Square 3: Materials, brushes

As you may have noticed, I have not really been writing these posts in order so that a reader could easily follow them and make sense of them. I realize that in order to start painting, you should really have an idea of materials that would be useful in this endeavor. And, as you may have read or seen elsewhere, it really comes down to brushes, surface, paint, and a palette.

So, I will start with the brushes. I know that many of these starter kits for watercolor often come with an included brush, but more often than not, it really is pretty useless. They are also often too small for what you want to be doing. I will save you some frustration if you follow this advice – the biggest brush you can get away with for your painting is the one you want to start with in making your initial washes. This is true for most painting mediums, and does vary a bit with style and desired effect, but it is a ubiquitous theme in watercolor. I was pretty slow to learn this because I just purchased some of those Princeton Brush Co. watercolor brush packs, one with 4 flat brushes, and another with smaller detail brushes. They are relatively inexpensive kits, and I have added to them now a bit, but they are very good for the job and for me.

This is a link to the sets of brushes I actually got: http://www.dickblick.com/products/princeton-realvalue-camel-brush-sets/

Here are all the brushes I currently have. I don’t use all of them all the time. Oh, and at the ends are a mechanical pencil and a nib holder, for which I will write a post.

Now, there is a reason to this. If you anticipate having large areas of color in your painting that you want to cover with some nice gradients or swathes of blues and greens and purples, yellows and such (I like me some colors), then you need a large brush. It will allow you to hold a large volume of paint and water in the brush that you can transfer in one go to the paper. And believe me, I tried getting away with some smaller brushes, but it usually didn’t work out. You get streaking or ‘blooms’ of pigment that are more likely to happen when you are fiddling around with paint that has started to dry, and you drop some water with/without pigment into the mix. Sometimes you want the effect – and I have seen some people do some pretty cool things with it, but me – not so much at the moment. I found that it was happening most often when I would paint some stuff in and then go back to my palette and mix a bit, grab another color, and paint something else in. Oh, notice something on the other part that I did earlier and tweak it a bit with a brush tip, and then I have a bloom. (NOOOO! There it is.)

Before going into the technical painting techniques, I will leave you with the idea of the great necessity of a large brush. It can be a mop, it can be flat, it can be something called a hake brush, which I think looks really cool but is not yet something I have, it can be a round. And here I will briefly interject in terms of cost.

When beginning, and you don’t want to fork out a bunch of Tubmans (too early?) for some brushes, then a good bet is trying a flat brush. Also, make sure that any brushes you are buying for watercolor painting are rated for watercolor. Seriously, they can be natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic – but they are designed in such a way as to provide and hold the pigments dissolved in the water. That is how watercolors work. So, don’t use nylon or acrylic brushes – reserve those for when you want to experiment with thick mixes of pigments or other effects.

If you anticipate that you want to make this a real hobby and follow it through to improve your skills, then consider buying a better round brush in a size like an 8 or 10. Also, make sure it comes to a nice tip, even before you use it. If you order it online and it doesn’t have a nice point, return it and ask for them to send you a different one. I am serious. I just bought a nice size 10 round about a week ago and I hadn’t noticed that the tip had a little curl in it. This may be all fine for Superman’s hair style, but it is not going to fly. Whenever I get down to the little details that are wet with a wash and I want them to be continuous, it will often flop over and produce something I was not aiming for. Either a line that is off mark, too thick or thin.

Overall, it is an irksome brush. But I spent $10 on it, so I will use it until another sale comes around. It’s a silly little thing, but one that is incredibly frustrating. Often because by the time you move to the little details, you are on your way to the end of the painting, and then the brush spurns you. It is hard enough being an amateur without your tools working against you.

On that note, I highly recommend that you don’t get the absolute cheapest brushes out there – unless it is a killer sale on a good brush. Also, if you are able, go to the store and feel all of the brushes. Chances are, if they are nice and smooth and silky to your fingers, they will do the same to your paper. If they have more snap and are stiffer, they can be used for those effects while painting. Good for tree branches and grass, making those hard edges.

Before this gets too long, in addition to the flat large brush, I recommend a round and a smaller detail brush. They often come in sets that are nice, practical, and have a good selection. Just avoid the ones for 99 cents on eBay. Go to an art store or buy off of an art website. They are often comparable in price and superior in quality, with the added bonus of customer reviews.

I included an early image of a poppy field I wanted to paint on a small 4×6 paper size. And, as with most of my paintings, there are some things I like about it, and some that I don’t. But, that is the beauty of learning.

Here are also a few stores that you might find useful for your brushes and art supplies:




Since this post was so long, I will write about the other materials in posts of their own. I feel the crunch of finals, with one in Pharmacology (…why so many drugs…) tomorrow morning. But this writing and my painting in the evenings really takes the stress-kinks out of my shoulders.


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