What is my "go-to" brush?

November 3, 2017 | 44 Comments

Today it’s time to talk about brushes!

Most of you already know what mine is: Rosemary & Co Series 772 1/2 inch sable blend dagger.

I use it constantly and if I only had one brush this would be it. To find out more about it check out this article.

It is not a travel brush, but my toothbrush container works perfectly.


But if I had to be more conventional and choose a round brush, my pick would be a sable mop – Rosemary & Co R8 – but I will admit that it is a fairly pricey brush. I love its fine point, the amount of water it holds and the expressive marks that I can get from this brush.


On the more affordable end is Rosemary’s R13 – designer sable blend. I love this brush too and recommend it as a good beginners brush. It has a stronger point, is a little more firm and is a little easier to use than their R2 pure kolinsky brush. This is a brush that I discussed with Rosemary and Symi last year when I visited their studio and am so pleased that they added it to their range. It’s the brush that I use in my SketchingNow Watercolour online course.  I have some free lessons available for this course here.


An updated (and expanded) collection of brushes can be found here: Brush Update August 2021


But enough about my choices… what is your go-to (most used) brush for watercolour sketching?
(I am especially interested in some good synthetic brushes)



  • Megan B. says:

    I just can’t bring myself to use animal hair brushes. I also have a Jerry’s Artarama near by. I like the Polar Flo and Snap! brushes pretty well, but my FAVORITES are the Mimik brushes. They. Are. Wonderful.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Megan….it will look those brushes up.

    • Jeanne Roche says:

      Thank you for your recommendation to try the Mimik brushes. I bought two rounds. I used the #8 to do the intro exercises for #SketchingNowWatercolour course and I loved it! It is very pointy and full and holds a lot of water, but in a more controlled way than I’m used to. It was such a delight to use, so far, and I’m really looking forward to painting with it on a daily basis. Thanks again!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Probably not what you are asking 🙂 , but my all-time fave is the humble Kuretake waterbrush!

  • Joni River says:

    My favorite brush is the Escoda Último (synthetic,,a nice imitation of squirrel)I dont have the pocket Version,so i use your toothbrush container tip when i travel.

  • Ilse says:

    I used to be fairly happy with my waterbrushes (Pentel and Molotov, round, biggest size) but since I purchased a Rosemary&Co travel daggerbrush last month, I am totally in love with that one. I love the free, expressive style it gives to my strokes. And the bristles feel good. (I bought a quite expensive kolinsky travelbrush from Da Vinci this summer. But its size 10 doesn’t suit me and the bristles are too soft for me at this stage. I am so happy that the Rosemary&Co does fit me! I thought I maybe wasn’t a ‘real brush sketcher’ and better stick to waterbrushes, but now I learn I can handle a traditional brush:)

  • Evie says:

    My favorite brush is my Yasutomo Silverado 8. I purchased a Robert Simmons Sapphire 1/2” dagger brush months ago but not thrilled with it. I should have (and plan to) purchase the Rosemary & Co version and the one you recommend for the watercolor course.

  • Amy Weaver says:

    Escoda Reserva Tajmyr-Kolinsky #10 Round Travel Brush

  • Rodrigo A. Pantoja says:

    da Vinci MAESTRO Series 35

  • Kate Powell says:

    Personally I can’t do the real hair brushes… Love my critter firends too much!
    My favorites are the Da Vinci Cosmotops, because they carry water and have a good amount of tip and snap. I also don’t like a very soft brush — and interestingly, it is all about what you like, not what another artist likes.

  • As always, I have a few, all Rosemary & Co: pyramid brush (very handy for smaller sketches), a dagger of course, and for bigger sketches /paintings on watercolour block, a Jean Haines Mop (but carries too much water for a sketchbook)

  • Lisa Woodward says:

    I have a Rosemary and Co travel brush, which is lovely, but it was expensive and so I live in fear of damaging it or losing it! Therefor my go to is a plastic pentel waterbrush. Doesn’t hold as much water or pigment in the bristles, and some people have commented that it gives a flatter effect than others, but I live the ease of use when I’m outside and don’t have easy access to water.and at the cheap price, I don’t worry about misusing it 🙂

  • Chas says:

    I have an embarrassingly large collection of brushes that include natural, synthetics, and blends but my favourites are:

    daVinci Series 1503 #8 (best folding brush I’ve found)

    Winsor & Newton Series 7 #8 (hate the price, love the brush)

    I love the mops for sky and water.

    I have a couple of squirrel hair dagger brushes that are interesting to use but don’t hold a point well enough to use as general purpose brushes, though they do fairly well with coloured inks.

    I have just come back from a sketching visit to Quebec city where I experimented with Derwent Inktense and Graphtint pencils with Sakura water brushes instead of watercolours. The combination of pencil types let me get both intense and subtle colours without dealing with the intricacies of real watercolour. Not wonderful but a workable compromise in the blustery wind.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the course.

    I am hesitant to buy yet another brush but I think I shall be placing an order with Rosemary and Co for one of their daggers and will see how that goes.

  • Chas says:

    Is there any way to maintain paragraphing in a post so that everything doesn’t just run together?

  • Savanna Ouellette says:

    Rosemary & Co #8 travel brush, Princeston Snap brushes and Fibonacci quills depending on the situation.

  • Audrey J Stibbe says:

    My go to brush is a travel watercolor brush that i picked up at a garage sale! Unfortunately i don’t know the brand. ????

  • Olivera says:

    Nevskaya Palitra Kolinsky sable 1113 series. I love them! They form a very fine point and hold a lot of colour.

  • Flory says:

    My favorite on-the-go brush is a Pentel Aquash waterbrush. I have several other favorite brushes: Rosemary 1/4” travel dagger and 1/2” dagger, Rosemary 6 pointed round travel sable, Raphael 8404 size 4 round Kolinsky, Isabey 6202 travel round squirrel mop, and W&N 1/2” flat series 995 (synthetic with the clear handle). Although I’ve learned to use a waterbrush, I prefer regular brushes. But I have yet to settle on a way to use these brushes in the field, the main sticking point being how to handle the water. When traveling I take both kinds of brushes and a water container for when I know I’ll have a table to work on, but it’s a waterbrush that lives in my everyday bag.

  • Fabian says:

    A travel mop and a travel dagger watercolor brush from Rosemary&Co.

  • Barbara Stumpf says:

    Oh, gee — I’m not very sophisticated when it comes to brushes — and I’m pretty lazy, too (!). Right now I use a Pentel waterbrush with my little rehabbed Cotman kit (swapped out with artist grade water colors). I’m still getting used to sketching in public and this is the least muss ‘n’ fuss brush I know. Maybe after taking your course, Liz, I’ll feel less inhibited splashing around in situ!

  • Diane Johnson says:

    I’m trying to make my ‘go to’ brush the 1/2″ Rosemary Dagger, but I find it a challenge to use as fluidly as you do. Also, because my Schmincke travel palette has a mix of full pans and half pans, the dagger brush seems a bit too big to use with the half pans without picking up colour from the next pan. I saw Jane’s post about filling the pans on an angle to assist with picking up the paint, but I’m sure that in no time at all I would still have holes in my pans!
    My next favourite is the #8 round sable travel brush that I shouted myself – I love it.
    I know some people don’t like using real fur brushes, but there is just no comparison; I find the synthetic ones lifeless.

  • Joanne McCabe says:

    I like the angled or dagger-type brushes, too, since they seem to be a combo “flat + round.”

    Never taken to waterbrushes. They seem unpredictably leaky — rather like a toddler that’s not 100% potty trained. I never know when I’ll have a mess on my hands.

  • Frankye White says:

    It never matters to me what your topic is from day to day. Regardless of what else I have in my mail, I always read your latest installment and find delight, and new ideas, every time. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and talent with us.

  • Both you and Shari had recommended the Rosemary & Co dagger brush, so I bought one regular one and a small travel one. I use both of them a lot. The small travel one is my “go to brush” when I am sketching outdoors in a sketchbook. It is so convenient to be able to get coverage in a wide area or a very fine line from the same brush.

  • I love the Da Vinci Maestro Series 35 Size 8 brush. It’s springy. pointy, and very absorbent. Because of its absorbency, it can be used to cover larger areas than one would think. But that quality comes at a price, which is quite high. A more affordable alternative, and a synthetic for those looking for a good synthetic is the Escoda Versatil. Like some shoes, the brushes seem to run a tad small, so I order a size up.

  • Neil Barton says:

    My Brushes are virtuall all Rosemary & Co, which are all excellent also if you ever have a genuine problem Rosemary brush, just speak to them and without any quibbles they will change your brush & that is another reason I shall always buy Rosemary brushes.

    Some of my local Art Society swear by jacksons Raven Mops which are not animal fur/feather hold a lot of water/paint, point very well and are not expensive.
    Also Jacksons watercolour tube paints I find very good and inexpensive compared to other paint sizes

  • Bonnie McBride says:

    I love my nondescript synthetic #8 sennelier brush I at the Sennelier art store in Paris a few yrs ago, it is the first brush I pick up, I also use a # 6 Kolynski dragon tongue, and a dagger brush #4. These are my favs. But another handy brush is a triangular one (lanaquarelle #8 and #10), it can create many different strokes

  • Colleen Briggs says:

    I’m a beginner. A friend recommended Cheap Joes travel brushes, synthetic sable round. I have size 2,8,12. They hold water and have a nice point. Great travel size. I’m happy with them.

  • Emily DeArdo says:

    I love the Rosemary brushes, thanks to you, Liz. 🙂 The R13 is currently my go to brush. I also have their smaller dagger in that same series–I forget what the number is. But I love that one. I’m not as adept at using the larger dagger like you are, even though I have it, so I’m using the baby one as my ‘training wheel’. 🙂 But both those brushes give me great results!

  • Alejandro Morales says:

    I have an Escoda Ultimo travel brush in #8 size that doesn’t really come to a point, but it’s the brush I love to use for sketchbook work. I get really wonderful marks with it either in my sketchbook of on the Canson XL paper I use for my life drawing class. I pair it with a Pentel Aquash in the smallest size which is a great detail brush.

    If I am painting at home, I am usually using an Isabey #2 quill and a Winsor and Newton Series 7 #7 that got passed down to me from a friend who gave me some of his late husband’s painting supplies.

    Thanks to you, Liz, I ordered two Rosemary Brushes for myself for Xmas–a #6 Sable Round and a 1/4″ dagger both in travel brush versions. I have never used Rosemary brushes before but I hear nothing but amazing things. I look forward to the dagger as I used to love using angle shaders but all the ones I have are synthetic and I just don’t love the way synthetics dump a lot of water and pigment on the first stroke. Hopefully the dagger will give me what I loved about angle shaders but with a more regulated water/pigment flow.

    • Alejandro Morales says:

      EDIT; I just realized the irony of my most used brush being a synthetic, but synthetic squirrel works so much differently for me than the garden variety taklon brushes, IMO.

  • Chas says:

    We’ve had favourite colour and go-to brush. I think it would be interesting to know what people’s go-to ink and pen are.

  • Kathy says:

    Today my favorite brush is a Robert Simmons Sienna No. 10 Flat shader.

  • Jessica Vivien says:

    My go-to travel brush,(also handbag/everyday journaling brush) is a round sable size 6 Series 910 Maestro da Vinci retractable brush. Unliike all other travel brushes, this one moves the casing over the brush to enclose and protect it, instead of you having to carefully feed the point of the brush through into protective lid casing yourself,. So it is impossible to bend hairs on the brush as you close it up, and the closing process is really quick and easy. The brush itself is lovely to use.

  • Kathy Lay says:

    I have am very pleased with a Miller’s pseudo sable travel brush. I have a #6 and find it comes to a nice point as well as useful for a wash.

  • Lisa Holt says:

    I love my Escoda Reserva sable round travel brushes. I have the #6 and #4; they come to a nice point.

  • Dena Limpede says:

    Escoda Prado round short handle and travel are my favorite hands down synthetics. i like these so much better than the Escoda Reserva which i find too soft and floppy.

    Rosemary&Co R13, R3, & the 772 1/2″ dagger are my other favorite go to brushes.

    • Dena Limpede says:

      oh.. can’t believe i forgot about my most favorite!

      i love love love the da Vinci Watercolor Series 498 Casaneo Round Quill New Wave Synthetics in a Size 0.

      Thank you for this recommendation Liz. This brush makes me smile each time i use it. The only downfall is that it does not come in a travel brush.

  • Nancy Hanson-Bergstrom says:

    Love my Rosemary brushes especially the dagger I learned of from you.! I don’t have the travel ones, though – is it hard to get all the brush hairs into the cap? Thanks!

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