Wash'n'Brush Up!

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that, for a while now, I've been trying out several types of brush with the aim of finding a practical replacement for the now horrendously expensive Windsor & Newton Series 7 sables. A good brush won't make you a Michelangelo, but it will improve your painting; the old saying about a bad workman always blaming his tools is only partly true. The exercise seemed pretty simple and so it was, but there are a couple of things I ought to explain before I begin on the run down of the brushes I tried. My choice of brushes to trial was an fairly educated one in that I've come across some absolute rubbish and some indifferent stuff over the years and there's no point in throwing good money after bad. Conversely, I've used some good brushes I knew ought to stand up well in any test. Some brushes just aren't suited to the splashing of paint onto lead. That said, I'm certainly no brush expert and can only base my choice(s) on what I prefer and what suits my style of painting and the consistency of the paint I use. Consequently, I haven't made any actual recommendations (though some things are hard to deny); you can make your own decisions - yer pays yer money and takes yer choice.

Firstly, the important part of the brush is obviously the business end, where the hairs, bristles, filaments are, that said, the rest of the brush is pretty important too as it will influence the durability and its ease of use. For example, there are broadly three lengths of brush: pocket, 'normal' (often unmentioned in a description) and long handled. My advice is to ignore the pocket size (short handled) and the long handled (unless you fancy yourself as another Da Vinci) and stick to the NATO standard length. Why have I bothered to mention this? Well because I bought a long handled brush by accident and had the chop it in half or risk poking myself in the ear or eye every time I painted anything. The difference is obvious, but sometimes the different lengths can be difficult to spot when you're ordering and watching the telly at the same time ;O)

O.K., other blindingly obvious advice includes washing the brush frequently during use and, for God's sake, don't overload the brush. The main thing is to keep the hairs/fibres as free of paint as possible and certainly don't get any where the hair joins the ferrule or the brush will reach the end of its life very quickly. Some people go through a religious brush cleaning ritual at the end of each painting session, using washing up liquid, brush cleaner or whatever. All well and good and it certainly lengthens the life of any brush, but, normally, I'm far too lazy to do that and, when yo see some of the prices later, you'll see I'm not such a Philistine after all. However, being my usual inconsistent self, I actually did treat some of the brushes to a good wash just for my own curiosity and I think you'll be able to spot the ones that scrubbed up well.

Now, a quick point about the ferrule. It's not just there to hold the hairs onto the end of the stick. It's also there to prevent water or spirit damage to the hairs and the binding agent (glue). The ferrules on good quality brushes are crimped twice (they're the two rings around the top end of the ferrule. This not only makes sure the brush head and handle don't part company, but it also give additional water proofing.

The business end of the brush (the head) is designed both to hold the paint and to apply it, so a brush with about three hairs in it isn't really any use. What you should look for is a brush head substantial enough to hold enough paint to do the job and a fine enough point to do the job properly. The point is usually the first casualty, but a brush that loses its point shouldn't just be ditched as it can have an afterlife as the brush you use for basing work (applying glue as well as paint) and for dry brushing/wet brushing

Now, as to the actual trials. I had a bit of a problem in that it's not so much the number of figures you use a brush to paint as the number of times the brush is used. Six figures painted over, say, four sessions can mean the brush has been used four times, once or six. However, this test wasn't intended to be that scientific, so I've used the rough number of figures each brush has been used on and you'll have to make your judgement from that. It's as good a guide as any and, for information, I tend to paint my figures in a couple of sessions (or three or four for mounted), so a hundred figures means a brush has been used for two hundred sessions (but then painting figures in lots of ten will put a lot more strain on a brush than painting figures singly!).

The figures themselves were mainly 28mm (30YW/ECW; AWI; ACW; Modern - mostly Vietnam - with a good few 15mm/18mm Napoleonics thrown in for good measure). However, as far as the figure count for each brush type is concerned, the totals are composed of 28mm only where it's less than about 80 figures and 80:20, 28mm to 15mm for totals over this. Clear? I bet not!

I'm pretty catholic in my use of paints and, although I tend to most commonly use Vallejo, I frequently use other brands/types. I've listed them below:
Vallejo Game Colour
Vallejo Model Colour
Games Workshop acrylics and inks
Windsor & Newton Galleria
Windsor & Newton inks
Daler System 3
Craft Acrylics (various makes)
Games Workshop paints, foundation paints and inks
Army Painter inks
Oil washes

However, not all the brushes were used with all the paints and more than one brush type has been used a figure to give an many as possible a run out.

I had intended to run the trial using only size 0 brushes (my most commonly used size), but, as you can see from the photograph below, there's no apparent standardisation in head sizes. I can understand this to some extent because of the different fibres used, but some differences are quite remarkable. The photo probably doesn't show the differences as well as seeing them in the flesh, so to speak.

So, as I was already using some of the brands/types I wanted to compare, but in different sizes, I included whatever brushes were in use at the time. I'll still use all the size 0's I bought anyway, so there's no waste.

Right, on with the results - sorry the photos aren't exactly David Bailey standard.

1.   The 'survivors': Windsor & Newton Series 7 sable. The first three (sizes 2,1 and 00) are about twelve years old and the separate size 1 (at the bottom of the picture) is about 17 years old. They've seen a lot of use and actually have been looked after, but nowadays only get involved with ink or oil washes and lining in. To be honest, the older size 1 is probably the best liner I've ever had.
    Cost new: £6.58 (size 0)

    2. Proarte Series 100 'Connoisseur' sable blend, size 0; cost: £2.17

    Fine point;
    slimmer than the 'Prolene' synthetic sable;
    hard wearing;
    retains point;
    available from craft and art shops as well as online
    These are decent general purpose brushes and the one in the photograph has probably been used on around 120 figures.

    3. Proarte Series 101 'Prolene' synthetic, size 0; cost: £2.12

    Fine point;
    quite full bodied;
    retains point, but those I've used before tend to lose their point after around 79 – 80 figures;
    this one has been used on about 30 figures;
    available from craft and art shops as well as online.

    4. Proarte 'Renaissance' sable, size 0; cost: £2.58

    Fine point;
    full bodied;
    retains point reasonably well;
    brush in photograph has been used on around 50 figures, mainly for shading and lining in, but it has long hairs and so they can make it difficult to control for precision work;
    available from craft and art shops as well as online.

    5. Daler-Rowney 'Dalon' D77 synthetic, size 5/0; cost: £2.10

    This brush has been in use for about the past five years and has only ever been used for inks and lining in etc.;
    very fine brush;
    excellent point;
    it's been used on God knows how many 15mm and 28mm figures.

    6. Ken Bromley Artists' Value Kolinsky sable, size 0; cost: £2.33

    Fine point;
    full bodied;
    seems to retain its point, but only used on 36 figures so far;
    again, long hairs can be more difficult to control for precision work.

    7. Ken Bromley Artists' Value 'Panache' sable, size 0: cost: £1.72

    Surprisingly disappointing performance compared to their Kolinsky sable, but this brush has been used on around 100 figures (15mm and 28mm);
    more of a 'spotter' type, with much shorter hairs than the rest of the brushes used;
    difficult to keep clean and hasn't retained its point at all.

    This may well be a 'Friday afternoon' brush, but I won't be using any more of this series.

    8. Rosemary & Co. sable blend series 401, cost:
    size 0:£1.65
    size 3/0: £1.55


    A major contrast in brushes from the same series, which is surprising. If you refer back to the photo of the Windsor & Newton series 7 brushes, there is little difference between the length of the heads in the three sizes shown. However, the series 401 3/0 is only about three quarters the length of the size 0 and looks more like a 'spotter' than a standard watercolour brush. Also, whereas both brushes have been used on around 100 figures (of various sizes), the smaller brush has just a bout reached the end of its useful life, but the size 0 has plenty of mileage left. The 3/0 also shares the same problems as the 'Panache' brush, above.

    Single crimp on ferrule.

    I don't plan on using any more of this series either.

    9. Rosemary & Co. pure sable series 99; cost:
    size 3/0: £1.75
    size 4/0: £1.65

    Good points and good, durable brushes and they hold more paint than you'd think. I can't complain about these brushes as they've coped with around 120 figures each (15mm and 28mm) and still have plenty of life left.
    Single crimp on the ferrule, but they're almost unbelievable value.

    10. Rosemary & Co. Kolinsky sable series 33; cost:
          size 0: £3.65
          size 10/0: £3.40

    Generally the same comments as for their series 99, above. However, these are noticeably better quality and, although they have been used on as many figures as the series 99, they're still, more or less, as good as new. Both the series have a wide range of sizes, but the series 33 10/0 is a very useful brush and capable of much finer detail than my eyes or ability can manage.
    Single crimp again, but I've not noticed any negative effect so far.

    After all this, you still have to accept that there's always the chance of getting a duff brush from your range of choice. Obviously, the best (and probably least hygienic) way of selecting a brush is to wet the end with your tongue/lips and reform the point. Not easy to do by mail order, but I doubt any of the mail order people would worry too much if you returned a brush you found damaged.

    I've listed below the suppliers  I used, but for proprietary brands of paint brushes (or if you're non UK and the postage is horrendous) just shop around the net. There are plenty of art supply companies about.

    Ken Bromley Art Supplies: http://www.artsupplies.co.uk/

    Fran & Ray's quiz

    God knows why I'm doing this when I ought to be getting on with lots of other stuff, but here goes . . .

    1.        Favourite Wargaming period and why?

    Hmmmm . . . Napoleonic really, but I also major in ACW and WSS.

    2.       Next period, money no object?

    ECW (today anyway)

    3.       Favourite 5 films?

    The Third Man
    Blade Runner
    Black Hawk Down
    Night of the Hunter
    Donnie Darko
    Full Metal Jacket
    The Blues Brothers
    The Big Lebowski
    Pulp Fiction
    Dr Strangelove

    Oh bugger . . . .

    4.       Favourite 5 TV series?

    Being Human
    The Prisoner (original, not shitty remake)
    Dad's Army
    Ashes to Ashes/Life on Mars

    5.       Favourite book and author?

    You've got to be kidding! I can't even get it down to a single favourite author . . .

    6.       Greatest General? Can’t count yourself!!

    This is answerable on many levels: general/diplomat; strategist or tactician etc. The general/diplomat, I'd go for Marlborough and the fighting general would be Alexander/Hannibal/Tilly/William Tecumseh Sherman or maybe Davout. (Favourite on just personality would be Sherman). And I still haven't answered the question . .

    7.       Favourite Wargames rules?

    Fire & Fury (original)

    8.       Favourite Sport and team?

    Rugby Union: All Blacks (but England cos it's my country)

    9.       If you had a only use once time machine, when and where would you go?

    On a one way trip? The future sometime. Return trip? The past to a significant time to allow for smart investment that'd set me up in the lap of luxury now. Smart eh?

    10.   Last meal on Death Row?


    11.    Fantasy relationship and why?

    Rachel Weisz: attractive, intelligent, sense of humour (and she'd need it with me!)

    12.   If your life were a movie, who would play you?

    If I'm being honest, Danny DeVito . . .

    13.   Favourite Comic  Superhero?

    Never had one – never interested in 'em.

    14.   Favourite Military quote?

    “If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one would remain in the ranks”
    Frederick the Great

    15.   Historical destination to visit?

    Of the places I haven't been yet, probably Istanbul

    16.   Biggest Wargaming regret?

    Getting rid of my Mike's Models 15mm 7YW armies

    17.   Favourite Fantasy job?

    Job my arse, I'm retired!

    18.   Favourite Song, Top 5?

    Tom Waits – lots of'em
    The Passenger – maybe the Nick Cave version
    Say a Little prayer – Aretha Franklin
    Kelly's Heroes – Black Grape
    Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones
    Honeybaby Blues – Maria Maldaur

    Oops! Done it again!

    19.   Favourite Wargaming Moment?

      Well, I bet a win would be nice . . .

    20.   The miserable Git question, what upsets you?

    smart arses
    any kind of automated system
    tele sales
    Virgin Mobile
    people who won't try
    big mouths
    nosey parkers
    rumour mongers
    lack of consideration
    any extremist
    the intentionally obtuse
    bad manners
    most television
    staff who ask me if I'd like to use the self checkout when I've obviously chosen to stand in the queue for a till
    people who come in late when the film is on
    people who can dish it out, but can't take it

    Spot the thought patterns. There's something in that lot for a shrink!

    Who're you?

    Considering I'm supposed to have all the time in the world I never seem to have time to do things when I remember them; and I'm easily distracted. This isn't much use if you're supposed to be pursuing a project with an almost fanatical single minded approach.

    Since the last proper posting back in June, I've been on me jollies, done some decorating and actually painted some leads, but the Olympics were a hell of a distraction. Normally I'm a rugby union and boxing with occasional league and a bit of football thrown in bloke, but I became fascinated by the field and track, judo, canoeing, rowing, boxing (obviously), hockey, handball; the list goes on. The big 'newies' for me were certainly handball and judo. Of course I knew a bout them, but they really caught my attention.

    While I spent the nineteen days of sporting bliss polishing the settee, but my son-in-law actually made it to one of the men's Hockey days in the Olympic Park and came back full of beans. He was very impressed with all of it.

    So, that explains (mostly) why I've been pretty idle for the past couple of months, but I doesn't explain why I'm bothering to explain. It's not as though anyone's life has been endangered by the silence and in our house it'd be welcomed! Nevertheless, you can't overcome the old protestant work ethic eh?

    Anyway, time for a moan, but it's really more of an observation. Young Henry has got his own library tickets (his mother enrolled him a couple of months ago when he'd just turned one – she can't keep up with the demand for books!), which means that for the foreseeable future he's going to need ferrying to and from the library: this is where I come in. I resurrected my ticket (it's a swipe card thing actually) with the idea of seeing how much reading material of any reasonable quality the government cuts had left us. Not overly much round here, I'm afraid, but I won't go into politics just now. However, I did do a quick exercise to see if a perennial 'problem' with libraries still exists – and it does. You can still find, say, volume two or volume four of any series, but never volume bloody one! Where do they go? Do the Libraries Department only buy one copy of the first volume? Is the same bugger renewing it all the time? Has somebody nicked it? Has it worn out? If there are any librarians out there, what's the answer?

    Well, enough of this interesting stream of consciousness crap and on with the leads. I've churned out Austrian and French napoleonic line troops and boring they are, so I thought I'd just bung up a few piccies of (to me) the more interesting stuff.

    First off is a shot of the Baden Baden battalion actually based and ready for the table. As with just about any unit, they look a lot better based up, but they're still the most boring looking unit I've got. This probably means they'll be red hot on the board and put far prettier units to shame.

    The next batch of photos are all Austrian command bases for the Napoleonic project. They're a mix of 'old' Battle Honours (pre move to the US) and AB. Nice figures let down only by the need for speed and a sloppy paint job – a dark wash and brush up or pretty fast layering.

    Austrian Corps HQ
    Austrian Div HQ

    Austrian Brigadiers

    These figures all all a mix of battle Honours, AB Austrian Napoleonics and AB Revolutionary Wars. yes, I know, but it's my army and I can do what I like!

    The following shots are of the fist grenzer unit (there'll be four, all different regiments – very unhistorical), each battalion being represented by a support base and four skirmisher bases. In my rules (still in unending development), a battalion has either three or four bases each of six figures for standard or large units – cribbed from Shako. Light infantry units are two types, the better being , say, French or British which have three 'normal' line bases, but two of which convert to two skirmish bases each, giving the configuration mentioned above. Poorer skirmishers can only operate in this skirmish formation, whereas the better units can revert to normal line configuration. Does that make sense? Anyway, here are the 1st Szeckler:

    This is (more or less) what they'll look  like on the board
    There's a bit of a debate as to whether the grenz regiments fought as line or skirmish troops after Mack's reforms when he tried to shoe horn them into operating as line units. I've taken the skirmish option, but only given them average capabilities (might restrict this further), which is certainly a downgrade from the earlier period. Still, I'm happy with this (for now anyway!).

    The figures are from the new AB Revolutionary Wars packs (I think the later ones are crap by comparison) and are a bit of a challenge in that they represent three variations of the field uniform. There's no definite answer (as far as I know) as to the leg wear of the troops, some source saying the 'domestic' white trousers, others the  tighter blue Hungarian style, but both are represented here. So, as I planned four battalions anyway I'll probably do a couple of mixed units (as with this one) and one each with all white or all blue trousers. The battalions will each be from different regiments, giving different facing colours,which is hopelessly inaccurate, but they're in the wrong uniforms for the 1809 campaign anyway, so I can comfortably live with that. ;O) 

    Finally, an old Old Glory figure I found when I was in the process of sorting out the loft and ditching stuff. This chap was bent and battered, but still primed and stuck to his bottle top. I didn't have the heart to bin him after such devotion to duty, so he's ended up as a brigadier for my partly finished French Dragoon Brigade. I've taken liberties with the uniform details, but nobody's going to notice when his brigade is riding over their units eh?

    And so that's it for now. Sometime in the next few days I'll post the results and observations of a paint brush comparison I've been doing for the past three months or so. A couple of budget ranges of decent quality brushes against some mid range and top flight brushes. It's not as clear cut as you might imagine, so watch this space. I might also publish my answers to Fran and Ray's bloody insane questionnaire . . . .

    See this!!!!!

    Haven't been idle for the past couple of months and I'll do an update shortly. However, in the meantime, there's a mad man running a comp who's going to give away some useful (and some esoteric) stuff. Get along to The Blog With No Name (http://walladvantage2.blogspot.co.uk/) and have a look  for yourself.

    Two of the prizes are some 'Rosemary' blended sable brushes (used 'em:very good - see later) and a paint brush stand, one of which I've got and which is very good. Ian's entry rules are insanely simple, so give it a go.

    Right, got some Grenzers to do . . . .

    The Song of the Dodo

    Yes, nice to see you too. Where have I been? Nowhere really, but I've been reading and ruminating and the like. Been cautious about wha...