Last week on my artist date, I stopped by an art store and bought a new pad of watercolor paper and some brushes. This action was a demonstration of my new commitment to learning to paint. Prior to this, I always used to say painting is one of those things I’ll never have the time to tackle in this lifetime (also on the list: quilting and knitting). But after attempting an ink-wash drawing a month ago, I realized I owe it to myself to try it sooner rather than later. I love color so much, and my drawing style seems to lend itself well to brushes and watercolor. Maybe it won’t take as long to learn as I feared.
Since I’d never taken painting seriously in the past, the only brushes I had were those I’d picked up in cheap “starter kit”-type packets for beginning art classes. This time I wanted to get nicer brushes, and wow, they were not cheap! The best one I could bring myself to buy was $28 on sale ($40 regular), and that was an accident — I misread the label on the bin and didn’t figure it out till after I was away from the store. I guess it should be no surprise that art brushes are expensive; after all, it’s beauty gospel that makeup brushes are an investment, and surely art brushes should be no different. I paid quite a lot for my Philosophy brush set back in the day when I wore makeup, and those are now 10 years old and still going strong.
The trouble is, though I know all my makeup brushes inside and out, the brush display at the art store confused me. What’s the difference between a round brush and a rigger, a filbert and a bright? I picked up a small selection and then went home to test them out. If I’m going to have $20 brushes around, I need to know what they can do. I took out my old cheapie brushes and my new fancy brushes, squeezed a little bit of color into a palette (believe it or not, this particular set of watercolors is even older than my makeup brushes — it’s from a class I took in elementary school), and gave each brush a whirl.
Unsurprisingly, some of the cheapest brushes didn’t perform well, but it might not be the price. Like I said, I bought those brushes for art classes (some of them long ago), and the brush tips were damaged by misuse or improper storage. A useful reminder not to abuse my new brushes! And surprisingly, the brushes I liked most were not the expensive new ones, but the mid-range Princeton brushes I bought a few years ago for a class. But maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time with them. Brushes seem to be like shoes: you don’t really know which are the most comfortable until you’ve used them for a while. The test chart above was a good first step, but I didn’t get to know the brushes better until I did some calligraphy with them. And their stroke quality isn’t the only attribute that might make costly brushes better; there’s also water and paint absorption and stuff like that, which I’m sure I’ll learn as I keep on painting. To speed the process, I’ve registered for a watercolor class at the RAC, which starts in mid-September.
Finally, after spending some time with the brushes, I decided to tackle colors. My elementary-school paint set has kind of a strange assortment of colors, but it made a good starting point. I mixed and mixed, making a rough chart (above). To close the session, I planted a tiny little garden from these new colors, then gave my shoulders, neck, and hands a rest.
I’ll see you tomorrow after an East Bay artist date!