tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Greetings Illustrated Faith Tribe!

Who wants to play?  I get so many questions about my watercolor brushes.

All brushes are unique, just like you and me!  There are different kinds of bristles: natural (made from hair such as hog, sable, or squirrel) or synthetic (nylon, polyester or a blend).  The bristle will determine the way your brush holds water, the spring of the brush, and the way it lays color down on your paper.   There are also different sizes and brush shapes.  We could spend FOREVER going over all of these characteristics and how one characteristic impacts another, etc.

The fact is most artists are passionate about which brushes they use — either the brand, bristle, shape — or ALL of the above.  Some artists only use “expensive” brushes and won’t touch “craft” brushes.   Most artists separate their brushes by medium – for example watercolor brushes are used only for watercolors, acrylic brushes are used only for acrylic paints, oil brushes are reserved for oil paints.  This is a great idea friends, often these mediums with leave an imprint on your brushes and affect the way they soak up and distribute color.   Yep, a great brush tip!  LOL

Honestly, I love differences in people just as much as I love different brushes.   The key is to find brushes that suit your style, what you like to paint, and what you like to paint with.  I don’t believe they have to be expensive either.    “How,” you say, “do I figure out what brushes are best for me?”  Short answer, “play!”  So let’s grab your watercolor brush stash and explore the most distinct characteristic of any brush — it’s shape.

Illustrated Faith Blog Watercolor Tutorial Image

Often I will paint with a limited color pallet.  So I grabbed my ceramic egg dish of blues and greens that I used on another project.  I laid out a selection of my brushes next to me.  All different brands, price points, shapes, sizes, and bristle type.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Round Brushes

The first group of brushes are the most common, the round brushes.   I love the Princeton Select synthetic brushes because they are fairly inexpensive but have a nice spring to the bristle.  Here you see me drawing a simple line with a Princeton Select #2 brush.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1The larger the number, the larger the diameter of the brush.  I have found; however, that the numbering system does not seem to be universal.  In other words, a #2 Princeton Select may be different from another brand’s #2 size.

Next up, Princeton Synthetic Sable #6 round.  Also not an expensive brush.  You can see a wave line and a straight line painted with this brush.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Same brush, but just using the tip and not applying much pressure yields almost the same width as the #2 Princeton Select.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Princeton Neptune #4 is a slightly more expensive brush.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

And last a Plaid One Stroke #12, also synthetic and not expensive but one of my favorite brushes.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Round brushes!  One of the most versatile shapes in the brush family.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Dagger, Flat and Bright Brushes

Next up, a specialty brush called a dagger.  Ooooohhhh my…sounds dangerous!   I don’t honestly use it much but I wanted to show some of the marks you can make with it.  This brush is great for florals, leaves and organic shapes.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

You can see I finished up my marks with the dagger brush in green, small dots (made with the point of the brush) and waves.

Switching colors and brushes next.

Painting in a darker teal using the flat wash or bright brushes.  I started with one of my more expensive natural brushes, an Isabey Kolinsky Sable bright brush #2.

Looking for a brush that handles square shapes, and crisp edges like a pro?  The flat or bright brush is perfect for the job.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Turning the brush on its side allows you you make a precise straight skinny line.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Princeton Select 1/2″ flat wash brush.  Often flat and bright brushes are sold by their width (1/4″, 1/2″, etc. instead of a # designation).

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

And the big daddy, the 1″ Princeton Select flat wash.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Flat wash and bright brushes made all the teal marks you see, even the circles!  I love the smooth even distribution of color and the crisp edges.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Angular Brushes

Angular brush are kind of “dagger” version of the flat, bright shape brushes.  They are straight and flat but they have an angular edge.  It’s a great brush when you want to reach small spaces and one of my favorite brushes for acrylic painting.

Here is the Silver Golden Natural 3/8″ made with a mix of natural hairs.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Don’t these marks remind you of feathers?  Be creative!  I bet you can make some marks you have never seen before!

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Robert Simmons Sapphire angular brush 1/2″ is a synthetic brush; but many compare it to the natural sable brushes.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Robert Simmons 3/4″ angular.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Note how you can change your marks by letting your brush have less moisture.  These strokes are called “dry brush” strokes and I am allowing the bristles to separate.

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Angular brushes!

tips and techniques about watercolor brushes by Amy Bruce | Watercolor Tutorial | Brush Marks - Created to Create - Part 1

Ohhh, the marks you can make!  Grab your brush stash and experiment!    Then stay tuned for the second part of this tutorial where I will play with mop brushes and oval brushes and then tie everything together into an awesome Bible Journal entry.

Until then, happy mark making!  Tag me with your posts on Instagram at @designsbyamybruce to share the fun.

Lots of hugs,

amy bruce

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additional supplies: Dagger Striper Brush – Master’s Touch 1/4″ | Flat Brushes – Isabey Kolinksy #2  | Angular Brushes – Robert Simmons 1/2″, Robert Simmons 3/4″ | Pointed Mop Brush – Artxpress #6 | Mop Brushes – Illustrated Faith Travel Brush (comes with watercolor set), Princeton Neptune #4 | Oval Brushes – Plaid One Stroke #8, Loew Cornell 1/2″, Princeton Preferred Synthetic 3/4″

5 Comments
  1. Gayle Bond 1 year ago

    Wow! I’ve said for quite some time that I needed to learn which type of brush does what. This tutorial explains just that. Looking forward to part 2. Thanks, Amy!!

    • Author
      Amy Bruce 1 year ago

      Thank you Gayle! I am so glad the post was a blessing! Thank you for leaving some love here to let me know. Hugs, amy

    • Author
      Amy Bruce 10 months ago

      Thank you for leaving some love in the comments Gayle!

  2. Amy Doggett 1 year ago

    Thanks for this awesome tutorial, Amy! Where I struggle most is getting watercolor to “act right” in my bible! LOL It can look beautiful on watercolor paper, of course, but in my bible, the paper gets wrinkly and the watercolor ends up pooling in all the nooks and crannies! Any advice for using watercolor specifically on bible paper? Thanks so much! :)

    • Author
      Amy Bruce 1 year ago

      Amy –

      Watercolor is definitely one of the harder mediums to use in your Bible. Using less water can help make it more controllable. Less water will also keep the pooling from happening. Wet your watercolors prior to using them and load your brush primarily with the pigment. Wrinkly pages can be solved by placing a heavy book on top for a day or two. I have heard some people even iron their pages (I haven’t done that)!!!! But really where I found the most joy in using watercolors in my Bible is by letting go and letting the watercolors do their thing and then learning from each page. A bit of a wrinkle or an area where the watercolor pooled become part of the process of spending time creatively with the Lord. I find He speaks to me in how the watercolor moves and I learn something every time. It has been a process of letting go of perfection for me too – LOL – which has been a gift. I hope that helps! Hugs, amy

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