Know your natural brush hairs

Brushmaking at its finest is nothing short of an art, demonstrating the best in craftsmanship. From handle shape to ferrule, each Winsor & Newton brush is designed with meticulous care, and a commitment to quality that has spanned 150 years.

One of the most important parts of a brush’s anatomy is that which touches both paint and canvas: the hair. Whether you choose sable, squirrel, goat or hog depends largely on your paint and your purpose, so it’s imperative to know the differences between them and the possibilities they offer. Here, we untangle the details of four natural hairs to help you choose the perfect brush for your practice.

Sable hair

Sable hair brush

The highest quality brushes are made using sable hairs. Under a microscope, you can see that each individual hair is conical, springy, and covered in tiny scales. The combination of the three factors increases the brush’s surface area and allows it to soak up a lot of colour. Crucially, you’re still in control of colour release. It’s what makes sable hair brushes so popular among professional artists.

A notable example of a world-class sable hair brush is the iconic Winsor & Newton Series 7. Each Series 7 sable hair brush is made from a selection of different length hairs, making for a longer and more tapered point.

Only 5% of available sable hair meets the strict quality requirements for Series 7 brushes. The unique composition of a Series 7 allows you to complete washes far more quickly and effectively than with other brushes, while also letting you add fine lines and details.

Squirrel hair

squirrel hair brush

Squirrel hairs make perfect mop brushes due to their natural colour-carrying capacity. The individual hairs are cylindrical and soft – as seen in our Professional Watercolour Squirrel Brushes – in contrast to sable-haired brushes, which are defined by a point and spring. They are also useful for gouache and silk painting, and are best matched with Professional Watercolour or Designers Gouache.

Goat hair

Goat hair brush

Similar to squirrel hair brushes, goat hair brushes are a coarser, more economical choice for mopping colour onto a surface. A fine example is the Mop & Wash Brush – Series 140. With wavy hairs, they have no point, so they are most frequently used for background washes using Cotman Watercolours.

Hog hair

Hog hair brush

Known for its stiff texture, hog hair is stout enough to pick up oil or acrylic colour straight from the tube. Each hair naturally ends in a “flagged” tip or split end, which enables the brush to scoop up a lot of Artists’ Oil Colour.

Hog hair has a natural curve, so when our expert brushmakers craft the brushes, each hair is turned inwards. Having this shape gives you control when pressing on canvas, as the brush tip only widens to the size of the ferrule.

The highest quality hog brushes, Artists’ Hog Brushes, demonstrate the stiffest, strongest hairs with plenty of flag; mid-range hog brushes display a softer hair. A solid entry-level brush is the Azanta Black.

Eventually, all hog brushes wear down to a smaller size, but due to the meticulous handicraft of our brushmakers, the ones in the Winsor & Newton ranges still maintain their shape.

Now you know what goes into your brushes, learn how to clean and care for them.