Intro to Watercolor Brushes

When you go to the art store, you will meet a fearsome foe named The Giant and Intimidating Wall of Brushes™.   Don’t worry, you don’t need to purchase all these brushes. Let’s shrink this wall:

First, you don’t need to spend a whole mortgage payment to get some good brushes. Quality is important, but just like luxury cars, eventually you kinda hit a point of diminishing returns.

Second, only focus on brushes made for watercolor. Brushes made for oil painting/crafting have bristles that are too tough. Technically they could work, but technically dryer lint could work. (Please do not test this.)

With those caveats out of the way, let’s choose your brush material. 


Natural and Synthetic Brushes
Natural Brushes are made from animal hair. Conventional wisdom says these are higher quality, but personally I think that’s a load of hooey. Synthetic hair brushes are made from manufactured materials, but they can still be high quality. They even make synthetic animal brushes. Science! 


Brush Shapes
There’s are many types of brush shapes. Please refer to the handy chart below: 

watercolor brushes chart

Choices, choices! If I were you, I’d start with a couple round brushes and a large flat brush. The flat brush can paint big areas, and the round brushes can do most everything else. Speaking of round brushes, a quick sidebar. 

Quick History Sidebar
Okay, so most of the brushes have self-explanatory names, yes? BUT THEN THERE’S FILBERT. The Filbert brush is named after...dramatic pause…a Saint! Kind of! The “Filbert” name comes from French, meaning noix de Philibert, or “Nut of Philbert.” Insert your joke of choice here. 

This nutty Philbert was one Saint Philibert of Jumièges, who’s feast day happens to coincide with when hazelnuts are harvested. Ole Philbie became synonymous with hazelnuts, and the watercolor brush in question happens to be the shape of a hazelnut, so there you go! 

It’s kind of wild that this dude is now remembered solely in relationship to hazelnuts, but it’s just like the old saying goes, “History: sometimes your sainthood is entirely overshadowed by a nut-based spice.”


End of Quick History Sidebar. Now: Brush Sizes
When you need to stop ruminating on how all our accomplishments will inevitably be swallowed by the beast of time, distract yourself by choosing a brush size. Start with the size of paper you typically paint on, then work backwards from there. For instance, I usually paint on something in the 5”x7” or 8”x10” range, so my brush sizes are 0,2,6, and 10.

Different sized round watercolor brushes


Remember, you don’t need to purchase everything on The Giant and Intimidating Wall of Brushes™. I have 20+ brushes and I use maybe 4 of them? Just pick out a few sizes and styles that you think look neat and give them a whirl!