Guest Post: Heidi Black and Brush Selection

I have mentioned Ms Black on many an occasion, so she doesn't need much introduction on this blog.  For those of you not familiar with her work, go check out her portfolio 

Guest post!

I was asked by Becca to talk about brushes for inking!  If you don't know me, I'm Heidi, and I almost always use brushes for most of my inking, barring straight lines, which I do with a tech pen and a ruler,  and text, which I do with a dip pen. 

For inking with a brush, you need two things: ink, and a brush.  The ink you choose is as important as the brush: too think of an ink and it will gum up your brush, and most brushes will require cleaning from time to time.  My favorite is the Windsor & Newton ink, just because its waterproof and Copic proof for most everything I use it for, is liquid enough I don't need to water it down, but still black enough that I have no problems with just one coat of ink.  If you are just inking, the Holbein special black ink is beautiful, but it is not copic proof.

When you go to an art store, you'll see many different kinds of brushes.  Most of these brushes are split into categories of what medium they are best with: oil, watercolor, and acrylic.  Even if you are using acrylic ink, GET THE WATERCOLOR BRUSH.  Oil brushes are usually made with coarse hairs and will neither hold a good tip nor ink evenly.  Acrylic brushes are slightly better, but watercolor brushes are made to be used with a water based medium with suspended particles. 

Your next choices are going to be natural, synthetic, or blended.  Synthetic bristles are usually nylon fibers made to resemble natural hair, and while they're not TERRIBLE, they're not the best either.  Natural brushes are made from a variety of animal fur, with sable hair (kolinsky being the preferred breed of sable) being the best of these.   (if you want to know more about how brushes work, go here:  ) 

There are also many shapes of brushes.  For regular linework, a round brush is going to be the best.  For various texture effects, you can play around with all kinds of brushes (sometimes cheap brushes work better for these as well, as they splay better) 

Now we just have brand and size to consider.  Sizes range from teeny tiny 0/2 (and smaller) to huge 10's.  You want a brush that holds enough ink you aren't dipping it in your ink every two inches, but is still small enough for you to handle.  Generally, a #2 is a good investment, but you may want a #1 if you're heavy handed, or a #4 or #6 if you can control a brush well and don't like to refill often. 

As for brand, the unfortunate general rule with art supplies is the more expensive something is, the better it is.  This is not always true, more often than not, it is.   Windsor and Newton series 7 brushes are some of the most expensive, and some of the best.  Other excellent brands though are Escoda and Raphael.

Winsor Newton Cotman
Winsor Newton Series 7

Before you purchase your brush though, an important test must be made.  Either ask for a small container of water, or bring one with you (or if you don't mind germs, just use your spit), and some paper.  Dip the brush in the water and make sure it forms a point, then drag it across the paper as you would to ink and see if it retains the point or splays.  You can also give it a sharp twist and see how it reacts.  I would recommend testing several different styles of brushes with this method – you may find a brush you thought was going to be amazing has a cruddy tip, or won't stay together; or a brush you were going to disregard is actually perfect for you. 

Well, now you're home and you have your brush, but you want to take care of it!  Before you ink on your paper, you should make warm-up strokes on some scrap paper (preferably the same kind as what you will be inking your final piece on) to practice what kind of shapes you want to make, as well as to loosen up, to see how the brush reacts to that paper, and to get any excess ink off the brush that may splatter or glop.  Giving your brush a spin as you make a stroke will also help it form a point.  Clean your brush in water, but don't leave it sitting in a cup as it will bend the bristles.  And every several months, use some brush soap to clean it – this helps dissolve shellac and other binders as well as get rid of residual ink in the base of the brush that can cause the bristles to splay.

If you take good care of your brush, a good brush will last you many many years and will be a constant aid in your art work.  They are more nimble than nibs, and will go in more directions.  Unlike tech pens, you can get a great line variation with a single tool, and with practice one can make incredibly thin strokes with them, as well as use them to quickly fill in large areas of black.  Drybrush and other texture techniques are also part of a brush's versatility, as well as using them for inkwash or watercolor tones.  The downsides are they are hard to use to make a straight line, and not as portable as a tech pen, but there is no rule that you can't combine multiple tools in the same image.

For artists who are fantastic with a brush, see Sean Gordon Murphy:
and Eric Canete (he actually uses a brush pen):


  1. Not being from an art school background this was extremely useful to me. lol I'll have to keep this information in mind whenever I do decide to splurge on brushes.

    Oh a question, do you think synthetic or natural hairs are better? I've heard some pros and cons for both but just wanted to see what you would what you say would be good for a beginner like me.


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