Monday, April 18, 2011

Buying art supplies and brushes.

Whenever you see an artists studio with jars and jars of hundreds of brushes and all sorts of other art paraphenalia, are you impressed? I may have another opinion. I'll tell you why at the end of this post.

I went to Jacksons in Hackney, London this morning and bought a really nice big thick block of 100 sheets of watercolour paper. I've used Jacksons Art Supplies for a number of years now and always been happy with their service but thought I'd make a personal visit. It's only a short bus and train ride from me.

I was hoping to get some brushes but there was no way I could try them out without causing an awful lot of inconvenience. However, I was told they hope to have a proper shop before too long where this will be possible.

I hate buying some things online, especially brushes. A decent sable brush can cost a kings ransom and I can't afford to make any erroneous purchases. To give you an idea, their most expensive brush (when they have it in stock) is a Da Vinci Maestro 10 Tobolsky-Kolinsky red sable, size 50 at £1244.88 but Jacksons price is "only" £984.05.

I couldn't afford one of those. Just imagine getting it home, washing out the starch that keeps them pointed, and then finding out it's way too floppy for our style of painting.

However, even if I was buying a brush for £10, I'd like to know that it was suitable for me.

I made that mistake with some squirrel brushes and Chinese goat and horse hair brushes I bought, useless, for me. We need to try them really or have some really, really good demonstration videos and reviews of them being used on YouTube. To be fair, Jacksons do have a few Youtube videos showing the use of Da Vinci brushes but it looks like a kid is painting with them and they are not showing how they perform properly. I'll scour YouTube for more informative videos and if I find any, I'll let you all know.

Anyway, back to the pictures we see of artists studios where they have hundreds of brushes in jars. It may impress some people because it looks like the artist uses a fresh brush for each new painting they do, but in my opinion either the artist just likes buying brushes for the sake of it or, they have made so many wrong decisions when purchasing their weapon of choice, they just don't know what to do with them except display them like vases of flowers.

Personally, if I find the ideal brush then that would be all I'd need. I'd just buy the three that I need, a 1" flat, a round No 8 and 16 and maybe a cheap rigger. Then I would just keep using those. The fewer tools you have the fewer decisions you need to make but you may need more skill to use them effectively.

My brushes at the moment are wearing thin, they have lost their points and my painting has developed to the point where I know exactly what I want from a brush but it's finding the right one without spending a lot of money and time on the wrong ones.


  1. I know what you mean. I'm "lucky" in that the way I paint ruins a brush quickly. On a hard surface I generally scrub and wreck any brush in a day or two, so I throw away a lot and so have to buy and try a lot. The best sables I've used are Escoda Kolinsky Tajmir, series 1212 (apart from W/N series 7 which cost a fortune, but I've got a few tiny weeny ones). Now though I tend to use cheap synthetics for my glazing.

  2. Hi John!

    I stumbled across your website and blog while searching Youtube for watercolour demos. I am amazed at your paintings. They're absolutley magical.

    I've been wanting to try watercolours for a while but never found the time. Your paintings have certainly inspired me to try sooner than later.

    If you don't mind my asking, would you recommend some brush sizes/brands to purchase? Also what brand of paints do you use?

    I have some paints my grandfather gave me years ago but I haven't checked them in a while, so they could be dried up like the expensive blue you mentioned in a post. So if those are ruined and since I'm starting out I'd like to buy some paints but I'm not sure which colours I should pick up first. Would you recommed a basic set of colours to use? (EI. Should I buy one yellow, one green, one blue etc).

    I'll be putting together one of your fantastic water chargers as well (thank you for the instructions!).

    I'd appreciate any info you could give but I'd understand if you didn't have the time.

    I look forward to following your blog.

    Brooke (

  3. Hi Brooke, Thanks for your comments. Regarding brushes, it depends what you want to paint and how you want to paint. Can I point you to this site

    It is the best watercolour site on the web and can tell you much more than I can.

    However, brushes are a personal thing which largely depends on your budget. Unfortunatley, you need to but a few to work out which ones you favour the most. It doesn't need to be the most expensive ones. I use a really cheap ones from time to time and rarely use pure sable.

    The same with sizes, it depends what you paint and how large.



  4. Thanks John for replying back. I figured brushes would be a personal preference. Thank you so much for the website! I haven't had a chance to look too far into it, but what I have seen so far is an amazing source of information.

    Happy painting!


  5. I came across your blog and it's now on my must read list. I really like your paintings. I note that you work small (I rarely go larger than 7.5x11 myself)

    Excellent point about the amount of brushes one needs. I think very artist goes through that phase. With every kind of art supply. It seems to be the nature of the beast. Myself, I finally whittled it down to a few brushs: nos 2 and 6 round sables, 1/2" flat, 1" mop brush. That's it. Athough I do find myself desperately wanting a #10 0r #12 round (which will be a synthetic).


Thankyou for taking time to comment on my blog. It's good to get feedback, I really do appreciate it.