Best Watercolor Brushes: 5 Artists on the Brush They Can’t Live Without


We asked five top watercolor artists: What’s one brush you simply couldn’t paint without? Here are their answers.

#1: A 1-inch flat (Kris Parins)

Best Watercolor Brushes: 1-inch flat

A 1-inch flat is the “can’t-live-without” brush for Kris Parins. She makes use of versions by several makers.

Parins says, “My first 1-inch flat brush, which I purchased in 1999 and have since worn out, was a Richeson Kolinsky sable. My current brush is a One Stroke sable-hair by Winsor & Newton. I find the brush to be aptly named since it can hold an amazing amount of water and pigment, making it perfect for painting big, juicy washes. I also use synthetic flats, which hold their sharp edges and corners, making them a great option for ‘cutting in’ and for making smaller lines and marks. I like the Museum Topaz by Martin F. Weber Co. Another favorite that’s very affordable is a Kaerëll flat brush by Raphaël.””

"I find I can accomplish at least half of a painting using this one size alone. I use it to create everything from wet-into-wet cloud formations to dry-brushed sparkle on the surface of a lake."

#2: daVinci CosmoTop Spin 20 (Brenda Swenson)

Best Watercolor Brushes: CosmoTop Spin by da Vinci Brush
Brenda Swenson's favorite brush: the da Vinci Series 5080 CosmoTop Spin in the 20mm (¾ inch) size

“It has a funny name, but it is memorable,” Brenda Swenson says of her favorite brush: the da Vinci Series 5080 CosmoTop Spin in the 20mm (¾ inch) size. “It is soft enough not to disrupt glazes but stiff enough to hold its shape for wide strokes and thin lines. Unlike many synthetic brushes, it doesn’t release all of its paint at once. And at $25, it’s also the least expensive brush I own.”

"It’s my absolute go-to for negative painting. After my students watch me put it to use, they rush off to the nearest art supply store."

#3: 1-inch synthetic flat brush (Stephen Quiller)

Best Watercolor Brushes: Quiller Series of Watercolor Brushes by Jack Richeson & Co
Quiller Watercolor Brushes by Jack Richeson & Co

Stephen Quiller makes frequent use of his eponymous brush series—in particular, the 1-inch size, his workhorse.

“My favorite brush is the 1-inch synthetic flat brush from my signature Series 7010 by Jack Richeson & Co,” Quiller says. “Although listed as being 1 inch in width, it’s actually closer to 1¼ inches. This brush can be used not only for transparent watercolor but for all watermedia. What further sets it apart is its construction: The brush uses 11 different strands of monofilament—in different thicknesses and lengths—to shape the brush from the belly to the tip.” 

"It has a nice snap and comes to a razor-sharp edge. It holds a generous amount of paint and water, and it stays in good condition for a very long time."

#4: Escoda Perla (Iain Stewart)

Best Watercolor Brushes: Escoda Perla

For artist Iain Stewart, the Escoda Perla is the brush he can’t live without. He calls it the “Swiss Army knife of brushes” for its versatility.

"It can do it all, but the 'blade'—or point—is all knife, producing fine razor-sharp details and fantastic marks, both thick and thin. Also, it’s synthetic, so it’s animal-friendly."

#5: Silver Black Velvet No. 12 Round (Michael Reardon)

Best Watercolor Brushes: Black Velvet No. 12 Round

“I use the Black Velvet No. 12 round by Silver Brush almost exclusively in all of my paintings. A former ‘sable snob,’ I rather reluctantly began experimenting with synthetic brushes several years ago, partly due to cost but also because I’d been hearing how much the quality had improved. At first, I mostly used Escoda Perla brushes, which are really wonderful. Then, based on glowing reviews from several students, I tried the Black Velvet. I was hooked. In a blind test, I’d have sworn it was a sable. The brush features a blend of natural and synthetic hairs, so it has the water retention and springiness of a top-line sable at a fraction of the price.” —Michael Reardon

Why He Loves It
"From large washes to the finest detail, this brush hasn’t failed me yet. It holds its point for a very long time, which is the sine qua non of a watercolor brush. I’m still using a 2-year-old No. 12 that has retained a great point after many watercolor miles."

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