Of Paints and Waterbrushes

So I had wandered into ArtBeat on Mass Ave with the intention of buying some 0.5 mm leads for my mechanical pencil.    However I seem to have exited with a set of Kuretake paints and a new waterbrush.  I know that John Lovett had played with these before so I knew good results were possible but then I’m no John Lovett.

Some swatches in the moleskine.  The pigments came out nice and rich which bode well.    At the last minute I decided to use the waterbrush to see how that worked with the paint and whether they would make a good traveling kit.   I’ve struggled with waterbrushes in the past as I either get too much or too little pigment on them.  They also tend to leak blobs of water when you least expect it which makes things interesting.   But it was worth a try.

How cheap can you go?

My darling husband laid down a challenge this afternoon.   Is it possible to use the cheapest materials available and still produce a decent painting?   After browsing around Michael’s we came away with 4.99 paints,  4.99 brushes and 6.99 paper.    I thought the paints would probably be ok – maybe a little lacking in pigment strength but you can always put more on the paper.  People actually bring these to our life classes and seem to do reasonably well with them.   The paper I hate.  Cheap paper has no tooth, buckles easily and is usually pretty non-absorbent so everything dries too quickly.  I’m not looking forward to that at all.   The brushes, well, you definitely get what you pay for.  Even looking at them in the packet you can tell the bristles are uneven and not coming to a point.

The paints.  Not a bad selection.  We have good primaries and a dark brown that will help make some darks.  The green is probably a little too vibrant but may mix well.

 The paper.  Feels very smooth which I don’t like at all.  However, it is actually 140lb paper which is a reasonable weight and it shouldn’t buckle too badly.

Oh dear.  The brushes.  I abandoned all but the bottom four which were the largest.  The rest can come in handy for masking fluid.  Notice the little tuft at the top of the big orange handled one 4th from the bottom?  This isn’t a good sign.  They are not meant to do that.  Also note how none of the bristles are smooth, symmetrical or even straight?   This is also not a good sign.

This is a (not very good) photo of the cheap (unused) brush at the top and the expensive, best quality sable brush at the bottom.  I’ve used the bottom brush regularly for over a year and it still comes to a point well,  the bristles are still smooth and it’s hardly shed anything at all.  This is what brushes should do.

Some test mixes.    I first tried the primaries and was pretty impressed.  The pigment is intense and mixes well.   This is a good sign.    My first attempt at a green wasn’t great but after picking a more turquoise blue with the yellow ochre color things improved a lot.   
One of the things I was most worried about with the paints was that I wouldn’t be able to produce a good dark but this worked out very well.  A combination of blue and dark brown (shown above) or a mixture of red and turquoise green gave pretty good results.
Onward to the painting….

John Lovett’s Splashing Paint DVD

John Lovett

 so I went back to his splashing paint DVD to do a couple of practice paintings.  These are bigger than usual at 18″x24″ and it is definitely easier to control the edges.

The reflections exercise.  The combination of the wet in wet trees overlaid with crisper edges and the final small twigs works well here I think.   Most is done with the bristle brush with details put in with a rigger.   Colors are the usual Lovett palette of antwerp blue (John actually uses phthalo which I find too overpowering),  burnt sienna, ultramarine and a dash of alizarin crimson.

Sterling Edwards Brushes

After consulting the good people over at

 I took the plunge and ordered a set of these.  They arrived on Thursday and were given their first outing today.  Overall I’m pretty impressed.   The bristles are the right length and thickness to take up paint to give that nice ragged edge for grasses and trees that Mr Edwards is so good at.   The big brush is great at doing washes and is especially good for graded ones.

And they were pretty cheap – I got these, a zoomfinder and a DVD all delivered for 50 bucks. (Yes I am a sucker for a special offer – I think you can get the brushes individually for between 3 and 10 dollars each.  Still good value).

The only negative – the special handle shape frankly doesn’t do anything for me but it’s a small thing all in all.

For anyone who thinks ‘Oh surely you can just pick up any old bristle brush that will do the job just as well?’   I say Ha!  I thought that too and bought a couple of 2 dollar flat bristle brushes from Blicks.  Completely different – the bristles are the wrong length and flop around too much.  The water gets caught in the ferrule and leaks out everywhere over your hand/paining/floor.   They either have too much water in the bristles or not enough.  Nightmare!   If I tried lots of them maybe I’d find one that worked well but for now – give that nice Mr Edwards some money and save time.