Standard art brushes and water brushes go hand in hand when you work with watercolors.
A water brush consists out of a brush tip and a reservoir, which is normally filled with water, not unlike the inkt cartridge of a fountain pen. Since you can fill the reservoir with a lot of water, these water brushes are ideal for using watercolors outdoors.
This article is for anyone that is considering buying a water brush or people that want to learn how to use a water brush properly.
How To Use A Water Brush?
If you have used watercolor paint with art brushes before, you will quickly learn how to use water brushes as well. Most of the techniques of watercolor painting will apply to water brushes as well.
The main thing you will have to learn when working with water brushes is how to control the flow of liquid. To obtain consistent lines you will need to apply a consistent amount of pressure on the reservoir.
This can be tricky as a beginner. But if you learn how to master it, you can easily change the line thickness of your brush depending on how hard you squeeze the reservoir. So you won’t have to change brushes to change the size like you do with regular art brushes.
Water Brush for Drawing and Painting
If you are going to use your water brush for drawing or painting, you want to fill the reservoir with regular water.
Pulling the water from the watercolor pans is easy. Place your water brush on top of the pan and gently squeeze it to release some water. Mix the water with the ink and apply it on the paper when you are happy with the color.
If you want to mix two or more colors together you can do that on a separate palette or directly on the paper, depending on your preference.
You can check out the video below by Lindsay Weirich to get a general impression on how to use a water brush for painting.
Water Brush for Lettering
Besides using waterbrushes for watercolor painting, they are also often used for watercolor lettering and are sometimes even used in calligraphy classes.
There are two basic ways that you can use the waterbrush for lettering. Just like mentioned above, you can fill the reservoir with water and pick up the paint from the watercolor pans.
The second method is to fill the water reservoir with the diluted watercolor paint directly. Of course this works better with watercolor tubes than with the pans. One advantage of this method is that you won’t suddenly run out of water half way and the color will be consistent throughout.
— Li’lHands Arts&Craft (@LilHandsPH) 9 July 2017
Water Brush and Ink
Some water brushes can even be filled with ink. For some kinds of lettering this might be preferable over using watercolor paint.
According to this post by JetPens, most water brushes are compatible with fountain pen ink, drawing ink and Copic refill ink. While acrylic ink, white/opaque ink, dip pen ink and glitter/metallic ink are too thick and might ruin your water brush completely.
In the end, it depends upon the water brush you are using and if you are willing to risk ruining your water brush. If you own a cheap water brush it might be worth giving it a try.
How to Clean a Water Brush?
When you want to change from one color to another, you can simply keep painting on a scrap piece of paper or towel. While doing this, the water from the reservoir will flush away the paint from the tip of brush. If the water that comes out is clear, you can start using a different color.
When you are done with you water brush for the day, you can clean it using the same method. Besides checking if the water comes out clear, also make sure to inspect the brush tip for any remaining paint or ink.
The brush pen might get clogged if you let it dry while it has paint or ink on the tip. If this happens to you, you can try to save your brush pen by cleaning it with some paint thinner. But sometimes they are beyond repair and you will need to buy new ones.
Even with proper care, the tip might start to change color over time. However, as long as the water comes out clear you can still use it without worrying.
What Paper Should I Use?
As always when you are working with watercolor paint, you will need some special paper to get the best results.
If you are using printer paper you will quickly notice that the paper starts to wrinkle because it can’t absorb the water properly. That’s why you will need to be using thicker paper that is made for watercolor paint.
To read more about the best paper to use, read our article on paper for watercolor painting.
Water Brushes and Different Media
Water brushes are great, but they are not perfect. You can achieve even better results by combining the best of different tools and art media.
For example, water brushes make a great combination with watercolor pencils as well. Use the watercolor pencil to apply and blend colors to the paper. Then use the water brush to dissolve the pigment in water and turn it into watercolor paint. This is ideal for people that have problems with mixing watercolor paint directly on the paper.
You might also want to give fountain pen inks a try since most of them can also dissolve well in water. Use the water brush on an ink painting to create special effects that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise. Or you could just use a fountain pen to accentuate some lines after applying the paint to create a cartoony feel.
Recommended Water Brushes
There are quite a few brands out there, each offering a water brush with slightly different features. Here is a list of what to look for and our favorite models you might want to look for when you are planning on buying a new one.
Good Water Brush Criteria
Like any other type of art brush, water brushes also come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Keep the following things in mind when buying new water brushes.
- Brush Size and Shape: Water brushes normally come as round brushes or flat brushes. The point brush releases less water at a time and therefore work better for detailed work. The round brush normally comes in fine, medium or large size. The flat brush is great for covering big areas at once and applying washes of color.
- Brush Length: The length of the water brush is mainly decided by the length of the water reservoir. As a result, the longer water brushes can hold more water and need less refilling than the short brushes. On the other hand, the short brush can easily fit in a pencil case.
- Refilling the Water Brush Reservoir: Some water brushes have a removable top. You can refill the water brush by removing this top and pouring in new water. Other brushes don’t have a removable top. In this case, you need to refill the brush through suction. Squeeze the reservoir, submerge the tip into water and slowly release the pressure on the reservoir.
Although the suction method is easier and faster, it is almost impossible to completely refill the water brush pen through suction alone.
Sakura Koi Water Brush
If you are new to using water brushes but already own watercolor paint, then the Sakura Koi Water Brush set is a great place to start.
This set will give you 3 differently sized round brushes; fine, medium and large.
You can choose if you want the long 9 ml variation or the smaller 4 ml sized water brush.
Whatever way you go, the flexible brush tip made out of nylon fiber is capable of producing fine lines and strokes, which makes it ideal for controlled blending, shading or adding highlights.
If you are a completely new to watercolors, you could start out with the Sakura Koi Watercolor Field Sketch Set. Depending on the set you choose, this set will give you 12 to 48 different colors AND a 9 ml refillable water brush.
Although this set seems pretty small, it comes with some neat features. It contains a detachable palette for easy blending of colors,
Although this set seems pretty small, it comes with some neat features. It contains a detachable palette for easy blending of colors, a placeholder for the water brush and a small sponge inside that you can use to clean the brush.
Yasutomo Niji Waterbrush
The Yasutomo Niji Waterbrush is another option that is popular amongst artists. They are originally made by Kuretake Japan but are commonly sold under different names as well.
They have a rather sharp point which is ideal for more precise control of the watercolors.
Kuretake water brushes are characterized by a small filter cap on the water reservoir that controls the water flow to the brush tip. However, if you want to refill it using from a running tap, it can be quite cumbersome to remove the cap.
You can buy the Yusutomo Niji Waterbrush in the sizes Small, Medium, Large and Flat.
Derwent Water Brush
The Derwent Waterbrush 3 Pack will give you a small, medium and a chisel tip brush.
They are marked by a different number and color so you can easily grab the one you need.
A special leak-proof valve will control the flow of water from the reservoir to brush tip made out of synthetic nylon fibers.
Derwent also offers a special set for complete beginners to watercolors.
This set includes the 3 differently sized water brushes mentioned above AND comes with a 12 pack of watercolor pencils.
You can use the pencils to apply watercolor to the paper. Followed by using the water brush to dissolve the paint.
The result will be very similar to using regular watercolor paint and a brush, but the pencils and water brush are much more portable and easy to store.