Natural Kolinsky sable brushes are the traditional choice for watercolor artists, but more and more watercolourists are looking for excellent synthetic alternatives. Here, Lois Davidson reviews Da Vinci’s new Colineo range of synthetic Kolinsky sable watercolor brushes.
Trying the new Da Vinci Kolinsky Colineo Brushes, from their new range of synthetic Kolinsky sable watercolor brushes, was very appealing because few things pique my interest more than new watercolor brushes. For some time now, I, like many others, have been intrigued by the growing selection of synthetic equivalents and alternatives to traditional animal-hair brushes. There’s currently a large, and growing, market in animal-free/vegan art materials, for reasons including lifestyle choice, sustainability issues, and affordability.
For most watercolor artists, the so-called Holy Grail of brushes has been those made from the rare and costly Siberian Kolinsky Red Sable. Made from the guard hairs from the tail of a rare species of Siberian weasel, these specific hairs are said to cost three times the price of gold, weight for weight. Understandably, the watercolor brush industry has been investing considerable time, money, and resources into coming up with a synthetic alternative to these costly materials; something which properly imitates the special properties of Siberian Kolinsky Red Sable. So, when Da Vinci claim to have achieved this lofty goal with their new Colineo range, I was keen to try the brushes out, and test these claims.
I am trying out a pair of matched brushes comprising of a number 8 round brush, and a number 12 flat brush. My first impression is that they look incredibly elegant and elegant. The silver metal ferrules are double-crimped, in a similar fashion to the famous Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brushes. This is to ensure the brush head won’t come loose. The handles are long, light, ergonomically shaped, and feel well-balanced in the hand, with an attractive lime-washed wood effect. No matter where you hold the brushes the balance feels great: whether you hold them close to the ferrule for detailed work such as botanicals and illustration, or towards the end for a looser, more expressive style of painting. The brush heads look just like their sable counterparts, with soft reddish-brown fibers. The round brush is delightfully plump with a fine point, and the flat is also relatively plump with what looks to be a fine, flat chisel edge.
Testing the Da Vinci Colineo Size 8 Round Watercolor Brush
The best sable brushes are well-made and hold plenty of paint, releasing it slowly and evenly onto the paper. They should also be flexible, springing readily back into shape so that the artist can move smoothly from large washes to fine brushwork with a single, fluid motion. The Da Vinci Number 8 round did not disappoint. Upon testing, I was able to quickly and evenly create beautiful yet varied lines and washes, carrying plenty of paint and water, with the tip providing some incredibly fine lines. The round is often seen as one of the key ‘work horse’ brushes for most styles and genres of watercolor painting; And this brush seems more than capable of doing anything an animal-hair brush can do, both in terms of spring/flexibility, paint/water retaining abilities, and keeping an excellent point for its size, as well as its versatility in creating a wide variety of marks.
Trying the Da Vinci Colineo Size 12 Flat Watercolor Brush
This smaller brush still manages to hold an impressive amount of paint/water for its size, while still maintaining a razor-sharp chisel edge. This is a great characteristic in any flat, which allows the delivery not only of some very fine, even lines, but enables accurate hard edges and blocks to be created too, when the belly of the brush is pressed quite firmly against the paper for the brushstroke. It holds enough paint to complete most tasks without having to reload the brush, which often leads to a cleaner, fresher finish. I found the size 12 flat an incredibly efficient and easy to use ‘one-stroke’ brush; however, I do tend towards using bigger brushes for my own work; so, I will certainly be ordering one of the larger sizes of flat to add to my personal collection.
Painting a Vase of Flowers, Using Only the Two-Brush Set
I decided a good trial of these brushes would be to try a small painting using only this pairing, to properly test their performance and versatility. I sketched out a simple, loose vase of flowers on a piece of Arches cold pressed watercolor paper. I began by painting in a pale, washy, wet-in-wet background using the round brush, leaving the negative space unpainted for the flowers. Once dry, I moved between the flat and the round to add the flowers, leaves, and accents.
I found both brushes very comfortable to use, efficiency carrying the paint and water so I could deliver it in exactly the way I wanted – with either the point or the belly of the brush – working quickly and intuitively into the wet and dry parts of the paper, creating a variety of soft and hard edges. I balanced the softer, washy marks with strong darks, then added details quickly with the chisel edge of the flat brush. As I expected, the round brush did most of the work for this painting. I swapped to the flat for some focused, sharp areas of dark, to negatively paint the vase and lift a few highlights, as well as placing some important geometric dry-brush glazes to complete the painting.
As I painted, I very quickly became lost in the process. I was thrilled with the variety of marks and washes I could create using only these two brushes and ended up completely forgetting that I was testing new brushes for the first time. This, to me, is a sign of excellence; they feel like a natural extension of your hand and creative thoughts straight away, without an awkward ‘settling in’ period.
In my opinion, Da Vinci has succeeded in creating an impressive synthetic alternative to the classic Kolinsky Sable. There is a remarkable beauty in this pair of Da Vinci Colineo brushes: the combination of straight and wavy synthetic fibers works perfectly to deliver the appearance, spring, flexibility, and water-carrying capabilities of the very best sables. The felt like tried-and-true brushes from the moment I began to work with them, comfortable and light. The elegantly shaped handles help deliver an economy of movement and are perfectly balanced, no matter whether you are working on fine detail, or larger and looser work. Overall, I was impressed. I had high hopes for these brushes from the beginning, and I personally believe that Da Vinci has made good on their promise: to deliver a beautiful, high-quality, synthetic alternative to the classic Kolinsky Sable.
Further reading on the Jackson’s Art Blog
The Vegan Watercolorist: Sandrine Maugy
How Da Vinci Watercolor Brushes are Made
Two Painters Test Jackson’s Watercolor Brushes
Watercolor Painting for Beginners: What You Need to Get Started
Why is a Da Vinci Brush a Great Watercolor Travel Brush?
Comparing Two Top Sable Watercolor Brushes
See more da Vinci watercolor brushes here
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