Embarking on your watercolor journey feels like stepping into a realm of boundless creativity. However, amidst all the excitement, selecting the right brushes can feel a tad overwhelming. With various shapes, sizes, and bristle types to consider, where do you begin?

Let's simplify things: there are essentially two types of brushes—natural and synthetic. Natural brushes are crafted from animal hair, while synthetic brushes are man-made. Each boasts its own advantages and drawbacks, and the optimal choice hinges on what feels most comfortable for you.

In this blog post, I aim to explore the differences between these brushes, empowering you to choose the perfect one that aligns with your style and enhances your painting experience.

Natural Watercolor Brushes

Crafted from animal hair, such as sable, squirrel, goat, or hog, natural watercolor brushes have stood the test of time. Artists have favored them for centuries owing to their outstanding performance and capacity to hold and disperse water and pigment with precision. Below, we delve into the key characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of natural watercolor brushes:

  1. Superior Water Retention: Natural hair brushes excel in holding water, allowing artists to effortlessly create smooth, flowing washes and gradients.
  2. Softness and Flexibility: With their softer and more flexible bristles, natural hair brushes are perfect for delicate and expressive brushwork.
  3. Durability: High-quality natural brushes, when cared for properly, can endure for years while maintaining their shape and performance.
  4. Natural Flow: The organic nature of animal hair imparts a unique responsiveness to brushstrokes, enhancing the intuitive painting experience.
  1. Price: Natural watercolor brushes often come with a higher price tag compared to synthetic alternatives, especially those crafted from premium animal hair such as sable.
  2. Animal Sourcing: Ethical considerations may arise for some artists regarding the use of brushes made from animal hair, especially if sourced from endangered or protected species.
  3. Maintenance: Proper care is essential for natural hair brushes to preserve their performance and longevity. This includes regular cleaning and conditioning to prevent damage.

Synthetic Watercolor Brushes

Synthetic watercolor brushes are crafted from man-made materials such as nylon, polyester, or a blend of synthetic fibers. These brushes have gained popularity in recent years due to advancements in manufacturing techniques, providing an alternative to natural brushes with their own set of advantages and drawbacks. Let's take a closer look:

  1. Affordability: Synthetic brushes are generally more budget-friendly than their natural counterparts, making them an accessible option for beginners and artists on a tight budget.
  2. Versatility: Engineered synthetic fibers can mimic the performance of natural hair brushes, offering a diverse range of shapes, sizes, and textures to accommodate various painting techniques.
  3. Consistency: Unlike natural hair, synthetic fibers offer uniform texture and performance, ensuring consistent results across different brushstrokes and painting sessions.
  4. Ethical Considerations: Synthetic brushes provide a cruelty-free alternative for artists who prefer to abstain from using animal-derived products in their artwork.
  1. Less Water Retention: Synthetic brushes may not retain water and pigment as effectively as natural hair brushes, necessitating more frequent reloading and blending to achieve desired effects.
  2. Stiffness: Certain synthetic brushes may feel stiffer and less responsive compared to natural hair brushes, potentially impacting the subtlety and control of brushstrokes.
  3. Durability: While synthetic brushes are typically durable, they may not endure as much wear and tear as high-quality natural brushes, especially over the long term.

My Personal Choice

As a watercolor artist, I gravitate towards synthetic brushes, particularly when I'm crafting various botanical shapes. With a round brush and an oval wash in my hand, there's little I can't bring to life. They are also great to work with masking fluid, as you may know, one of my favourite techniques.

For painting expansive washes or applying a final glaze, my go-to tool is the Hake brush. Crafted from soft goat hair bound together in a wide, flat shape, these brushes hold ample water and make painting large pieces an absolute delight.
If you want to learn more about my selection of brushes and how I used them, check my online workshop: Master Class No.2 Watercolor Brushes.

  Recommended Workshops

In Conclusion

Deciding between natural and synthetic watercolor brushes hinges on your personal preferences, budget, preferred medium, and painting style. For beginners, synthetic brushes offer a budget-friendly option that provides accessibility and versatility. Conversely, if your primary focus is on oil paints, natural brushes deliver traditional performance, albeit at a higher cost.

Ultimately, both types of brushes have their advantages and can enhance your watercolor painting experience in different ways. Whether you're embarking on a new artistic project or are a seasoned painter, selecting the right tools is essential for achieving your goals and obtaining the best results.

May 29, 2024 — Ingrid Sanchez

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.