Using a water brush: Update 2 (plus some food sketching)

December 15, 2023 | 1 Comment

Just a quick update on my water brush usage…

I’ve decided to stop using a waterbrush for all my sketching and I’ve gone back to my beloved dagger brush!

Ha! I just couldn’t keep using it exclusively, I just couldn’t!  🙂

Are you surprised?

I still intend to use the Aquash brush (by Pentel) on occasion and do some tests with the other brands but I’m no longer forcing myself to use it at all times.

And why? Well, I just couldn’t get consistent results when I was out sketching on location – especially when I was relying on my reflex sketching.

For example: I’m a bit shocked at how flat some of the washes are in this quick food sketch. I know that my washes would have been fine if I had used my dagger brush but as it was a pressure situation (I didn’t want the hot food to go cold) I didn’t load up my washes with extra pigment which is what is needed when using a water brush.

Now of course I could have continued this sketch and added another layer of washes over the top – but my approach to watercolour is to get it right with the first pass (as much as possible). And so I decided to keep the sketch as it was after the first pass as an example of the dangers of using a water brush. 🙂

When I’m teaching I often find it hard to demonstrate flat insipid washes so ironically, I’m happy that I now have a good example of this!


Once I got home I decided to do some swatches – comparing the water brush with a dagger brush. And in the controlled environment at home, I was easily able to get comparable results. The Aquash Large swatches are more lively because they were the first swatches I did from the wash in my palette so they have a little more pigment in them. (Note: It’s practically impossible to do totally comparable swatches due to subtle differences in water in the brushes and the washes.)

The final thing I did was to do another version of this Bento box using my dagger brush. This was done from a photo at home (in a more controlled environment). I tried to do this quickly without thinking about it too much but of course it’s not a true comparison. Though it does prove the point that my watercolour washes are more lively when I use a real brush.

One other factor that I need to explore is whether there is a difference between using the Medium or the Large Aquash. I suspect that there is a difference and as the Large brush is so much wetter it prompts me to add more pigment to the wash and therefore results in better results. I need to test this theory!

So I will continue to use water brushes on a casual basis, and I’m very pleased that I now know that I can produce reasonable results with them. I didn’t believe this was possible before! However with the craziness of end-of-year things, it’s time to go back to my favourites!

I want to finish this article with some more examples of rapid watercolour food sketches done with my dagger brush. In all cases, I was concerned to make sure that I enjoyed my food while it was hot so I was most definitely relying on my reflex sketching skills.

A hot-cross bun sketch done at home without any distraction.


Avocado and eggs on toast at my local cafe – done during a solo visit.


Sketching a meal while at my parent’s place – so trying to be somewhat engaged in the conversation at the same time.


Slices of pizza during a group dinner as part of a Palladian Odyssey Tour – this was very difficult as I was trying to get to know the participants as well. There wasn’t much spare room on the table making it extra hard.


The final example is the craziest! This was a dinner during the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore. The Chilli Crab was disappearing rapidly and I was the only person sketching food. I’m thankful that Amber (sitting next to me) helped make sure that some food got on my plate (everyone was super hungry!) This sketch is 100% reflex (and dependent on the notes for the identification of the different dishes) but there are some nice watercolour effects.

If you want to find out more about how I sketch my hot meals check this article out.

But to get back to the theme of water brushes… I promise to keep experimenting with them and share my sketches and tests in future articles.

The goal is to get consistent results on location similar to what I did for this Old Country Roses sketch.

1 Comment

  • Jamie C says:

    I’m curious what you have been sketching with your Waterbrush and how the everyday sketches of the subjects we love so much have been coming out! Those swatches are such lovely spring colors! And seeing all those good sketches I’m reminded of your sketch diet and how much fun I had when I sketched all my food! It might be just the thing for me to restart a daily sketch routine!

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