The Black Sheep Watercolour Brush

People are often interested in my brush and sometimes wish to buy one.  Information about this follows.

This little one-off has for the best part of a decade been the leader in my small family of brushes.  Slightly eccentric, but I find it versatile so that except for a large squirrel mop I currently rarely touch other brushes – other than more Black Sheep (I always have a few to hand).

Background And Evolution

Many years ago I was lent an old set of Chinese brushes. I enjoyed the characteristics of a couple, and in particular one which I eventually discovered to consist – apparently – of ‘goat hair’.

‘Goat hair’ in this context is sometimes the Chinese description of sheep’s wool, and can include other hair types (rabbit, pony, weasel and more – collectively these being known as ‘wolf’) mixed in, though they don’t tell you that. Getting to the very bottom of where the hairs come from proved impossible at the current time, but I’ve been assured by a well-known UK brushmaker that chinese brush hairs are a bi-product of the food industry.

Through experimentation I discovered a way of modifying a type of Chinese calligraphy brush to make it really work for me. In short I found the ideal size and then perfected a method of delicately ‘shearing’ the sheep in a particular way, and this brush is the result. In changing its shape the brush is given more spring, a finer point and a slightly shaggy belly. The resulting specimen is pictured here when damp.

Handling qualities

As the outer hairs are reduced in length the resultant brush has perhaps a degree of similarity with some ‘reservoir’ style brushes available, or to brushes named ‘Pointed Round’, but The Black Sheep definitely goes its own way.

The tip produces fine lines when necessary, and I use the brush briskly on its side for much of my foliage painting.  I like to see brushmarks – a painter’s handwriting – and I like the marks this brush gives me.

The tip is firm enough to pick up neat tube paint easily when desired, and the brush carries a good amount of liquid if immersed fully in water/paint.  I find I’m able to judge well the amount of paint/water I pick up in it, which on a technical level is one of the most important judgements a watercolourist makes.
The Black Sheep is also hardy.  I use mine very vigorously at times and it survives well.
Bamboo brushes should not be left for long periods immersed in water as this can cause splits to appear at the end by the brush hairs, though I honestly don’t find these – or even small bits eventually breaking off – to usually be any problem.

Each Black Sheep has been very carefully modified, with repeated tweaking over a period of time.  The process requires time and is gradual, because any small difference in brush shape affects the handling considerably.  Some go wrong and end up in the bin.

When I started using the brush I knew of no other British or ‘western’ landscape watercolourist using chinese brushes, but they’ve since become popular worldwide. I used to sell the Black Sheep and still do very occasionally, but only in person, when I’ve seen a student paint and had a conversation.  A new brush does not solve many problems.  The truth is that it’s mostly HOW you use a brush that gives you your own distinctive marks, and I don’t want to be flogging products misleadingly.  To be honest I’d much rather sell a painting (hint, hint).  Perhaps you could buy a similar chinese brush one and try modifying it yourself, experimenting as I did.

Vital statistics:

  • Hair length from ‘ferrule’ point to tip = 30 mm (approx.)
  • Hair width at ferrule point = 8 mm (approx.)
  • Handle length = 170 mm, not including loop.

Contact Me

If you’d like to contact me to discuss purchasing original watercolour paintings, arranging tuition, attending a painting holiday or for any other reason, then please feel free to email or call me and of course you can also network with me on social media.

T: 0117 9711735