Kolinsky Sable Brushes

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What's the Big Deal About Kolinsky Sable?

Kolinsky Sable Brush
A Kolinsky sable brush holds a surprising quantity of paint, without it all sliding off the moment you put brush to paper. In the photo I've squeezed the hairs to force the watercolor out. Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Brushes made from genuine Kolinsky sable hairs are far more expensive than other paint brushes, but can they really be that much better? In short, yes. It's like the difference between a chunky chocolate snackbar and the handmade individual chocolates at a chocolatier. A blended whiskey and a vintage single malt.

The brushmaker Rosemary & Co says: "Kolinsky Sable springs,snaps and glides along the paper in a totally different way, flowing and holding so much liquid."1

The Kolinsky sable watercolor brushes produced by Winsor & Newton, known as Series 7, have long been renowned for their quality. The brushes were first made for Queen Victoria in 1866 (No.7 was her favorite size watercolor brush2), and have a black polished handle and seamless, nickel-plated ferrule.

There is really no comparison when it comes to a brush holding paint, gliding smoothly along the paper holding its point or springing back when you release any pressure on it. You don't have to load the brush as often, saving time when painting. Once you've tried it for yourself, you'll know what the fuss is about.

Unfortunately price, especially of the larger brushes, does mean that you think it can't possibly be worth the money. While there's no disputing a genuine Kolinsky sable brush is expensive, if you look after it carefully it will last a long time. Keep an eye out for specials, for discount coupons, and save up for one from a reputable brand. Beg a friend to let you try theirs for a few minutes.

Is it ethical to use a natural-hair brush? That's something everyone needs to decide for themselves. Synthetic alternatives derived from petroleum-based products or buying numerous cheap brushes which you throw away have ethical issues too. Think about what you use, take care of whatever you use, so it lasts.

1. Rosemary & Co Home Page, accessed 3 March 2011.
2. Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Brushes, accessed 3 March 2011.