Notebook, 1993-


Brush Hairs and Bristles

Bristle. The best quality bristles come from a strip running across the backs of wild hogs in Chungking Province, China. Bristle hairs are stiff and coarse with natural curve and have a V-shaped split end called a ˝flagged tip.ţ Brushes formed with the flags turning into [or interlocked with] the ferrule offer the most spring, shape retention and control. Bristle brushes are best suited for oils and acrylics.

Camel Hair. This is the trade name for brushes made of squirrel, goat, pony, bear, sheep or a blend of the above. They range greatly in softness, quality and cost. Actual camel hair is too woolly for brushes.

Fitch. [Not to be confused with brush shape of same name.] This hair comes from tail of the polecat or North American skunk. It can be used as an inexpensive alternative to red sables for oil painting. Fitch ranges in color from dark brown to black and also can be called Russian or Black Sable.

Horse Hair. Commonly used in Oriental calligraphy brushes, the best horse hair is creamy brown in color and comes from horse═s belly and ears. Strong, resilient and somewhat coarse, the hairs are very absorbent but do not hold their shape well. Brushes with horse hair are usually starched near the ferrule or wrapped with sheep hair for shaping. Each hair contains numerous pockets that trap water and color--making them especially suitable for sumi painting.

Kolinsky Sable. This is the most valuable and expensive soft brush hair. It comes from the tails of ˝mustela sibirica,ţ a marten found in the cold river valleys of Siberia. Brushmakers obtain the tails from furriers. Martens from the coldest valleys produce the longest and best hairs for brushes. Strength, thickness, spring and fine point are the qualities associated with kolinsky red sable. This hair makes the finest watercolor brushes.

Ox Hair. The best quality hairs from the ears of South American and European oxen. They are strong in body, have good springiness and tapered points. Natural shades range from white to black. Suitable for oil and water-media, ox hair is used alone or blended with other hairs. Because of its elasticity and color carrying ability, ox hair makes an excellent brush for heavier colors.

Red Sable. This soft brush hair comes from the tail of the Asiatic weasel--a type of marten. Golden red in color, the hairs are not as fine or springy as kolinsky sable and are only half as expensive. Red sable hair makes outstanding brushes for watermedia and oils.

Sabeline. This name is applied to the finest grades of light ox hair, dyed to resemble red sable. Used primarily for watercolor and lettering, sabeline brushes yield good results at a cost below red sable.

Sheep & Goat Hair. These are used alone, or blended, for sumi and calligraphy brushes. The best hairs are yellowish in color and are boiled for straightening. While hairs have excellent absorbency and pointing ability, they lack spring.

Squirrel Hair. This soft, absorbent hair points well when wet, but has little spring. Kazan, the best squirrel hair, has good elasticity--ideal for washes, letting and smooth painted finishes.

[from DANIEL SMITH CATELOG OF ARTISTS' MATERIALS, Reference catelog 1991-92, Seattle, WA]



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