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Good Question of the Week: Desert Island Brush Choice

March 11, 2015

A person taking my People in Motion class recently asked a classic question in a creative way.

“Hi Marc. I’m enjoying your course and so great to see you demonstrating your techniques after following your blog. If I can please ask you. if I had only one brush (to take to a desert island) what size and kind would it be?”

Short Answer: This is a great question – and very hard to answer. But considering you are asking about travel – I’m going say it would be a #10 Da Vinci Maestro Series 1503 Travel Brush

(That’s an Amazon affiliate link, but you can find them at any major online retailer of your choice – they also come in a much more affordable synthetic line).

The thing I love about a good sable brush – it has both a super sharp point, and at the same time, holds enough water to lay on it’s side and make a big shape. You can do an entire painting with this brush, from biggest shapes to smallest detail – (as long as it’s a smallish painting – 8×10 sort of size).

Plus, you can rely on the Da Vinci travel brush for their indestructible PVC self-enclosing body. You can take this brush anywhere. Throw it in a bag and leave it there for years. Even carry it in a jacket pocket. The only thing to know is, even though there is a tiny hole in the cap for air flow, you do have to open it up and let it air dry overnight (especially if you’re in a humid climate), so the ferrule doesn’t rust.

I will say, this brush is hard to find in shops, and is a bit pricey because of price fixing cartels and international trade regulation on pure sable hair.

You don’t *have* to get the travel model – I often carry normal wooden handle brushes in a zip up brush case. But, that’s clearly not as portable.


Longer Answer: If I was allowed to add only a second brush it would be a Winsor and Newton Series 7 sable in a #2 long hair version. It is almost a rigger in length.

W&N also has a line called Artist’s Water Color Sable that is very good as well. Sort of a second tier of hair, that seems very nice, and comes in a similar long-hair style.

I use these for tiny linear details, such as tree branches, long hair, wrinkles in fabric, power lines, water ripples – whenever you are drawing something detailed and linear or dashed in nature.

So, one big brush, one tiny.

Bonus Answer:  I am loving having a dagger brush. Great for foliage, water and skies. Very expressive to draw with. I’m trying this new synthetic called Princeton Neptune. It seems fairly nice for a synthetic brush. Very soft-yet-whippy. But I haven’t had them long enough to really say much yet.

I am also carrying a Princeton Neptune Oval Wash (sort of a huge filbert shape) in a 3/4″ size – for skies and large foregrounds of grass or water.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2015 4:43 PM

    Marc I have always had trouble placing the Da Vinci travel brushes into the handle when they are completely dry. I find that the sable hairs separate and pull back. I find the Escoda Reserva travel brushes slightly easier but still have difficulties. Do you wait until the brush head is completely dry? Do you have any tricks or suggestions? Thanks, Leslie

    • March 12, 2015 11:35 AM

      He Leslie – well, to give a more complete answer, I put it away damp (thus pointed) when I’m in the field, then open it at home to dry overnight. So it tends to remain more pointed. But yes, it’s a bit nerve wracking sliding the brush in. I have goofed and pushed hairs back a few times, but the brush has always survived.

      But as well – (how to put this delicately) – I ‘point’ my brushes with saliva – to keep the points together when they are poofy. It seems to keep the brush in condition. Just like a cat cleaning itself :)

      Just wet your thumb and forefinger and draw the brush lightly to a point. Many artists do it by popping the brush into their mouth. But I can’t officially recommend that, as there has to be health implications to ingesting paint.

  2. March 12, 2015 3:44 AM

    Gracias, Great answers,BIG help.

  3. March 12, 2015 1:21 PM

    Thanks! So you gently wet the brush with saliva (I think this is a delicate enough word!) just before sliding it into the case?

    • March 12, 2015 3:29 PM

      yup! I do it with all my brushes, whenever I see stray hairs.

      • Bannef permalink
        February 14, 2016 3:54 PM

        I do the same thing, but I came across a person on the Internet who thinks they got mouth cancer from licking their brushes, so I am trying to stop. I know that’s completely insubstantial evidence, but I’m a nervous person, and I figure all things being equal less dangerous chemicals in one’s mouth is probably ideal.

        But damn, it’s a difficult habit to break. Damp fingers never seem to work as well.

  4. March 13, 2015 8:40 AM

    Reblogged this on D.Katie Powell Art and commented:
    I have favorite acrylic brushes, but as I am only one year into watercolors I haven’t a favorite watercolor brush. Truth be told, I haven’t spent money on brushes YET. But Marc has shared his thought on favorite brushes, and here is his “Desert Island Brush Choice” — food for thought!

  5. tmikeporter permalink
    March 15, 2015 1:02 PM

    Appreciate this post. I also have a DaVinci travel brush but a size 6…an excellent product. The dagger or sword shape is on my list. But a WN Series 7! They have a reputation for being very pricey but I see you have a small size that you use for details. Likely more affordable.

    • March 15, 2015 1:07 PM

      It’s true – I think the Series 7 is overvalued at larger sizes. I just have them for detail work. Though I wouldn’t know first hand about their large sizes. I asked once about Series 7 #18 round, and saw it came in it’s own wooden case with brass hinges and satin lining. (Seriously!) I said “That’s ok, never mind” before the sticker shock.

      • tmikeporter permalink
        March 15, 2015 4:28 PM

        Rosemary & Co out of UK sell high quality sables at good prices, even with shipping costs considered.


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