Watercolour brushes come in a range of shapes and sizes and it is very much a personal preference as to what brushes you use. Some artists exclusively use quite large flat brushes while those who paint botanical paintings, fine paintings of birds or delicate flower paintings may use only small round brushes.
The size of a brush is often defined by a number written on the handle, but in my experience these sizes can vary dramatically between makers. So one makers size 8 round brush may be quite different to those made by another company.
Watercolour brush types
Round brushes in sizes from minute to around 25mm diameter are the most used by the majority of artists.
Flat brushes are also available in a wide range of sizes and can be used for fine detail as well as large washes.
A rigger is a very fine round brush with long softish bristles. They are called riggers because they are often used for painting the rigging on nautical images and are useful where a fine line is required.
Fan brushes are seldom used in watercolour painting but can be useful for painting multiple lines in one stroke, for example clumps of grass.
A mop is a large round brush useful for broad washes but can have a fine point and be used for finer work.
A hake is a broad flat brush mostly used for large washes.
Brushes can use many varieties of hair including sable, squirrel and goat along with a wide variety of synthetic fibres. Generally a good brush should hold plenty of paint (a characteristic of natural fibres) and maintain a fine point or edge (in the case of flat brushes). Sable brushes are generally considered the acme and can cost a lot of money.
My experience has been that, while a poor brush can make painting difficult, expensive brushes are not necessary. While a round, synthetic, brush may not hold as much paint as a good sable it will be at least as good in all other respects.
My general recommendation would be that you should (mostly) use the biggest round brush you can and that paying more than about $20NZ for a brush will not necessarily improve your painting. However if you like to have the best then spend what you like.
Reasonable quality synthetic brushes paint beautifully and will last a very long time if a treated well.
- Always rinse your brushes thoroughly at the end of a painting session. If paint builds up near the ferrule then the bristles will spread and you will loose the< desirable fine point.
- Try not to leave your brushes standing up in your water container because this will give the them a bent end.
- Store your brushes flat and try to ensure that the bristles are not distorted.
Artists generally find they do most of their work with only two or three brushes although they may have a range of other brushes available for special purposes.