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/


    1. That was very well written and good reading, I like the lazy part about brush cleaning and nearly all of us are guilty of it, I need to try those Rosemary brushes you reviewed last, I've been debating using them for a while.....

    2. So despite the cost, your favourite brushes are costing you less than 50p a year..... errrmmmm .... am I missing something?? :o)))

    3. You've got to push the envelope Steve.If I can get that 50p down to 25p, that's more money to spend on surgical appliances. Anyway, those W&N brushes get treated better than my grandson and I've no real urge to buy brushes that're likely to outlive me!



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