New brushes for a new year

I think I started using a Rosemary & Co. travel brush for the first time in 2016. I bought an R3 pointed round Kolinsky sable, which is equivalent to a #10 size at the Chicago Urban Sketchers symposium. After three years, the brush lost its point, and I replaced it with the same one. It’s the best all-around travel brush I’ve ever used, and if I could only carry one brush it would be this one. It holds tons of water and also makes very fine lines because of the long tapered point on it. Despite my abuse of the brush (not always cleaning it properly after use, digging into the small paint wells of my travel palette with it) it is has lasted for years. It’s the one at the bottom of the photo below. As you can see, the fine point is starting to go on this brush as well. I can’t tell you what I paid for the brush because it’s now discontinued. I know it wasn’t cheap because it’s pure Kolinsky (maybe around $50 or $60), but it’s a quality brush and it lasts through years of my abuse.

As you can imagine, I was really sad to see that they don’t make the brush any more. I find that the R3 size is just perfect for all my urban sketching needs, except for when I need a rigger brush, and for that I use their R5 rigger, which happily they still sell.

I ordered three new brushes for 2023, and I will be trying these out for the next few weeks. The brushes I ordered are:
Top: R9 Squirrel Hair Size 9 ($24.93 CDN)
Middle: The new R3 Pocket Red Dot Collection Large Mop Synthetic Fibre ($50.27 CDN)
Bottom: R2 Pocket Pure Kolinsky Sable Size 8 ($39.74 CDN)

Since it’s raining and grey outside, I did a quick sketch in studio just to do a preliminary comparison. My favourite is still the R2 pure Kolinsky sable because it has a great point, holds lots of wash and has tons of spring. I used it for a lot of the details in this sketch. The spring in the brush is what gives it the ability to make the finer marks like the branches in the windows. It does not split when you drag it across the page and you don’t need to twirl it to get that good point. Even though it’s a little smaller than what it’s replacing, it’s still a winner for me.

The new R3 brush is from the Rosemary Red Dot Collection of synthetic fibre brushes, and this is what they recommend to replace the old sable R3. It’s a beautiful brush as well, holds a lot of wash and also has a great point, but it’s not as accurate for the details. It was what I used to do the big grey wash on the stone wall.

I realize that Rosemary doesn’t ship sable brushes to the US, so the third brush I tried, the R9 squirrel hair brush would be a great replacement for the R2. It’s a little floppier than sable but still has a good point, a wide belly, and holds a lot of wash. It was what I used to get all the snow texture at the bottom of the sketch. If you’ve never used a squirrel mop brush, here is what Rosemary says about squirrel hair: Pure Squirrel hair points as well as Kolinsky and Red sable, but has very little ‘snap’ because the hair isn’t very resilient. We use a mix of Canadian and Russian Squirrel hair.

As always, these are just my opinions based on doing lots of experimentation in my urban sketches over the past ten years. This is what works for me, and if it’s helpful info for you too, that makes me happy. Happy New Year and much creativity for 2023!!

22 Comments on “New brushes for a new year”

  1. Carol says:

    Wishing you the best this coming year. Love your watercolor houses and buildings.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. friedakam says:

    Thanks, wonderful information! I also love the brushes of Rosemary & Co. Just ordered some small brushes because suddenly I also started painting detailed flowers.


  3. Karen Davis says:

    Happy New Year:
    Several of our watercolour group ordered brushes last year from Rosemary and Co and love them. We all agreed that our favourite brush is the one that was complimentary with each order. Unfortunately there are no identifying markings on them.
    One thing that seems to be true about brushes in general is that there doesn’t seem to be any standardization of sizing. This can be very frustrating!
    Happy painting with the new purchases.


    • HI Karen,
      I’ve also noticed that Rosemary & Co is very generous, so it doesn’t surprise me that you received complimentary brushes. It’s too bad you don’t know what they are because you may want to order them again!
      As for sizing, I know what you mean about the number. Fortunately with Rosemary, they always give you the equivalent number for their travel brushes. I appreciate that.
      Thanks for writing!


  4. Denise says:

    Happy New Year, Shari! Thank you for all the tips and treasures you offer. Looking forward to a colorful new year!


  5. Chris Rusk says:

    Happy New Year 🙂


  6. thank you for your review! I’m gonna have to try the red dot: synthetics are the only brushes that I should use, I’m not gentle with them.


  7. Betsy says:

    Thanks for these recommendations. I have yet to find a brush I truly love – but just received for Christmas, a travel set of 4 Mimik Kolinsky brushes which I’m very excited about and will test out today.

    Your sketch is beautiful. As always, your colors are distinct shade from shade (no “mud” even in your gorgeous grays!).

    This scene you have painted manages to have vibrant colors shining through, yet also convey that cold and bleak winter atmosphere when snow is piled on stone. I think it is so evocative of the eye’s longing for color in the January landscape!


    • Betsy, you are so right about the eye’s longing for colour in the winter landscape. I don’t mind a sunny day when there’s a good covering of snow, but we just had rain and a big thaw, plus we haven’t had sun in days, and it just seemed grey and dark all the time.
      I’ve never heard of the brushes you mention. You’ll have to let me know if you like them. In the meantime, I will look them up!


  8. I will do that. Thanks Karen!


  9. Mireya says:

    nice brushes


  10. Cindy Cali says:

    Greetings Shari….
    I agree with you on the Rosemary Brushes. I love them. However, you can still get pure Kolinsky travel brushes from them in the United States from Wind River Arts in Texas. I have been buying them for quite some time. Here is the link.
    I really enjoy following your sketching journey.
    Kind Wishes


    • Cindy, thanks for sharing that with me and with my readers. My friend Tom also sent me this link right after I posted this. I knew that Art Toolkit had their brushes too, but I was under the impression that no one in the US had their sable brushes. Much appreciated!!


  11. Linda Hackett says:

    Hi Shari
    Did you try calling Wind River Arts in Richmond Tx 972-342-4947. I get my Rosemary brushes there. They are old fashioned in that they chat away and take one’s order and credit card info over the phone only! Maybe they ship sable. Otherwise it’s WN series 7 but no travel brush in the line.


  12. Linda Zorich says:

    Keep us posted on how you like or dislike the new brush purchases. Always good to know before making the purchase. PS Love your work, keep posting


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