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Play with Different Brushes as Well as Different Pigments: More Green

March 19, 2018
After completing a quick sketch with a solid fiber-tipped brush pen I picked up my 1 inch flat watercolor brush and added in washes on this piece. (This is one of my tests of Stonehenge Aqua cold press watercolor paper, which I’ll review in a few weeks.)

I have been using a lot of green lately, so I’m not finished with my green series yet!

While sketching the image shown today I used a 1 inch flat to apply the watercolor. Flats are great fun because you can turn them on edge and get lines, and you can touch the corner of the brush to the paper and get a dot, a dot with a tail, short and long narrow strokes.

You can even separate the hairs of the brush so that there is space between the “clumps” and touch it to the paper and make a sort of “crew cut” stroke, like the blue strokes you see at the top of this man’s head. 

Of course all the dry-brush variations apply to this brush as well as others. See the end of the stroke at the top left (our left) forehead, and the stroke at the bottom right shoulder. Both show how with a more dry brush, a nicely textured paper, and a little more or less pressure you can vary the look of the stroke.

I’ve been a fan for decades of the Filbert, a flat with a circular tip-end. They are my favorite brush for painting with gouache. When you press down on them they are a little more firm than most rounds so you can get the texture effects you want with the thicker paint. They also cover a wider area, so painting goes more quickly.

Flats have the same positives. And by standing at the brush wall in Wet Paint and looking over everything I have found some lovely long flats that have great gestural flexibility. I’ll write more about those another day when I’ve got them at hand (they are put away right now because of an ongoing project that is taking up too much space).

In the meantime give plain old regular flats a chance to prove themselves. The other beauty of them for me is that things look so loose. For some this might be too messy, but when I look at this piece I know that I am homing in on something, some look or approach that I know I will love more and more.

Which regular flats can I recommend? I’ve used so many and like many brands of flats. Grumbacher’s 960 is a nice flat. I don’t remember what the hair is. For this sketch I used the Princeton 1 inch stroke (4350ST is on the barrel). It’s synthetic. I have a smaller flat also from Princeton that is from their Wash line and is 5/8 inch wide if you don’t want to go too large to start. I’ve had nice brushes from their Neptune line. (I just picked up some Velvetouch but haven’t had a chance to really use them yet.)

If you go to Princeton’s site and look at their watercolor brushes they’ll rate their stiffness for you. In general I like at least a stiffness of 3 out of 5. I’m eager to try the Umbria as they have a stiffness of 4 out of 5.

Don’t overlook their Snap! Golden Synthetic line. They are inexpensive and really great work horses. I have several of their flats.  I also love the filberts in this line for gouache.

I think Princeton is doing some great stuff with their brushes, making them affordable and sturdy and fun to use.

If you work with pan watercolors in the field or studio you’re going to be a little harder on your brush when mixing paints than if you use the soft tube paint. That would be another reason to get a less expensive brush. And then if you’ve ever seen how I treat a brush, well let’s just say I’m aggressive, and that’s another reason to use an inexpensive, but responsive brush.

Until recently all the flat brushes I had were bought in the “bargain” days when bins of discontinued brushes were set out. I’ve already found one brush that is so wonderful I’d love to have another—but it has zip on its barrel and no one can identify it—it’s probably discontinued.

Life is very short. I’m a firm believer in loving the brush you’re with. I’ll keep picking up the odd brush now and then from the bargain bins as well as try some of the new flats that are coming out now.

Maybe you should try one too? See what the different strokes can do for you.

Princeton makes a Select Oval Mop in a large size that is fun if you aren’t quite ready to commit to the hard edges of a flat.

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