I’ve been practising with watercolour a bit more over the last month or so- and so, I thought I would use that as an excuse to buy something I’ve had my eye on in the art shop for a while- a water brush. You’ve probably already heard of these wonderful contraptions, but if not, a quick refresher: Water brushes are synthetic brushes which have a hollow handle that you fill with water. The water is then dispensed through the brush by squeezing the handle, so you can control how wet the brush tip gets. As the packaging says- ‘its lightweight design permits portability and eliminates the need to carry water bottles’ – which is why they are very popular for urban/nature sketching. I have also seen them recommended in some watercolour books as a good tool for doing large areas of wash, though you probably want the largest size brush tip for that purpose.
I bought a ZIG BrusH2O (cost: $15 NZD), which is the most common brand in New Zealand, and is made by the japanese pen company, Kuretake. It’s available in four brush tip sizes, and I got the medium. I was initially going to get the detailer but then read a review that said the larger brush tip sizes have a great tip to do fine work with, so decided to go for the medium instead, so it would have more variation in line sizes.
So, I have had a week or two to play with this cool little contraption, and have discovered a few things…
– Quite good variation between the thin and thick lines (and washes) are possible with the medium brush tip! So far the point on the brush has lasted really well too. Its really easy to get accurate lines with as well as quickly fill in areas of colour. I found the brush size to be similar to a No.4 brush.
– Its really good for a beginner like me- you can do graduated washes SO easily, as the water can be constantly wetting the brush tip, you don’t have to stop and pick up more water and then continue, which for the novice watercolour-ist can result in a bit of a break in flow of the colour, if too much clear water is then added, or the initial watercolour has already started drying.
– Good for getting saturated bright colours on the paper BUT you need to make sure you mix the colours on the paper. If you mix them in a palette, you will end up with much paler colours because water is added regularly, thinning out the mixed colour. This also makes the waterbrush really good for thin coloured washes over larger areas.
– Very practical to use with tiny portable watercolour palettes (even my smallest one which has watercolour pans of about 1cm diameter). I thought it might be too big, but it works perfectly, probably because of the great brush tip point.
– Controlling the amount of water coming through the tip can be difficult, and you can see in the washes below where too much water was added with the waterbrush. However if you are using the brush for work that is a bit looser, or ideally for sketchbooks, then its no big deal and can give some nice effects. I also think the water flow through the brush just takes some time and practice to get used to. Once you’ve got used to it, in some ways (see above) its actually easier to use than a regular brush; I’m already getting lazy and using it at home all the time!
– I found it really hard to fill the handle up with a decent amount of water, using the method suggested of immersing the unscrewed end of the handle into a cup of water and squeezing it to pull in water. I only got maybe 1/2 a tsp in the handle by doing this. If you were going to take this out sketching with you, you’d definitely want more water in there. So maybe I’ll get hold of a syringe and try filling it that way. Of course, I could also be doing it the wrong way- any tips please let me know!
– The brush tip does discolour (with some paints) when you use it, even after you have cleaned the tip after use, because it is a white taklon brush tip. However this is purely cosmetic and hasn’t affected the use of the brush as far as I am aware.
Overall- I’ve found it to be an awesome tool, and I can’t wait to take it out ‘into the wild’ and try out some sketching with it (once I’ve figured out how to fill it up with some more water of course). This is also a pretty flexible tool with a number of uses besides the obvious. I have seen suggestions that you can fill the barrel up with a diluted black ink to use as grey washes with black ink sketches which sounds like something I’ll have to try soon! I believe some comic artists also use them filled with ink for brush line work, instead of other ink brush pens (such as Pentel Brush Pen and the Kuretake Brush Pen). I would recommend this handy brush, especially if you want to get into more urban/outdoor watercolour sketching.
Here are some interesting links if you’d like to learn more about waterbrushes:
ZIG watercolour system BrusH2O on the Kuretake website
A really detailed review from Russell Stutler on waterbrushes.
If you want to see examples of the different brands and particularly sizes of brushes, check out this video by Cathy Johnson (skip to about 7.10 to see the beginning of the demos).
Also- if want to try something different, try out this tutorial on making a water brush from commercial kids paint brushes! I have read that the inventor of the waterbrush did in fact make his from an emptied out ink filled brush pen- so its not such a bad idea to try out. Sadly I couldn’t find these in shops here to try this out.
have fun if you do decide to get one!
Please note that all reviews are entirely my own opinion- I haven’t received any compensation from the product companies that have been featured, and all products reviewed are paid for by me. Because I can’t help buying more art materials than I really need and the blog is a good excuse!!