Identifying plants and using a waterbrush

July 7, 2021 | 21 Comments

As I mentioned in my monthly newsletter yesterday, one of the big takeaways from my recent road trip has been a return to my ‘geography roots’. This was sparked by my love of the Hay Plain and two stops on the way to Mungo National Park.

As a result, I’m really wanting to learn more about different habitats in Australia and I’m in the process of expanding my Australian book collection. Two recent purchases are books on the native plants of Sydney which I’ve been using to help identify plants. Note: You might have seen some notes on my pages during a recent visit to Echo Point.

I’m not interested in gardening but I love the bush (forest) and when my sister lived in Australia, we would often go on bushwalks (hikes). As she worked in bush regeneration she always had lots of stuff to tell me. So reviving this old interest is connecting me in a special way to my dear sister whom I miss so much. (If you don’t know, she now lives on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland)

On the weekend, while I was exercising and taking outdoor recreation with my family I decided to identify this tree.

With my dad’s help, we easily worked out it was a brush box using one of the books I had brought with me. The identification process was a lot of fun and I’ve come to realise that the most important ingredient to look for is the fruit! I took a few samples home to sketch and do further research.

As for the waterbrush reference in the title of this article…

I did the tree sketch using a waterbrush and my new Folio palette by Art Toolkit. See here for more about that palette.

As I have mentioned before (here and here) I don’t believe that it’s possible to create the same watercolour magic using a waterbrush as it is using a real brush (especially with some natural hair).

Compare the washes of the tree in the overall sketch done with a waterbrush (left) with the small tree shape sketch on the detail page done with my usual 1/2 inch sable blend dagger (right) at the same scale. You can see some lovely ‘pigment party’ in the latter which is missing from the former even though both used the same pigments. Achieving this kind of watercolour magic is a big deal for me, but of course, for many sketchers achieving these types of washes is not a focus and the convenience of the water brush makes it the perfect tool for them.

But this being said, on this occasion, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of the washes! So much so, that I’ve decided to use my waterbrush a little more in the coming weeks.

Currently, my waterbrush (Pentel Aquash large) is an important part of my kit. I use it for two uses:

  1. prewetting my page (a great source of clean water when I’m getting towards the end of my sketch and my paint water is dirty)
  2. watercolour pencil work (such as my recent sketches during a tour of the Wellington Caves)

For the last few years, if I only have time to do a quick sketch I’m generally just doing a simple line drawing. So I’m interested to see if using my waterbrush with the folio palette will make it easy to create colour sketches in similar situations.

So are you a waterbrush user?  I would love to find out which brand size do you use. Please let me know in the comment section below.


  • Sherri Carneal says:

    Have you tried adding D’s sodalite to sap green dropping this in gives good variation with the water brush.

  • I have several brands of waterbrushes but the Pentel Aquash waterbrush (Large) is my all-time favourite. I rarely use it when at home but one lives in my bag with my pocket palette and I also include one with my regular brushes when I go on vacation. Additionally, I always keep an extra one or too in my stash of extra sketch.

  • Sophie says:

    Never have got on with them, I have two Derwent ones. It never worked with watercolour for me, much easier to just have a bottle of water and a proper brush when out. I’d never get a proper wash for larger areas and found that I needed a water container anyway to clean the brush properly. The only use I had for them was softening water soluble pencils or non waterproof ink (have some shading on a drawing). I have now filled one with Quink and am using it for practicing abstracting shapes in the foundations course and that works well.

  • Karen Miller says:

    I have been using Aquash large for many years for quick travel sketches. Could not do without it. Great for my young granddaughter too.Nice for small botanical drawings too because the point can be very precise.

  • Barbara McCafferty Weeks says:

    I use the Pentel Aquash Waterbush Large. This brush, an Art-toolkit palette and a small S&B sketch book make up my out-and about sketch kit. It’s a small kit that fit in my bag when I’m going out to run errands etc. when sketching isn’t on my agenda, but you never know when the occasion may arise!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Yes Barbara – a winning duo for a quick sketch and minimal kit 🙂

    • JoJo Ferg says:

      Me too! Except I have been using Field Artist Masters sketchbook because I have been gifted with them. Quick and fun! If I need extra color pop I just load some color and drop it into the space. What started as a have to due to physical limitations has moved into a fun exploration!

  • Phoebe Wilson says:

    I use a Kuretake Fude waterbrush (when I use a waterbrush) though I carry a Pentel Aquash too for when I want a lot of water in a hurry. I find the Pentel Aquash brushes too wet and hard to control the amount of water they dispense. The Kuretake is nice for small restaurant sketching after ordering and before the food arrives.

  • Betty Osborne says:

    Can’t recommend the plant identifier app ‘Picture This’ enough. My daughter-in-law just put me on to it and it has been wonderful, especially with identifying weeds or erstwhile native plants! You might find it useful as you pursue this new direction with your painting and plants.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Betty – a number of people recommended it. What a great app!!!! Sadly not quite specific enough for mative Sydney plants for my purposes. But useful in other ways!

  • Celeste says:

    Tried waterbrushes—not a fan. Give me a decent Rosemary travel brush any day over the stiff, bristly waterbrushes. I always carry drinking water, and it’s easy enough to use a collapsible silicone cup, bottle cap, or bottle boot (silicone cup that fits over the end of a 1/2 liter type bottle).

  • Ingrid says:

    I’m using “FABER-CASTELL Art & Graphic Water Brush” indeed as the result of a workshop at a fantastic German sketcher, Jens Hübner, some years ago. I like it’s reliability and also it’s small size. Although the sketch result is a bit disappointing compared to “normal” brush use I enjoy it on site. It is so uncomplicated and it allows me to carry around less, what I appreciate.

    • Alan Barbour says:

      I am learning to use a Caran d’Ache medium water brush, which seems identical to the Faber-Castell Design Memory Craft Deluxe Water Brush AKA Faber-Castell Deluxe Water Brush. With the plunger full extended, it carries a LOT of water, and is about 7.5 inches long, or 8 inches posted—about the same as a conventional watercolour brush. It isn’t necessary to pull the plunger all the way out; many people seem to use it partly collapsed.

      I am experimenting with using watercolour pencils (Faber-Castell) and the water brush as the nucleus of a light sketching kit.

      • Liz Steel says:

        Thanks for sharing Alan – I do have one of those caran d’ache waterbrushes – I should test it out!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Ingrid. And yes… always a bit disappointing but so easy to use on site!

  • I’m a water brush user. I’ve used Holbein water brushes (Round Large and a smaller one (I forget if it’s medium or fine) for several years and like them a lot. They hold a lot of water, give a consistent flow and I’ve never had one leak. Recently I bought a Pentel Aquash Medium Flat and was surprised how fine a tip it has as well as being able to give a wider brush stroke than the Holbein Round Large. This will be good if I only want to carry one brush. I haven’t used it long enough to comment on if it leaks.

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