January 3, 2009

The best brushes in the world are made by a nice lady in England

Every person who has ever used a brush to do very precise ink drawing has at some point wanted to magically imbue the brush with the power of speech and the ability to feel pain, so they could hear it scream in agony as we snapped it in half. For those of us who have fallen in love with the kind of performance and quality of line only costly kolinsky brushes can provide, life is nothing but expense and inconvenience. We try cheaper brushes, but they lack the sharp point and snap to make those beautiful lines we're so addicted to. The outrageous expense of kolinsky brushes isn't their only problem, but it's the biggest, and there seems no way around it. At list price, even a small #2 size brush will run you over 20 dollars. A #4 will cost you nearly double that. There are discount sites where you could purchase the same brushes online, for half the price. But anyone who's done that knows it isn't that easy. Buying brushes without testing them is for no-ropes rock climbers and people who like bareback sex with sickly looking men from craigslist ads. Winsor and Newton and Raphael make the best kolinsky brushes in the world- every once in awhile. The rest of them are worse than a cheaper, crappier brush. A cheap nylon brush won't form a perfect, single-hair needle point, press out into a half-inch thick mop and then spring right back up into a needle over a decade of continued use like a good kolinsky will (with proper care), but at least it won't splay. We've all had the experience of going around a very precise, delicate curve, and just as we're coming around the bend, and the bristles are pressed into a curved shape, a stray hair sticks out and draws a second spidery line right next to our line. Or worse, the splayed hair acts like the second point of a pen nib, and suddenly the brush starts laying down a lande-wide elevated river of ink where we wanted a delicate stroke. It's confidence destroying. And about nine out of ten expensive kolinsky brushes does this. So you can't order them- you need to go to a store (where you'll pay full price or more), to try the brushes out. More often than not they're out of good ones, so you have to return to one or several stores, perhaps four or five times each, until you find a good one. It's an expensive and time consuming drag.

Well, there's a nice lady from England named Rosemary who's come to save us all. For the last 25 years, she's made brushes by hand and sold them by mail order, directly from her house, to artists. She makes all kinds of brushes, for oil paint, acrylic, watercolor- and she makes Kolinsky brushes with such beautiful razor points you'll be scared of cutting yourself on them. And she sells them for way less money. How much less? I bought four #2 size brushes and one #4 from her, and with shipping from England included, it came to $36.37- less than the list price of a single #3 brush from Windsor and Newton. Every one of them has a perfect point. And if she sent me one that didn't, she would gladly replace it, or refund my money in full. Even though it cost me an extra couple bucks, I called her in England to order, because I wanted to actually speak with her. She picked up her home phone after 2 rings, greeting me with a bright, almost musical English accent. She took my information and my order, and she'd processed it less than ten minutes after I got off the phone with her.

Her website is www.rosemaryandco.com. Everyone who inks with a brush should give this woman their business. Her website has several styles of kolinsky brush suitable for inking with. And she'll even make you a custom brush if you like. For instance, she can make you a brush with a triangular handle, if you have arthritis. (the price goes up on custom jobs, of course.)

I don't think there are a lot of people left who still make brushes by hand this well, let alone who sell them directly to you for 1/4th the cost. Take advantage of this lady's amazing talent while you can.

And while I'm on the topic of brushes, Comic Tools reader and frequent commenter --- displays his powerful brush-fu on his blog. Go have a look:
Next week: Elevation, not pressure.

11 comments:

Harry B said...

Which of her brush series is most similar to the sable we're used to is the sizing the same as the Windsor and Newtons?

Rivkah said...

What size/type kolinsky brushes would you recommend for a beginner, especially for someone who does a lot of detail work? I've been wanting to experiment with brushes again (after several miserable failed attempts in the past), and the variety of brushes out there is daunting, especially when the cost adds up so fast.

And . . . a triangular handle? I've never heard of that! An artist friend of mine has been practically crippled by the pain in her wrist (including possibly having to get surgery). She's a nib user, but I'm wondering if recommending this might help.

Ambassador MAGMA said...

I think you should rename this blog "Cosmic Tools" ... because it's out of this world!

Windsor & Newton has a sable brush set for $20. It's a great way to get a feel for what sort of brushes you want to use, even if they might not work correctly. I have a few from that pack that made it worth it and made me lust after other brushes that were similar, yet made better.

England, man. They'll win you over every time! I will definitely call her and get some brush love. Pens are for the dogs! Yeah, you heard me!

Glad you're back in action

Agentflit said...

I picked up a few 33s size 2 and 0 the last time you recommended her, and they're awesome for both ink and watercolor. I just wish there were pocket brushes closer to size 2. She's not paying you for this, is she? ;)

Oh dang, deleted posts hang around and advertise that I made a goof.

matt said...

Harry: Series 33 seems most similar to W&N brushes, series 22 most similar to Raphaels. Her downloadable PDF catalogue features actual-size pictures, which is pretty helpful.

Rivkah: A two and a five. You can make any line with a five that you could with a two,but they feel different. Those two sizes will tell you whether you need to correct higher or lower, and even if you prefer one over the other it's useful to have a big brush and a small brush handy.

Your friend should wrap her pen stocks in tape to make them thicker, do stretching exercises for her wrist, take frequent breaks and if she wants to use a brush, the triangular handle does sound nice. With the way I hold my tools, too much brush gives me shoulder cramps and too much pen work gives me thumb cramps. Lettering does a number on my index finger.

Magma: Thanks for the kind words. I guess I'm a dog, though, cause these days I'm a nib man.

Agentflit: I am not being paid for saying this, but I would not be averse to her sending me brushes for the mention were she to ever see it. Perhaps a reader of mine might send the article to her, and casually mention I like size 3 brushes.

Harry B said...

Where is the downloadable catalogue?

Mister Manifesto said...

Great post Matt!

Does anyone have a recommendation for what ink to use with a brush? I love the W&N ink with the spider on it but it's hell on my brushes. It's nice and black but the lacquer in the ink eats up the brush.

matt said...

Harry B: evidently it's only print now, but you can request a free one.

Mister Manifesto: I likeDr. PH Martin's High Carb that's been allowed to sit with the top open or Speedball Super Black for brush ink.

Mister Manifesto said...

Thanks Matt!

Kiel West said...

Hey Brotha'

I had no idea you were doing this blog. What a goldmine!

Based on your recommendation, I've fallen head-over heels with a Rosemary 33,#1.

I will be buying my brushes from Rosemary for as long as they are available. The service, speed and low cost make me want to just buy weird brushes for fun--though this 33#1 is such a beauty, I may be smitten for good.

Thanks Pal.

-Kiel West

matt said...

Glad to hear it!