How to choose a paintbrush.
by Zach Lanier
One topic that is (or should be) of interest to any mini painter is brushes. I get a lot of questions about brushes when I teach classes, and I have a lot of questions about brushes when I talk to other painters and teachers. Despite all the questions, the information that’s out there seems to be rather vague endorsements in various forums with no information on which series or lines to choose from which manufacturer.
So, in an attempt to clear up some brush mystery for myself, I reasearched a bunch of brushes and purchased some from my local Jerry’s Artarama in West Orange New Jersey. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, though I did try to cover the names I see mentioned most frequently. I probably won’t be spending any more money on brushes for some time, but if someone wants to send me other ones I will review them here and add them to the list.
The main differences I looked at are the belly and the bristle length. A fatter belly will hold more paint than a thinner belly would but a thinner belly often means a longer, tapered point. The bristle length is mostly about your personal preference. Some prefer the control they get from a shorter bristle, some like the longer more tapered points the regular or extended length bristles often have. Generally speaking the shorter bristles are called spotters, miniature or re-touch brushes. All of the brushes have fine points and are made from Kolinsky sable. I did not review any synthetic, red sable or sable mix brushes, though they all have their place and I may add some later. The higher the number the larger the brush, so a #2 is larger than a #1, and the more zeros, the smaller the brush. A #6/0 is much smaller than a #2/0 from the same manufacturer.
I have at least a couple of every brand mentioned below unless otherwise noted.
Winsor and Newton- For a long time these seemed to be the standard but some questions about their quality control recently have opened the gates for other brands. The Series 7 is their flagship Kolinksy sable line, and the Series 7 miniature has a shorter bristle. The ones I use have held up well and while they may not be my favorite brush, I do use them a lot.
Here are three brushes that I just bought for this article. From the top it’s a 00 mini, a #1 mini and a #0 regular. You can see that the #1 has a fatter belly than the #0, but it’s easy to see the difference in the length of the bristle. Next to that are the commercial pictures of the miniature and regular brushes.
They have the 8402, 8404, and 8408 lines. I did not pick up an 8402, but my understanding is that it’s like the 8404 but with a thinner belly. The 8404 is the standard belly and has a fine point. The 8408 has a slightly thinner belly and a longer, extended point. My favorite brush is an 8404 size 0 from Raphael. It has lost a lot of hairs but still comes to a reasonable point. The tip has faded though, it did not maintain shape as some of the other brushes will and I use it mostly for highlighting and shading, not fine detail.
Here are the two new Raphael Brushes. The 8404 is the one on top, a size 00. The 8408 is below, size 0. You can tell that the simiarly sized Raphael would have a much fatter belly, and the 8408 has a much longer tapered bristle. To the right are two Raphael brushes I have been using for a while, both 8404. The top is a #6/0 and the bottom is my shading and highlighting size 0. I don’t actually remember ever using the 6/0 but it’s fun to look at. To the right are the official pics, the first three are 8404, the last an 8408.
DaVinci- The ones I looked at are all part of the Maestro Line. Series 55-06 is the Restauro brush, with a shorter bristle length similar to the Series 7 miniature. The 15-05 line is the miniaturist, with an even shorter bristle than the Restauro. The series 35 has a longer tip than the other two. The pics below show the Restauro and the Miniaturist. You can tell in the photo that the miniaturist is the smaller of the two. Regrettably I have only had one of these brushes and do not have it any more, but my local art store has mentioned the possibility they may carry them so I may be adding to this section at some point in the future.
Daniel Smith- I have heard a few things about this brand but do not own any yet. They claim the 44-14 line is their finest and best Kolinsky brush. The 44-04 is supposed to be better for detailing with a fine tip and the series 77 is still Kolinsky but perhaps not as well made since it’s a cheaper line.
Isabey- The 6227 or 6227z is the standard brush. The 6228 has a thinner belly and more tapered point. The 6229 is their version of the retouch brush with it’s shorter bristle. The picture below shows a 6227z #0, a 6228 #0 and a 6229 #1, from top to bottom. Next to that are the companies photos for the 6227,6228 and 6229/retouch.
In both my photos and the ones from the company you can see that the 6229 retouch is much smaller. In the company photo you can see the thinner belly on the 6228, but the ones I bought seem odd as the 6227z is very thin. Perhaps it’s mislabeled.
Escoda- They have a few lines but the website lists the Optimo series as their best kolinsky. The 1208 is the short bristle brush. The 1210 is the standard Kolinsky and the 1310 has a longer tip. I have some 1210’s and they were ok, what I would consider a decent value Kolinsky. They never really held a sharp point the way the others I have used did. I used them hard but they did seem to fade rather quickly. Below are the official pics for the 1208, 1210 and 1310.
Rosemary- I have heard good things about this brand but have never owned one. The 323 is the short bristle brush. The 332 has an extended point and the series 33 is a standard round.
Utrecht- I wouldn’t generally recommend them, or buy them, but there is a store near my house so I tried them out. They are a decent value kolinsky but I haven’t been very impressed with them overall. In order, here is a #3/0, a #2/0 and 2 #0’s, just to show that there are some variation from brush to brush, even in the same line from the same manufacturer.
Many hobby companies make their own brushes, including but not limited to Vallejo, Reaper, GW and Privateer Press. I have some of their brushes but not new ones, and probably not their good ones so I won’t go into detail on those.
A good brush will make a huge difference in your painting. If you don’t have at least a few good brushes I would suggest you pick up a few. I hope this article will make the choice a little easier.