Synthetic brushes are best for any medium that can dry quickly on your brush and ruin it. This will include Indian ink, acrylic, PVA glue and sizes. They are inexpensive and these days far superior to what they were.
But they are also really good for a lot of the painting one does – definitely for for brush lettering, but also for gouache and watercolour. Often the finer qualities that a sable offers (capillary action, holding a lot of paint) are not needed. Think of them as being useful for ‘colouring in’ as opposed to mark making or creating expressive strokes. They hold enough colour to work well especially in fine detail work needing up to a size 0. When you go smaller, nothing beats sable. I have a sable which is #00000.
Squirrel Hair brushes are softer than synthetic but don’t have the natural spring-back that sables have.They are probably good for larger scale work as they are floppy when using. I see Izzy’s collection of rounds (yesterday’s post) are a mix of squirrel and synthetic. That’s new to me! I haven’t tried these.
Sable brushes come in different qualities depending on which part of the sable antelope pelt the brush hairs come from. The hairs from the tail of the male Kolinsky Sable Antelope are the best and the most expensive. The best Kolinsky Sable is from Siberia and is golden brown, darkening at the tip as in the W&N Series 7 (which will have another name in other makes) As usual, cost indicates quality. For more info follow this link. Sable brushes will release paint depending on the pressure you apply to the tip and their full belly enables them to hold a good amount of watercolour. When I did oils I used square tipped sable brushes and actually wore them out in the course of a year!
- Rollups work very well as long as the bristles can’t bend over. I have kebab sticks in the sides to prevent this on my miniature brush holder.
- I made one for my sable brushes, especially for travelling. You need a grass roll-up mat and some hat elastic to thread through. This roll-up will never bend and I devised a little string tie.
- You can buy expandable plastic holder tubes but I don’t like them. If someone collapses them the brushes will be ruined and if you take them travelling and the brushes are end-up in the suitcase they’ll also get wrecked.
- You can buy brush roll-ups these days.
- When you wash your brushes, squeeze a little Fairy Liquid into the palm of your hand and wash the brush by swishing it gently in your palm, never going against the bristles.
- For glue, size or masking fluid only use a synthetic brush. For masking fluid or size, first lubricate it in Fairy Liquid (dish-washing liquid) in the same way you wash the brush. Don’t quite rinse it out. This will enable the size to wash off more easily.
- You can condition your sable brushes with a good hair conditioner after washing them, doing it the same way as you washed them. Then rinse lightly.
- Re-shape the point and stand them in a jar until dry, then store them in a paintbrush roll-up holder.
- If you are teaching a child to paint explain that they mustn’t scrub with the brush. It has hair like a cat so they must think about stroking a cat and use it softly in the same direction as the bristles. Take the child’s hand and pretend you are stroking a cat. Explain this regularly.
- Teach the children not to leave the brushes in the water or they will bend and drown!