In Search Of The Perfect Plein Air Brush

Plein Air Brush Choices

Plein Air Brush Choices

It goes without saying the plein air artist tries to carry the smallest possible set of tools.  It’s no fun dragging a heavy bag to that remote outcropping with the great view.  Along those lines, I’ve been trying to select my ideal watercolor brush set.

On our recent summer sailing voyage, I had the opportunity to test my current choices with surprising results.  Keep in mind my travel paper for is only 7″ x 10″ which is much smaller than my studio work.  Below are the brushes I reached for every session and why.

DaVinci Casaneo Quill (series 498 Wash) Brush #’s 2 and 4.  Casaneo is one of the new generation full synthetics aimed to simulate Kazan squirrel hair, renowned for it’s water carrying capacity.  I originally bought one from artist Frank Eber during his plein air workshop in Yosemite.  It was the first time I could keep a bead of color moving down a quarter sheet of paper for a continuous wash without it drying out.  These brushes enable me to have the ideal ratio of water to pigment for watercolor washes.

Silver Brush Black Velvet #10.  Despite it’s blend of natural squirrel hair and synthetic filament, this brush tends to hold less water and more pigment which, in artist Michael Reardon‘s opinion, allows you to impart more pigment to the paper for those darker values.  Silver Brush says the synthetic fibers add spring and snap to the naturally delicate squirrel.  I agree that these brushes point extremely well, the water capacity is admirable, and you might be able to get by with these brushes alone.  However, since I had the Casaneo, I did not use my #12 Black Velvet.

Winsor & Newton Cotman 1/4″ angle brush to mix color.  When I mix color on my palette, not on the paper, I prefer to use my inexpensive cotman brush to keep my painting brushes clean.

Eyedropper to quickly add water to my paint palette.

Cheap Joe’s 1/2” Soft Scrub to lift out highlights or clean up edges.

It also helps to have a small but sturdy brush holder.  This time a search for easel-style brush holders on Amazon paid off when I happened upon the Meeden Zippered Brush Holder.  The features I like are it’s stiff enough to protect your brushes when you toss it in your bag, but flexible enough to fold into easel format for convenient access.  It also has ventilation holes to help your brushes dry.  However, the reviews are correct in that the canvas material does have a strong smell when it’s brand new.

As of this writing, Casaneo brushes are not available from my favorite online art stores.  The only place I could find them was Amazon or Frank Eber himself.  Black Velvet brushes are readily available from online suppliers Jerry’s Artarama, Dick Blick or Cheap Joes.

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