Watercolor For Beginners: The Best Brushes

There are a wide variety of watercolor brushes out there, but you really only need one or two good brushes to get started with watercolor. The most important thing to pay attention to is how much water your brushes hold.


You can tell how much water a brush will hold based on how springy or soft it is

The springier the brush, the less water it holds.  The softer the brush, the more water it holds. You can test the springiness of your brush by running your finger across it.  The standard cheap synthetic watercolor brushes you might find in a craft store are quite stiff and springy, while brushes made with natural or imitation hair are very soft.

These brushes serve different purposes, so it is good to have variety, but I think it’s important to start working with soft brushes early on, because they give you the most technical range and take some getting used to.

Since watercolor comes off a brush easily, you won't need many brushes to start

I do most of my work with a few medium size round brushes (size 10 to 16) and small brushes (size 4 to 6), and sometimes I only use one or two brushes for an entire painting.  I have an array of styles and sizes that work well for small details and large washes, but I don’t use these as often.

I recommend starting with a medium to large round pointed brush made of synthetic squirrel hair.  This brush works just as well as the natural squirrel hair for a fraction of the cost, and the shape will allow you to do everything from large washes using the side of the brush, to fine details using the point.  If you want something soft but slightly more springy, sable or synthetic sable is another great option.

When deciding between different brands, try pulling at the tip of the brush to see how much it sheds. Loose hairs aren’t a huge problem in watercolor, but they can leave a mark if left on the page while paint is drying. Experiment with different brush types to see what effects you like best!


Watercolor brushes are easy to care for

While watercolor brushes can be expensive, the plus side is that they can last forever as long as you properly care for them!  To clean them, all you have to do is swish them in water to get the pigment out. Make sure that you never leave them sitting in the water, because this will change the shape of your brush over time.

You should always dry your brushes lying flat. If you leave a wet brush upright, the water can drip down and activate the glue in the brush handle, which will ruin the brush over time.

Remember, you will get the most versatility starting with large, soft, round brushes that come to a point when wet. You can make a whole painting with just one or two brushes, so don’t be afraid to start with fewer, high quality brushes over a whole set.


If you’re just getting started with watercolor and want to learn more, consider taking my class on Skillshare! Sign up with the link below to get your first two months free.