Watercolor Brushes: The Essential Brush Guide

Brush up on your watercolor skills with the right supplies

Watercolor Brushes: The Essential Brush Guide

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Are you wondering how many watercolor brushes you need to create stunning artwork? It’s a question many artists and hobby painters ask. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of brushes available and how many of each type you should have in your collection. I’ll also share some helpful tips on choosing the right brushes for your projects. By the end of this read, you’ll have a clear understanding of the brushes you need to bring your watercolor paintings to life. Let’s dive in!

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Watercolor Brush Size

What the different hardnesses are for pencils, the different sizes or thicknesses are for brushes: you don’t need them all to paint good paintings, but a balanced variety will help you paint even better paintings.

You usually can’t go wrong with a brush size between 8 and 10, because you can draw thin strokes as well as fill medium-sized areas with watercolor. If you want to draw very fine strokes, you should choose brush size 0. For very large areas, everything around 20 and above is open to you.

Two Brush Shapes

All watercolor brushes can be assigned to one of two brush shapes:

  • Round Brush
  • Flat Brush

Round brushes, as the name suggests, have a round shape. The advantage of round brushes is that they can absorb a lot of paint and water and are therefore particularly suitable for large areas. The disadvantage of round brushes is that they are not suitable for painting straight, fine lines or detailed work.

Flat brushes, on the other hand, are - surprise! - flat in shape. The advantage of flat brushes is that they can paint very precise lines, making them perfect for detail work. The disadvantage of flat brushes is that they can’t hold as much paint and water as round brushes, so they’re not ideal for large areas.

So before you buy, consider whether you’d rather do detailed or large-area work. The disadvantage of one shape is the advantage of the other, so they can also complement each other wonderfully.

Special Shapes

In addition to the two standard shapes, are some special shapes that are often used by very experienced artists.

Fan Brush

A fan brush is a special brush shape often used to paint leaves or other organic shapes. The fanned-out shape of the brush makes it easy to create realistic representations of many subjects found in nature.

Liner Brush

The liner brush is a special type of round brush with much longer hairs. The advantage is that it can pick up more paint than a normal round brush and that it develops a very dynamic swing when painting.

This makes the liner brush perfect for expressive paintings with beautiful movement.

Brush with Water Tank

A brush with a tank for water is a type of paintbrush that has an integrated container or reservoir for holding water. This allows you to have a constant supply of water readily available while painting, without having to stop and refill the brush with water.

This type of brush can be especially useful for watercolor painting, as it allows the artist to maintain a consistent level of moisture in the brush, which can be important for blending and layering colors. It can also be helpful for artists who need to work in a remote location or outside.

Are Watercolor Brushes Made of Animal Hair or Synthetic Hair Better?

When it comes to brushes, the question often arises as to whether animal hair or synthetic hair is better. Nowadays, there is no reason to buy brushes made of animal hair, because synthetic hair brushes are in no way less than them in terms of quality.

Before buying animal hair brushes, you should ask yourself where the brush was made and under what conditions the hair was taken from the animal. Was it hunted in agony, kept, or killed? Are they slaughter by-products from ethical or unethical animal breeding? And does one want to be part of this chain by buying an animal hair brush?

In some countries, animal hair brushes are often even sold as synthetic hair brushes and if you don’t know the alternative names for the hair of certain animals, you can be fooled so quickly. In Germany for example, you can buy brushes made out of Fehhaar. This probably sounds much friendlier to the ears of potential buyers than what it actually is: squirrel hair.

Alternative Names of Animal Hair (in German)

If you already own animal hair brushes, you should not throw them in the trash and replace them with synthetic hair brushes. In my collection are also a few animal hair brushes that I have inherited. With a new purchase, however, I would always advise buying synthetic hair brushes. By the way, these are also much easier to clean.

Squirrel in the Wild

Photo of Atakan Narman on Unsplash

How Many Different Watercolor Brushes Do You Need?

Now that you know the basics of watercolor brushes, let’s talk about exactly how many you need. As a general rule, I recommend having at least two different sizes (small and medium) of round and flat brushes. That way you’ll be ready for any project you want to tackle.

Of course, you can always add more brushes to your collection. For most people, however, the above-mentioned selection should be more than enough to get you started.

I hope this article has helped you and that you can now more easily decide which brushes you need.


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