Sable vs Synthetic
For watercolour work there are two main brush types available to the practising artist, Sable and Synthetic. Whilst functionally they perform the same jobs and can be used to produce similar results they are both unique and offer benefits and negatives exclusive to the variant.
Beginning with the often cheaper option with Synthetic brushes. These brushes have fine, soft hairs that are smooth in finish and suitable for most wet media. The soft bristles allow for more colour to be loaded into the brush and then dispensed onto the paper. The soft feel of the hairs allows for a lack of brush strokes on the paper, giving more of a smooth finish, ideal for watercolour painting. Synthetic brushes are also a good all round tool for any artist as their fine hairs give way to buttery smooth blending without the need for a more expensive brush.
Daler Rowney Aquafine Sable (front) and Synthetic Paint Brushes
Following on from this, it is quite a big difference in cost between a sable and synthetic brush. This cheaper price point allows the synthetic brushes to act as more of a work-horse brush without worry that an expensive brush is being damaged. This idea also means that using acrylics or masking fluid is also best done with a cheaper synthetic brush to maintain the quality of more expensive specialist brushes. Despite this however they are still an extremely useful and versatile brush type that can be used for a variety of techniques and with many mediums. A good all rounder with potential for detailing and large area coverage.
Sable brushes on the other hand are designed for precise, expressive mark-making. Featuring extremely fine hairs that can hold far more paint than a typical synthetic. If properly stored and cared for these brushes can last a lifetime and should be looked at as an investment in your process. Designed for fine working, they should not be used with acrylics or oils as these paints can be damaging to the hairs.
Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Sable Brushes
As they can last such a long time they are actually quite economical, one larger purchase of a good sable may last longer than repeated purchases of synthetic brushes. The hair found on sable brushes is typically from the tail of a Kolinsky, which is a species of weasel. This makes the hair extremely durable and as stated the brush will last an extremely long time if cared for correctly and outcast inferior brushes. With this type of sable the hair has a series of tiny interlocking scales that make up each strand. These scales contribute to the brushes ability to carry a vast amount of colour, this in turn allows for larger areas to be covered without reloading the brush. Lastly due to the high quality of the hairs they have a natural ability to “spring back” and maintain shape during painting more so than other brush types.
Overall both brush types have positives and negatives, with one suited for detailing and expressive work with the other being more of a work-horse brush that can be used for a variety of jobs.