Trying Out Some New Watercolor Brushes

December 6, 2023
I’m not sure that the dagger will become a staple in my brush jar, but I am enjoying the experiments. One thing I have really enjoyed about the brush is that if the space I am painting within is large enough to accommodate the size of the brush tip I can get some fun draggy textures. (Those areas have mostly been covered up here by later stroke experiments. The black back of the chicken is a good place to see some of that.) And I do like the lovely thin lines the tip can give (throat feathers). But I think the brush also lends itself to fussy overworking of textures in my hand currently—as seen in the comb. It looked great about 3 layers earlier but I couldn’t stop playing. I’m not sure I need that type of encouragement from my brushes? With any new tool, though, I do expect a period of adjustment with a lot of noise going on. Water management on this brush remains, let’s just say—intriguing.

What better time to test different types of watercolor brushes then when you are filling up the final pages of a journal made with great gelatin-sized paper!?

That’s what I’m up to as the year moves to a close and I have 16 page spreads left in a hand-bound journal.

Studio unpacking has progressed to BRUSHES. Yay! I haven’t seen them for over 3 years. (I’ve been working with a small selection of rather worn but familiar brushes.)

I picked out some dagger brushes, pointed oval mops, long rounds, and a filbert grainer.

You can see these brush selections in a video on my YouTube channel.

In that video I show you the various brushes I’ve picked out and go through my initial test sheets sharing the notes I made about my initial reaction to the brushes—how floppy or resilient they were, what the points were like, etc.

Monday I did a quick sketch of a State Fair chicken, from one of my archive photos. I painted it mostly with the Princeton Neptune 1/4 inch Dagger brush.

I did also try a second dagger brand for two strokes, but it didn’t “meld” with the other marks I was getting so I went exclusively with the Neptune.

The Princeton Neptune line is a watercolor brush line with very soft fibers for brush hairs. They are a little too floppy for my general taste because remember I like to push thicker paint (even when working in transparent watercolor) around.

What does it mean when I write about the water management still being something to deal with? Look at the increased number of back runs: that’s where the water pushes the pigment out of the way creating a drying pattern that looks a bit like a “cauliflower” (something back runs are often called). The strokes in general are wetter than my usual approach—as evidenced by the strokes puddling and forming hard edges as they dry because there is so much water deposited in the center of the stroke. And then look at the values throughout the piece. My typical dark values are missing here. I haven’t yet got the knack of loading the brush with paint that is dilute enough to move with the floppiness of the brush, but saturated enough to give me the dark values I crave. These brushes may end up being only useful to me for a first pass of color. But that’s what testing and trying is for!

It’s definitely a whole new experience for me to use this hard to control, floppy dagger in my sketch. I’m still exploring the marks it can make, and water control in this brush is a whole new matter I’ve just dipped my toe into. Look at the close up of the image and you’ll there are a lot more back runs than in my usual work. And in general the paint is more dilute.

There’s also a lot more texture of strokes everywhere because I’m feeling around to see how to lay down the paint while the brush tip dances away from me.

I understand that people love this brush style for plants, landscape effects, and other painting subjects where the strokes need the specific shapes this brush style offers. I’m not sure I’ll be able to integrate it into my work which currently focuses on portraits, but I’m having fun playing with it. You’ll see more posts about the brushes I discuss in the video in the weeks to follow.

I’ll even be videotaping some of these painting sessions to show on my Patreon site in 2024.

I hope you’re deep into your own art tool testing experiments as the year draws to a close and you’re filling up your journals!


    • Tina Koyama
    • December 6, 2023

    Maybe I missed something, or maybe you have yet to reveal… but I thought you were still intending to move to a different house? But you are unpacking your studio in your current house? It’s OK if you don’t want to write about it in your blog — I just know you have talked a lot about all your supplies being packed away for “the move,” and I never heard the outcome!

    1. Reply

      Tina, you missed something?! Who knows. I didn’t write about the move that kept on happening (almost 4 years now) at first because I was pushing to get it finished. And then it was one health issue after another (collapsed lung, other breathing issues, torn ankle, and then of course the recent iliac vein dissection). Throw in 3 floods and the constant packing moving into storage, moving out of storage, unpacking, repacking, not finding anything because things were no longer packed the way I remembered them.

      I couldn’t write about this unless someone gave me a contract to make a 4 year tv series about it. (Because I would need to be paid to relive it.)

      We are still a work in progress. I don’t see an end in sight. I’ve stopped looking. Acceptance.

      But at long last I have access to a lot of my art supplies again—just no open table space to work!

  1. Reply

    My first dagger was a Princeton Neptune too, and at first I was having lots of fun with the expressive strokes! But once the novelty wore off, I realized it’s not a very practical brush, so I kicked it out of my travel kit.

    Next I got a Roman Szmal 1/2″ which is quite a bit stiffer. I find myself painting my travel sketches with it 70% of the time, and only reach for a round brush when I need a really wet wash, or a fine line. It’s a great replacement for a flat brush, since I can use the long side to create crisp edges of buildings. The curved side leaves a kind of a gentle gradient that allows me to continue the wash without a stark strip where I’ve laid down the first stroke. And the curved side is just excellent for adding shadows, while avoiding a chiseled look. I’ve been painting some experimental portraits recently, and the effect of shading under the cheekbones is *cheff’s kiss*.

    P.S. I’ve noticed the right click action is disabled on your website. I just want to point out a potentially unintended effect it has: visitors can’t open links in a new tab. That’s a real usability bummer. I actually wanted to open a few posts I was interested in in new tabs on my phone to read all of them, so this actually prevented me from reading *more* of your blog. I gave up and switched to my computer, where the Firefox browser enables me to easily circumvent such scripts, and I can peruse websites however I like.
    I know artists like to prevent right-click so people can’t save images or copy text, but it’s not just saving and copying that is impacted.

    1. Reply

      Nela, thanks for the new brand of brush to check out. I did a quick search and don’t find it available in the US, just in Jackson’s in the UK, and another listing that looks like Australia. But I’ll add it to my list and keep it in mind if I see it sold in the US. I’m encouraged to know it’s a bit firmer because that’s been turning out to be my preference.

      Thanks also for your comment about my links. I’m sorry this is frustrating to you. I don’t use right click on my mouse (disabled by preference) because of the way I work and so I have never noticed this. I sent your note to my web guy so he can look into it.

      I know that I set up my links, when I’m writing a post, so that someone clicking on a link opens that link in a new browser window so I was puzzled by what you were saying, because of that I never encountered what you’re seeing.

      It may be that the developer has set something up and that will be for my web guy to look into.

      Thanks for the heads up and again, I’m sorry that my blog isn’t set up for convenient viewing for you. No one else has has this issue so they must have found work arounds?

      Best wishes, and thanks.

      1. Reply

        Hi Roz, I believe Jackson’s has a US warehouse too, but it may not have all the products that are available in the UK. I do hope it becomes easily available to you soon.

        Regarding links and right-click: I think it comes down to users habits. I like to open related posts in new tabs as I’m reading, so I don’t have to go back and forth. I can’t say how common that behavior is, but it’s probably not unique.
        On the computer I’m able to work around it, but I’ve first noticed the issue on my phone when long-press action (the equivalent of right-click) didn’t work at all. I can’t say for sure why that happens on your website. I just wanted to let you know in case you weren’t aware it was happening.

        Best wishes to you too!

        1. Reply

          Nela, I hope so about the brushes you mention too. As for the right clicking, I have my web guy looking at that. But I’m confused when you say you can’t open links in another tab because I set the posts to do that (as I don’t like to stop reading a post and lose my place by clicking away myself) and when I click on my links they do exactly that. And I’m just regular-clicking (as my mouse is set to one click). So I don’t know what’s going on in your system that they don’t open for you the same way they do here for me and others I’ve talked to. I suppose it is related to you working on your phone. I don’t do any work on my phone as I like to work on as large a screen as possible. (Vision-age-neck comfort.) But I do appreciate the heads up. I always like to know how things are working from a reader’s perspective. Sorry the theme is set up in a way that isn’t working for you. Thanks for stopping by.

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