Are you using the wrong watercolor brushes?

Dec 26, 2023

A common problem I see is an overworked watercolor painting. It is easy to get carried away with the details of a painting or to use too many brush strokes to create a scene.

There are many reasons overworking is such a prevalent problem (some of which I address in this resource), but one that is overlooked sometimes is using the wrong watercolor brush.

Watercolor Brushes that Help you Paint Fresh, Bold Paintings

Having small, repetitive brush marks all over your painting makes the painting feel very busy. It looks very labored over. The one easy way to fix this problem is to start to think more about the big shapes of your scene and pick a bigger paint brush.

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Of course, there are moments in the painting where you need to get those fine details of the scene that comes at the end of your painting. But so often I see students grab that really small brush towards the beginning of the painting when we really need to use a bigger brush.

Which Watercolor Brush Should I Use in the First Wash, Second Wash, and Third Wash?

I paint in 3 washes, and for each of those washes, I use a different watercolor brush. 

A good rule of thumb for this is you want to go from big to small.

When you first start in your painting, you're going to want to use a large mop brush because you're covering a lot of the paper in one go.

Then when you move into the middle phase of your painting where you are creating a large, connected shape, you want to use a medium round brush.

And then finally, when you get towards the end of your painting and you're adding those finishing touches and little details, that's when you want to use a smaller brush.

4 Reasons to Embrace Larger Watercolor Brushes

Sometimes beginning watercolor artists gravitate toward those smaller watercolor brushes because they feel like they have more control over their strokes. While this can be true, there are four main reasons that you could benefit from embracing larger watercolor brushes as a part of your watercolor painting process. 

Four reasons you should consider using larger mop brushes are:

1. Bigger watercolor brushes allow for more water control.

Larger brushes hold more water and more paint, and they enabled you to cover a larger area before you reload your brush. And also the pigment that you were putting on your paper can be thicker with more paint and more water, which will dry slower and enable you to paint into this large shape. The scene for a longer amount of time.

If you're using a small brush, you're often going back and reloading because that smaller brush isn't holding enough paint. You aren't making a large fluid wash. You're leaning more towards dry brushing on your paper. And when that happens, you just have a couple of seconds to come back to that edge before it dries.

2. Large mop brushes give you freedom to be more more expressive.

With a bigger mop brush, you can create large, sweeping movements that do a lot of heavy lifting in your painting. Whether you're painting a street scene, a landscape, or a portrait, this first wash lays the groundwork for all that you're going to do in the next stages of your watercolor.

Learning to create a variety of brushstrokes - starting with this fluid, wet into wet mode - really adds something interesting to your painting. 

3. Larger watercolor brushes help you avoid overworking your painting.

I touched on this earlier, but one of the benefits of using a larger brush is to avoid overworking your painting. And what do I mean by overworking? I mean that you've created a painting that is too busy, lacks a central focus, or includes distracting or disconnected details. 

Think about how many brush strokes that you need to cover an area with a small brush versus a larger brush. Painting is a little bit like golf: you want to accomplish what you're trying to do in the least amount of strokes as possible. When you can do this, you paint a unified and focused watercolor. 

4. Using bigger watercolor brushes encourages confidence. 

With a larger brush, you can loosen up a bit more, which can help you to approach your watercolor subject more spontaneously. It discourages you from hovering over your painting and thinking about all the small marks. Instead, you focus on the larger shapes and begin to paint them more boldly and with more confidence.

So those are the reasons to really look at using a larger brush. Really think about this and make sure that you have the right brush in your hand, because it does make a big difference.

My Favorite Watercolor Brush (not an ad)

To conclude my blog today, I want to talk to you about one of my favorite brushes.

This is not a sponsorship or a commercial. I just want to share this with you in case it is something you are looking for.

The Miller's Pseudo Sable Brush (size 12) is an affordable workhorse brush. It's really good for painting that middle value shape or creating value studies. It holds a fair amount of paint and water, and it's more affordable than an authentic sable brush.

If you're looking to get just a standard, medium sized round brush to use, this brush has been a really good option for me.

Related Blogs

Beginner's Guide to Watercolor Brushes

Do Cheap Watercolor Paints Work as Well?

Painting with 3 Watercolor Brushes and 4 Pigments


Stop Overworking Your Paintings!

Watch my FREE Video Lesson 7 Secrets of Fresh, Powerful Painting.

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