Elwood H. Smith
MAY 21, 2006
Searching for the perfect watercolor brush.
For years I used the superb Strathmore Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes. I began buying them in the late 70's, when I lived in New York City and, as I recall, I got a number 7 for around $35, which was pretty expensive back then. Once in a while I'd get one with a less than stellar point but, over all, they were consistently excellent. The Strathmore Kolinsky's handle was natural, unfinished wood, without the usual lacquered finish. I found that to be a great feature--no slipping around when held. Before discovering the Strathmore, I bought mostly Winsor & Newton Series 7, using a smaller brush for details and a larger one for bigger areas. The Strathmore number 7 did it all. I could lay in a good-sized sky and, with the same brush, place color in a miniscule coat button--no problem. The Kolinsky had a long, tapered point, as sharp as a needle and the brush body would snap back after pressing down, laying a wash, effortlessly. Little did I know I was being spoiled rotten.
Seemingly, overnight, the quality dropped. Strathmore dealers said it was climate change, with shorter winters affecting the sable's coats. For a couple of years, I continued to buy them, hoping to regain the Strathmore magic, but finally I gave up--they had become mediocre tools. As far as I can tell, Strathmore no longer makes a Kolinsky. Over the past 10 or 15 years, I've been trying every watercolor sable brush I can find, inexpensive and costly brands alike. Isabey, Arches, Simmons, Langnickel--every one I tried was, at best, mediocre. Dick Blick has a line that they say is excellent, but I find them merely okay and they don't last--that is, the point begins to fray very quickly. They also sell a pretty nice Raphael Kolinsky and, though it's better than the Blick model, it also doesn't hold up & the quality is uneven.
I had high hopes when, after doing an extensive web search I discovered a highly-touted brush, the Kalish Kolinsky:
The company, run by the friendly husband and wife team, Harry and Ruth Kalish, makes brushes primarily for companies who make dentures, but this Watercolor Painting online review led me to Kalish:
Kalish Finest Brushes
A number 7 Kalish Kolinsky is only $35.00, which is a bargain for a high-quality brush. I chose the SERIES 7 FINEST KOLINSKY DESIGNER brush--supposedly a more tapered point than the Round. I have found the brush to point quite well but, sadly, it lacks snap. I was (am) very disappointed since I spent some time talking with Harry while Ruth was waiting to get online to process my credit card. He agreed that the old Strathmore Kolinsky was a great brush and assured me I'd be delighted with their Finest Kolinsky. Maybe I just got a particularly wimpy brush but, considering Harry knew my preferences, I'm in no rush to try another. Here's the reason I'm in no hurry to try another Kalish:
KOLINSKY ART BRUSHES
Located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Kolinsky Art Brushes sells several brands including the one I initially purchased, a Martin/F.Weber Winter Harvest Kolinsky. It sells for U.S. $44.99 plus $17.95 Express Mail shipping = $62.94 total. Another disappointment. At first. The Winter Harvest had great snap, but the tip of the brush frayed ever so slightly. I could meld it to a point, but as soon as I used it, the hair splitting returned. I contacted the company via e-mail and Elena Suslova (Customer Support) offered to send me a replacement AND a NUMBER 14 (!) Kolonok Round, which she said had the best point of all her brushes. Try them out, she said, and send back whatever you don't want. I'm not sure if Elena made this offer because she and her mates, Sergey and Vladimir are Russians or because they are Candians (or because they are a combination of both) but I was impressed.
But, a number FOURTEEN? Elena wrote: "For your detailed work Round # 14 seems the brush with a big diameter but it has a long fine point." I found that hard to believe. A freaking number 14, when a number 8 seemed to me to be oversized? The package arrived some 10 days later (it takes way too long to get stuff from our Northern neighbor, even when using Expedited Mail) and the second #7 Winter Harvest ended up being as problematic as the first. But here's the weird thing:
The big, fat number 14 is an AMAZING brush. It's a handful, but it points like a hypodermic. I can slosh my watercolor paper, filling in a HUGE SKY and then use it to paint a MITE'S EYE! And it snaps back like a mousetrap. Okay, enough bad rhyme. But I'm not kidding, it is one amazing brush. It costs a mere $72.99 U.S., an unheard of price for a humongous brush and really great price for a brush of this quality in any size.
Elena says her company continues to scout around for the perfect brush and she'll let me know if they find a number seven or eight that points like this 14. The only drawback with this big fella is that it holds a massive amount of watercolor, so I need to wipe it on a paper towel before doing details otherwise the flow is a difficult to control. In every other respect, though, this is a gem.
I've included 2 pictures of the #14. That big, fatso Hummer of a brush at the top does look unconvincing as a pointer. Trust me, the "Kolinsky Sable 1001 Round Size 14" points easily as well as a Da Vinci #3. And with this Kolonok you can lay in a stream of watercolor from New York City to Kingston, Ontario on a single refill.