist so experiment and have fun. Remember there is no such thing as bad art and you can keep your work all to yourself if you want. Feel the freedom that comes from making art.


A Review of Art Paper Terms and Types: What are the Best Paper Types for Artists?

Paper surface is affected by a number of different factors. The type of fiber used to make the paper, the moulding or manufacturing process, whether made by machine or by hand, and screens used in finishing the process. Surface texture is referred to as "tooth". Tooth is determined by the texture of the screens used in the process. Let's review some paper terms and uses:
1. Acid-Free---paper made with a neutral PH giving it higher resistance to yellowing and becoming brittle over time.
2. Grammage---the weight of the paper measured in grams per square meter of paper (gsm). The higher the grammage of paper the more it can endure coats of paint or amounts of water.
3. Pounds (lbs.)---the weight of the paper measured in 500 sheets (ream) of a particular size. For example, standard 22"x30" ream of watercolor paper that weights 300 lbs. is a 300 lb. paper. Even if that paper is in larger than standard sheets and weighs much more, because a standard 22"x30" ream weighs 300 lbs., it is still a 300 lb. paper.
4. Hot Press (HP)---paper that has been "ironed" by going through steel rollers. This creates a very smooth surface preferred by artists doing detail work in ink, graphite, or markers, for example. Used by portrait artists.
5. Cold Press (CP)---sometimes referred to as "Not" meaning it has not been pressed by warm rollers. This paper has a light texture and is the paper surface most used by artists. The 140 1b. and 300 lb. weights work well for watercolor and printmaking.
6. Laid---Laid papers have a very subtle line texture created by the manufacturing process. Ideal for softer mediums such as graphite, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels.
7. Rough---papers that are close to some handmade papers with a heavy textured surface. It produces textural qualities in drawing, pastels, and charcoal valued by some artists.
8. Vellum---very smooth surface found in bristol board and papers and tracing papers. Excellent for highly detailed drawings.
9. Deckle edges---the untrimmed and irregular edges of machine-made papers that are made to look like traditional handmade papers.
Papers made by hand produce unpredictable and uneven textures that are desired by many artists. Fibers and plant materials can be pressed into the paper during its production that creates interesting visual effects and possibilities. The most common handmade paper is made with 100% cotton fibers. These papers have good resilience and can absorb water well making them good for watercolor, acrylics, and ink washes.
Machine-made papers are moulded on rollers and are less expensive than most handmade papers. They also tend to be smoother and depending on certain types of rollers, the papers are quite smooth and less expensive.
The heavier papers like 140lb and 300lb take water well and are good for watercolor and washes as well as printmaking. Some artists also prefer to draw on the smoother surfaced papers in these heavy weights like vellum or smooth finishes. Lighter weight papers like 90lb and under work well for most drawing needs in pencil, charcoal, markers, etc.
Quality papers made by Strathmore, Winsor & Newton, Arches, Canson, and Stonehenge, to name a few, are readily available both in pad and sheet form in better art supply stores.
You can see many of these papers in sheets as well as pads in our store in Hamilton, Ohio.


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