Monday, 5 August 2013

Plein air paint brushes

I have tried a number of travel, (or pocket, or reversible) brushes over the years and they are wonderful tools to have. Here are some examples.

The brush heads
From left in all photos - Isabey squirrel quill
Rosemary & Co Squirrel Quill
Rosemary & Co sable quill
Arches Squirrel Quill #3
Art Spectrum sable #6
Art spectrum sable #2
Escoda sable #2
Escoda sable #4
Escoda sable #6
Rosemary & Co trees
Synthetic round
Synthetic flat
Synthetic filbert

A range of travel brushes
The same brushes closed for travel

My absolute favourite is the first one, the Isabey squirrel mop - it has a gorgeous fine tip for drawing with and holds enough paint for small sketches. For larger washes or larger work the next two brushes are lovely. The Arches brush comes into its own for larger than A4 work, which I don't often do Plein air. It is stiffer than most squirrel mops so is almost more like a sable. The next 5 sables are all excellent brushes. The Rosemary tree brush is unusual. The final three are synthetics and once again a larger size than I generally use for plein air. 

I also use some water brushes when outdoors. They are very convenient if you need to do a quick sketch in an awkward spot too.

2014 update - see more on my website at the bottom of this page of plein air sketches. 


  1. Has Arches stopped making that travel quill #3? I've looked all over and can't find one. That is the exact size I'm looking for in a travel brush. I have the Isabey which is the only other travel mop I've been able to find and it's just not big enough.

    If you have a source for purchase, could you let me know? Google isn't helping me.

  2. Just wanted to let you know I made my own Arches Quill #3.

    The Fine Art Store had the Arches Kazan Pure Squirrel Brushes - Pointed Wash Quill A5 #3 on sale. These are the regular ones, not the travel one which apparently has been discontinued. I bought three. I'm using one for my regular watercolors and have set one aside as a back-up in case one wears out or I lose it.

    The third I made into a travel brush.

    Here's what I did. I had an extra large tube Pro Art filbert travel brush that I really didn't need. So I cut the brush off of the brass bottom that serves as the top and reverses to pop into the handle. Then I measured and cut off the Arches brush. Since I had three I made sure the one I chose would slide into the large storage tube that doubles as the handle when reversed. Then I took a drill and I drilled out the bottom. I did it in gentle stages, starting with my smallest drill bit and working up to finally a 3/8 inch, which is my largest one. I wrapped painter's tape around a pair of pliers to hold the base as I was drilling. Once I got to 3/8 I tested and the brush slid right in. Then I used flat toothpick to put some carpenter's wood glue into the bottom, put the brush in and pushed so the glue oozed out, cleaned it off with a damp cloth and now I'm just waiting for it to dry.

    Since they no longer make the Arches travel brush, it was worth it to me to cannibalize the Pro Arte. Took me maybe an hour. Total cost was less about $30.

    Now that I've done it once, should I ever want some sort of specialty brush for travel, I can always make one out of a regular brush.

    1. I'd love to see a photo. Could you email one to me?