Focus Point Shape

International Online Art Gallery – juried online art competititons

Watercolor Secrets With Sable Brushes – Study 1

watercolor secrets with sable brushes study 1 - duck pond rhapsody kolinsky sable brush demonstration

Duck Pond

Learn watercolor secrets with sable brushes – study 1. Demo and video presentation

In a rush to learn? Scroll down to the video! –

I will demonstrate this watercolor with two sable brushes.

Sit back and relax.

You are in the art supply store and in your head you tally the cost of three or four sable brushes. And you feel your head spinning.

So you say to yourself … “self, my paintings are not ready for sable. I’ll stick with what I’ve been using.”

And that is where you just made two mistakes.

1- Because what you’ve been using is holding your painting back.

2- You don’t have to buy all the sable brushes at once. You could start with just one or two.

Sable Brush Video Demonstration –
See Brush Technique in Action!

To Start Video – Clik Here
Then – Move your Cursor UPto adjust audio volume.


for more explanation … read below.

But which two sable brushes?

Now you know yourself better than anybody… right? Good.

So … do you paint realistic, impressionistic or abstract?

Because your personal style will dictate what sable brushes to start with.

rhapsody kolinsky sable brush set

Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Brush Set

I use Rhapsody Round Kolinsky Sable brushes.

If realistic is your forte … consider the # 0 and the #2.

# 0 is a round short fine point. # 2 holds more water and is a medium length round fine pointed brush.

Or if impressionistic rocks your world … consider # 4 and # 6.

# 4 is a medium length round fine pointed brush and #6 is round bushy pointed brush and.

Should abstract hold sway with you … consider # 8 and # 12

# 8 is long haired round pointed brush. # 12 is thick haired round pointed brush.

So you’ll notice … all the brushes mentioned are rounds and pointed.

Why use ’round’ brushes you ask?

Rounds give you 3 brushes in one.

They hold water like filberts. Held side ways they work like flats. And sharply angled to the paper … the pointed tips work like liner brushes.

This demonstration will be an impressionistic painting.

Because for those of you who paint tight realistic paintings … just add another 2 to 3 hours of touching up.

And for those who paint abstractly … just ‘blow’ the color onto your paper.

duck pond 1 focuspointshape.com

Source Photo – Duck Pond

*This is our source photograph*

This photo will give us an opportunity to work the following:

1- composition layout,
2- dark-light relationships – called Notan,
3- wet-in-wet,
4- dry brush
5- and the sable brush work will be the icing on the cake.

composition schemes - focuspoinshape.com

composition schemes

What we have here are classic layouts of composition schemes to display our images to best affect.

The brush work is actually the last item in constructing a painting … like the icing on the cake.

Without taking the time to properly ‘set up’ our painting … it won’t matter if you are using bristle, hog hair, badger hair, horse hair, golden hair or sable brushes.

You’ll have great brush work in a painting that no one is interested in looking at.

Our image is using #4 as a composition scheme.

The bridge and the far island bracket the image at the top.

Matting will bracket the image on the left and right sides.

A walkway brackets the image at the bottom.

Let’s not confuse #5 as a possible composition scheme for this image.

#5 is usually done with open space at the sides and top … normally sky.

golden mean vitruvius number - focuspointshape.com

Golden Mean – Vitruvius number

And now we take advantage of the Golden Mean … the most beneficial placement of our subject … the duck.

This means we multiply our visible image height and width by .618 and mark an X where the lengths intersect.

X marks the spot where approximately we should place our duck.

In a moment you will see this puts our duck either in the water light reflection or somewhere crossing the light into shadow.

Which is a perfect lead-in into Notan … Light vs. Dark.

notan image duck pond focuspointshape.com

Notan image of Duck Pond

Here we have a Notan rendering via computer of our image.

Notan is a Japanese word meaning the pattern of light versus dark in our image.

This is not to be confused with the concept of values. Squint your eyes when looking at a tartan plaid … and you will see Notan.

As the lightest lights and the darkest darks are instruments of fascinating and guiding the viewer’s eye.

vitruvius number - focuspointshape.com

Golden Mean or Vitruvius Number

Now with the Golden Mean dimensions or the Vitruvius Number … X1 is the exact spot.

But I don’t like it. It would put the duck in shadow. And the duck is already dark.

So I will move the duck’s location to put the dark duck against the light of the water reflection … spot … X2.

This is not cookie cutter. You are the artist . You can twist the rules to suit your purpose.

vitruvius position - focuspointshape.com

New duck position

So now we have the duck in a good Notan location.

Yes I could have put the duck totally in the light reflection.

But I opted to put the duck into a transition … from shadow to light.

This will give me an opportunity to entrance the viewer with my color transitions when it comes time to actually paint this image.

golden mean or vitruvius duck - focuspointshape.com

New Duck Position

And now we have a composition scheme taking into account Notan and the golden mean – just waiting for us to work our magic with the brushes.

And you will notice I totally removed the duck from the lower right of the image.

So let’s see what kind of challenge we have set for ourselves … once we bring the new image back to color.

But … let’s be really smart. Today we have the computer to try something new before we commit to painting.

blurred image - focuspointshape.com

Blurred background and foreground

What if
we decide to blur the background and foreground … and only focus on the middle ground – to keep the Notan of the duck as the main focus?

And that is another way to work our composition … into something magical … before we start actually painting.

This will allow us to see why artists rave about sable brushes.

computer camera obscura app

computer camera obscura app

However, there is one more step in our tool kit … before we start painting.

The Camera Obscura … the precursor to the modern camera … was discovered in 400 BC. And forward thinking really busy artists … such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Johannes Vermeer, Lyendecker and Norman Rockwell used devices based on this concept in producing their art.

In so doing they baffled their contemporaries.

Today … we can use the computer and various art applications to gain similar results… in seconds.

When I am up against a deadline for a blog post … it is time to put the drawing pencils down and use the computer to get my ideas done … quickly.

If you are running up against a deadline … you can use Photo Shop or Paint Shop Pro or a similar application to manipulate your source photos and you can Lighten your image to the point where you barely keep the particulars… for Notan affect.

Now this is a personal choice. You can free-hand draw your image from your source photo … if time is no object … or you can get it done … in seconds.

Keep in mind … if you do this … it is best to work this tool with your own original source photos.

notan - dark light pattern - focuspointshape.com

dark light pattern – Notan

So now we have our Notan image (Light – Dark pattern) in seconds.

But printing it out on 400 lb or 140 lb paper is a real bear on most computers.

So for purposes of this demonstration I am using 98 lb cold press paper.

rhapsody sable brush study - focuspointshape.com

extra fine sandpaper pass

However … because this is a laser printer … the printing process tends to create a gloss on the paper.

So we must compensate and rough the paper … to enable the image to accept our watercolors.

Which is why we rough the paper with extra fine sandpiper.

This removes the laser gloss from the image and enables the colors to mix well … on the paper.

rhapsody sable brushes - focuspoinshape.com

rhapsody sable brush kit

Now … we open our Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Brushes and feel confident that these brushes will work their magic.

Because we are doing an impressionistic rendering … we only need to work with two brushes … # 4 and # 6.

rhapsody sable brush #6 - focuspointshape.com

rhapsody sable brush #6

Most of this painting is done with #6.

Now I usually stand when I’m painting as that gives me a better overall view of my image and allows me to keep my hands and arms loose when I paint.

Get too close to your image and you may find your colors are too intense.

What I do is squeeze some color into the cups of my palette and then I drop some water into the cups with an eye dropper … to loosen my colors and contribute to an even color consistency throughout my painting.

This image is done with the following colors: cobalt blue, rose madder, veridian, aureolin, transparent brown oxide and titanium white.

Now … the moment we have been waiting for.

Let’s really talk about the sable brush.

The beauty of sable is the brush holds a lot of water and color and so it is possible to sharply angle the brush to the paper and let capillary action draw the water and color from the brush onto the paper.

This way … you can control the intensity of the color. And because sable brushes hold their point … you can direct the color exactly where you want it.

rhapsody sable brush study - focuspointshape.com

working tight spaces with sable

Thus you can work in tight spaces with almost a single brush.

You can overlap with wet-in-wet color and mix your colors right on the paper.

The softness of sable brushes allows you to mix your colors without getting brush marks.

So the majesty of watercolor comes out.

quick strokes - rhapsody sable brush - focuspointshape.com

quick strokes – don’t linger

We are painting the background with quick strokes and the ability of the brush to hold water and color allows us to judge our color intensity without gouging the paper or creating paper bunnies.

Many beginning artists gravitate to 400 lb paper because they may be using bristle brushes … which tends to gouge the paper.

A secret to successful watercolors is hand pressure when painting. Just barely… Kiss the paper with color.

However 98 lb paper which is much cheaper works just as well … if one is using sable brushes.

#6 rhapsody sable brush study - focuspointshape.com

using #6 rhapsody sable brush

As you can see we are still using #6 in our background painting and managing to get into those tight corners.

Again I stress the ability of the sable brush to hold it’s point. That gives you an astounding feel and control to your watercolors.

Many beginners find that painting with watercolor … well the painting tends to get away from them.

Not so … with the sable brush.

rhapsody sable brush study #1 - focuspointshape.com

rhapsody sable brush study #1

If we look back at our source image … you’ll notice the shadowy areas under the walkway.

Should you attempt this with a bristle brush … well you will have to use a multitude of brushes to get this far. And you most likely will gouge the paper.

So far with sable … we have only used one brush … # 6.

unifying color - aureolin

unifying color – aureolin

Our unifying color is the aureolin. And we apply it with swift strokes and lots of water.

Let me mention … some beginning artists are afraid of the water and apply watercolor pigments like oil paints or acrylics.

This will give you a poster like affect and you will miss the full impact of loose painting in watercolor.

You could try dropping water into an area you want to paint. Then just dip the point of your brush into the pigment and then dip that colored tip of the brush into the watery area of your painting.

Try it.

rhapsody sable brush study #1 - focuspointshape.com

sable brush study #1

Now our painting is starting to come together.

As we review our image and compare it to our source image and our Notan image … we can readily observe how close we are to maintaining our light-dark pattern within our painting.

The #4 sable brush we use to drop in our color on our duck and to create some white highlights.

Should our background or foreground be too dark … because our focus is the dark of the duck against the white of the water … we can re-apply a quick swipe of the background and foreground with our extra fine sandpiper.

Then I gently swipe those areas with a damp paper towel. Try it.

duck pond - rhapsody kolinsky sable brush study #1 - focuspointshape.com

Duck Pond

I always put a mat around my image … to get an idea of how the image looks and judge if I have achieved my aim.

The good thing is that a mat tends to bring out some colors and truth to tell … a painting always looks better in a mat.

So … there you have it … with two sable brushes … # 4 and #6.

Author – Mars Burnell
Do you find this article helpful?

Your Name - First and Last (required)

Your Email (required)

Message Subject

Your Comments