this thing's incredible

This $9 Watercolor Brush Holds Its Own Water

Photo: Liza Corsillo

I’ve been painting with watercolors for close to 20 years, and while a few people have asked what paints I prefer or what type of paper is best, I’ve never had a person yell at me from 25 feet away, while swimming, to find out what paintbrush I’m using. But that’s exactly what happened with my Sakura Koi watercolor brush. I’d brought it with me on a swimming trip to a pond not far from my parents’ house in Connecticut. And as I sat on the shore, trying to copy the ripples and shadows on the surface of the water in my sketchbook, a swimmer stopped, treaded water, and started asking questions.

I bought this brush about a year ago, after seeing it on the shelf at Dick Blick art supplies in Manhattan and being intrigued, but I never really used it much. During the pandemic, however, painting watercolors with this brush has become a way to find a bit of relaxation. Not only is it a great brush, with a fine tip and soft bristles that make painting details as well as creating washes easy, the Sakura Koi does what no other watercolor brush that I know of does: It provides the water for you. There’s a built-in four milliliter reservoir in the hollow plastic handle. Which makes packing my stuff up and getting outside, where I prefer to paint, fast and stress free.

Before this brush, I would fill up a jar with water, screw on the lid (assuming I could find the right one) as tight as I could, pack it in a plastic bag, and hope for the best. Even if the jar somehow didn’t leak, it always added unwanted weight to my bag. When it was time to start painting, I would try to balance everything on my lap, which often ended with my spilling the jar of water. But none of that happens anymore. Now, anytime I’m feeling anxious, I just grab some paper and a mini watercolor palette, check that my Sakura Koi is topped off, and go.

To wet the bristles you simply squeeze the handle. When a drop of water appears at the tip, just pick a color, rub the brush against it, and start painting. When you want to change colors, just squeeze a few more drops out and dab on a piece of scrap paper. Because the water sits within the brush, every drop is fresh and clean. Unlike water in a jar that you dip into over and over again as you paint, this water never gets muddied by other colors.

If you’re covering a large piece of paper and want to premix a lot of a particular color, you might want more than just a drop from the brush. All you have to do is keep squeezing. But for me, the slow rate forces me to paint slower, taking in the scenery more fully, so I don’t accidentally ruin the whole thing out of impatience. It’s also made me better at slowly building up layers of color. The small amount of water dries more quickly, letting me put the next color on sooner. This leads to paintings with more depth — and a painter who’s even more relaxed than she used to be.

The brush I have has a small tip, which is great for the time being, but I also have my eye on this set of three brushes in small, medium, and large from Pentel, which would give me a wider range of possible brushstrokes and help me improve my work even more.

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This $9 Watercolor Brush Holds Its Own Water