Before you start reading: IMPORTANT! There’s no brush in the world that’ll magically make you a great painter.

What WILL make you a great painter?


(Yes you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?)

However, using the right brush for the job is important. In general my rule is that of a mentor of mine:

Use the largest brush you can for the task at hand.
That will help you stay loose.

But what do you make of that when painting very small paintings? And very small subjects like tiny branches? I’m not one normally to teach watercolor in tiny formats for tiny subjects; that’s one reason my watercolor classes are limited. Painting tiny, with tiny detail, teaches students that they should treat watercolor as if it’s a pencil…and….it’s not pencil.

So my compromise is this: Find larger elements where you can be loose and free. Only use tiny brushes for tiny elements, and do NOT make paintings of only tiny elements.

Tutorial: 4 Brushes and a Toothbrush: Winter Watercolor and a new class!

So in this video, there IS a featured element, a snowman – but he’s BIG. So the tiny details are only in that background, not throughout the painting. Also – the other two videos mentioned in this one are:

  1. Pencil Snowman (large)
  2. Pencil Snowman (small)

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!


Let’s talk brushes a bit and when to switch from one to another.

Da Vinci Maestro Round 8

The “Maestro” designation is reserved for brushes manufactured using male winter Siberian Kolinsky Red Sable fur. These are top-of-the-line, high quality brushes. (read: $$)

I love the sharp point and long hair length — I get good spring and control, and these brushes are great to carry water and pigment to the paper in good quantity, releasing when *I* want it to. That said – some say naturan brushes don’t have “spring” – but what I seem to see is the expectation is “stiff” not “spring.” Stiff brushes, which you get in a lot of synthetics, act more like soft pencils. Maybe that’s why folks like them – they want a pencil.

Da Vinci Maestro Long Needle 9

This brush has a long sable point attached to a full sable reservoir in the belly. You can create the thinnest of lines, and with pressure you can change to wide marks easily, all with the same color from your palette. On a large painting it holds enough pigment/water to create a very long continuous line – no need to reload the brush. But again….$$$. 

Da Vinci Maestro Round 4

Re-read the Round 8 but in a tinier voice.

Silver Brush Black Velvet Round 2

Now is the synthetic alternative: at 1/10th the cost! If you’re painting small, then you don’t need to make a line that stretches across 15 to 20 inches. The brush holds enough for a little line. And being synthetic, it’s stiffer than a sable, so it’ll act a little more like a pencil too. 

The one thing to remember is that you may need to adjust the amount of pigment vs water; use more water — a thinner mixture — and after making your line you can dab off excess, and that can make the line appear more subtly. That fools the eye into thinking it’s as thin as the Long Needle brush. 


Winter is the perfect season for being able to easily “FIX” any painting mistakes! Use a toothbrush and some gouache to create spattered snow. Create a heavier snowstorm if you’ve really bungled it, or lighter snow if you’re happy with the work underneath. (And remember, if your painting rocks, it’s OK for snow to only be on the ground and let your work shine!)

New watercolor class!

It’s called Winter Watercolor Bookmarks – and if it’s popular that may lead to others and we’ll make it a series!

This one’s a level 4 class; but if you completed the 30 Days watercolor class, and feel good about it, you might be ready for this! They’re called bookmarks in this course – but you can change the size and orientation of them as desired. The ones shown are a good size to trim for slimline cards that fit in a business envelope, or leave them as is with the beautiful deckled border, and give them as holiday gifts!


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  1. Jeanne E Thelwell

    I think the reason the long needle brush is so expensive is the US ban on the importation of Kolinsky sable. I found this brush – and others like it – on some European websites, and they are *much* cheaper than this one, even allowing for currency conversion and shipping. I suspect that the stock of this brush was already in the US when the ban was announced, which drove up the price. If the ban is lifted, there are lots of European sites that would ship them here for significantly less that the $100 this brush costs now.

    • Jeanne E Thelwell

      I’ve been searching for needle liners, and Silver Brush and DaVinci both have synthetic versions available on Amazon. The Silver Brush version is <$18; the DaVinci brush is <$40.

      • Sandy Allnock

        A synthetic is going to work completely different than the sable. What makes this brush work like it dies is the way it releases pigment—synthetics simply do not let it flow. You might be wasting your money.


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