Brushing Up

Of all the things I’ve learned and read and done — or tried — over the last year as a new artist, nothing has confounded me more than paintbrushes.

Yes. Paintbrushes.

I’ve watched a lot of watercolor tutorials. I’ve read a few step-by-step instruction books on watercolor, too. Most of them rarely mention what size brush to use. So how am I supposed to know?

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that most watercolor artists use the largest brush practical for the area they’re working on. Which means that there’s no set rule, of course. You don’t always have to use a particular size for a flat wash, or always use a particular size for painting a tree. Of course there are no rules. One artist might choose to work on a 5 x 7 sheet while another prefers something much bigger. The best rule of thumb, if there is one at all, is the logical rule to use what works best.

But as a beginning watercolor artist, how was I supposed to know which brush would be best for me to use?

I’ll be honest though. Even when an artist or tutorial mentioned a specific brush size, that didn’t put an end to my confusion. One class at Craftsy lists an 00 and 000 brush for fine detail, but do you see such a creature listed anywhere on the handy brush size chart from Blick?

Blick Brush Size Chart

Is an 00 brush the same as a 2/0? Is an 000 the same as 3/0? If so, why can’t they just say that! It would make it so much easier for folks like me.

But size isn’t the only thing that matters. There are all sorts of different brush shapes. There are mop brushes, hake brushes, filberts, and flats. There are round brushes, riggers, bright brushes, and egberts, and I have no clue what either of those last two are.

Experienced artists know and can make the proper choices. New artists like me are totally befuddled when it comes to picking out brushes.

Next, there are the bristles themselves. Synthetic or natural? Sable — which, I understand isn’t usually real sable at all — squirrel, goat, or what? There’s nylon, there’s taklon, and there’s even gold taklon, and what the heck is the difference?

Like many new watercolorists before me, I solved my brush problems by simply buying a whole lot of them. You know, grabbing those packages of dozens of brushes — all shapes and sizes — that you can pick up at Wal-Mart for next to nothing. I was taking the “broadside” approach. If you’re playing Pirates on the computer — a game this Treasure-Island-loving gal enjoys immensely — you don’t worry too much about aiming when you fire on another ship. You just fire all your guns, and you keep firing until the ship goes down. Fire enough, and you’ll hit your target.

It works in Pirates. It’s not such a great strategy for watercolor.

I have more paintbrushes than I need. I know that. The problem is that I still don’t really know what I do need and what I don’t. But I’m learning.

Recently I found David Bellamy’s Complete Guide to Watercolor, and he spells it out clearly.

  • Large squirrel mop for washes
  • No. 7 or 8 Round
  • No. 4 Round
  • No. 1 Rigger
  • 1/2-inch flat

Later additions might include:

  • No. 10 or 12 Round
  • No. 6 Round

Nice, but not essential brushes would be:

  • A fan brush
  • An angled flat brush

Armed with this information, I set off to go brush shopping. What I needed most from the list was that little No. 1 rigger. I’ve already learned my lesson about buying cheap watercolor paper and lesser-quality paints, and I’ve been told I should invest in good brushes. So I did.

I love my new brush, and I’m amazed at how much difference having the right brush makes in painting. From now on, much of my art supply money is going for brushes. All the cheap ones I’ve gathered up over the past year will eventually find their way to my Kiddies’ Craft Basket for the grandkids to use, along with that cheap watercolor paper, and those cheap paints that dried up in the palette.

Maybe I’ll eventually learn what an Egbert or a bright brush is, but maybe I don’t really need those. If I do, I’ll be sure to buy a good quality brush right from the start. It really does make a difference.



About Judith

Author, artist, and an independent consultant for Perfectly Posh. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and interests through blogging and invite you to visit my sites.


  1. good brushes make an amazing different – eh Judith? I’ve only invested in a few so far, but love them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have found cheap hair brushes are fine for adding hairs to your paintings. They shed like corgis. But yes, generally the biggest brush that can do the work is the best brush for the job. If you were painting your room, you would (hopefully) go for the 9″ roller rather than the 2″ brush. The same is true in the art world.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree good brushes makes diffrence 👍🏼few months back I bought Escoda and WN brushes they are really good. I have one bamboo brush too which my husband bought me from Japan but it’s too good for watercolor painting!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. letsgetreal2016

    Same here. A #6 brush in two different brands is totally different.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. letsgetreal2016

    A bright is a short flat. An egbert is a long filbert.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. annamechelle88

    I actually started by just buying Walmart brushes and seeing what worked for me before learning all the terms I should have! Good brushes are a good investment, as far as I can tell, but the best brushes I ever found were Pennelli brand. I found them in a pack for four dollars at a Ross Dress for Less store (that store is completely random in what they sell at any given time, but I get lucky sometimes and find art supplies there).
    I loved reading this post! I’m not so competent at watercolors, or the brushes needed for watercolor, but I certainly know the importance of non-shedding, reliable paintbrushes! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I heard about another brand yesterday I wasn’t familiar with. An artist I watched on Twitch.TV uses them. Trekell is the name. I get most of my art supplies from Amazon, so I’ll look for Pennelli and Trekell both. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great topic to share, Judith. 🙂 I have been confused with brushes too and this post is just so timely. Because of the high exchange rate of dollar to peso, I am very picky with what brush to buy. I started with daler rowney aquafine in 6, 4, and a 10/0 liner I got in Malaysia. Then just two months ago I invested in an escoda optimo 6 and 2 and a 20/0 silver ultra mini spotter. These new brushes hold a lot of water and are really good, but so expensive. I still use all my other brushes most especially the 10/0 liner which I love dearly. Thank you for this post, Judith! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and you’ve highlighted where I get so confused. All those “spotters” and “liners” and those other tiny little brushes! I don’t think I’ll be doing too many super-fine details, but it amazes me to just look at some of those tiny things! I think my next splurge will be for a really good mop brush.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting post Judith. The views on brushes out in the world showed me this is where we each have to experiment and find what works for US. Most books i have say to buy the most expensive brushes you can. But then I have seen interviews with contemporary masters who mention in passing that they use very cheap brushes, and then only one or two sometimes. I have a flat, mid priced watercolor brush I bought in a College Station TX, Hobby Lobby about 20 years ago and I still paint almost just with this one brush. It holds a perfect edge still after all these years. Funny world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right. We have to find what works for us…in every regard. As a beginner with watercolor, I can’t say what’s right for me because I’m still experimenting. I’m starting to settle in on a few preferences, though, so now I think I know enough to make a few wise investments when it comes to brushes.

      Liked by 1 person

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