Tremblant Sunset

©2021, Emma Pittson, “Tremblant Sunset”. Acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 8″ x 0.5″.

And I’m right back to that same spot on the shores of Lac Monroe that I love so much! I could paint a million variations of this one view, which is very convenient because I happened to take a metric ton of photos while I was there, so I have reference material for quite some time to come. Last summer’s visit was particularly important because it was our first outing since the beginning of the Pandemic. We were so happy to get out of the city, and so cognizant of the fact that it was probably going to be our only getaway for some time.

Two things I learned with this painting: 1) painting clouds is more challenging than you’d think, and 2) DO NOT rush into overlaying those clouds until you are completely happy with the gradation of the sky behind them. I might tweak a spot or two later on, but for now, I consider this piece done.


©2020, Emma Pittson, “Portrait of Salem Mitchell”. Artrage.

I experimented with a new (well, new to me) digital art software last year called ArtRage. It styles itself as a “natural” painting software, which I guess means that they don’t over-burden the program with all kinds of photo editing doodads and just keep to the essentials. ArtRage also limits their brushes to only a few wet and dry media, palette knives and the like, so if you’re new to digital art, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed. Best of all, they make very believable visible brush strokes, which is what first drew me to the software. Oh, and the price is very affordable – always a good thing! I had an easier time negotiating the colour palette in Artrage in comparison with Photoshop, but blending turned out to be a little difficult (but then, maybe I just haven’t experimented with it enough).

When I made this, I was trying to get away from working from images found on the internet, but Salem Mitchell has such glorious freckles that I couldn’t resist!

My Favourite Brushes

Getting back into painting after such a long hiatus, I am more mindful of finding the right tools for the job. Long gone are the days when I would march mindlessly into an art supply store and buy whatever the Art School teachers had put on our school supplies list. Hog hair bristle brushes to work with acrylic paints? Sure! Why not? Hey, it’s not as if we knew any better! Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot more about brushes since then.

While I still paint with acrylics (Liquitex), I have also explored water-soluble oil paints (Holbein’s Duo Aqua Oils). Hog hair bristle brushes are best avoided with both of these mediums because they get soggy in water, but that’s fine because there are so many synthetic options out there. Here is a quick rundown of some of the brushes I use most often, and some that I avoid:

Left to right: Winsor & Newton “University”, Winsor & Newton “Artisan”, Liquitex “Free-Style”, Princeton “Dakota 6300”, Princeton “Real Value 9100”, Princeton “Snap!”, Royal &Langnickel “Zen 33”, Winsor & Newton “Eclipse”, Escoda “Versatil”

Winsor & Newton, University series – A distinctive red handle with white synthetic bristles, I reserve them mostly for acrylics, but they have proven resilient enough for water-soluble oils, too. I’ve been working with them for a few years now, and the bristles have only recently yellowed with use.

Winsor & Newton, Artisan series – Space Age-looking brushed silver handles with synthetic bristles meant to mimic natural hog hair, these were the first brushes I ever bought specifically for water-soluble oils. They look cool but maybe they went too far in trying to pass for hog hair bristles. As a result, their feel is a bit “uncanny valley” for me.

Liquitex, Free-Style – Jaunty green handle with nylon bristles, these brushes have excellent snap and hold their shape. The only reason why I don’t love them is because the green of the handle chips away over time where it connects with the ferrule. Unless I want to pick bits of paint handle out of my paintings, I’d better find a way to stop this from happening. Maybe coat the handles with Matte Medium…?

Princeton, Dakota 6300 series – Also known as “Where have you been all my life?”, I first learned about these brushes while scrolling through Wet Canvas threads looking for “best brushes to use with water-soluble oils”, and let me tell you, they do not disappoint! If you want your brushes to take everything you throw at them and keep on ticking, Dakotas are well worth the investment! With their dark brown marbled handle and gold ferrule, they are also the classiest-looking brushes in my collection.

Princeton, Real Value 9100 series – Cheap and surprisingly good! If you are on a budget, you could do worse than buying a few of these white taklon brush sets with their optimistic orange handles. In fact, I like them almost as much as the Dakotas (maybe even more so because they are less “precious” than the Dakotas).

Princeton, Snap! series – To be honest, I was a little disappointed in these brushes. They have a funky multi-coloured handle, but the synthetic bristles are just a little too soft for my taste. If I was more of a glaze painter, I would probably like these brushes more.

Royal & Langnickel, Zen 33 series – Who can resist a bargain? Not I! When I was first getting back into painting and trying to build up my brush stock, these brushes proved to be my downfall (their handles – so shiny! their price – so affordable!). Their performance? Okay, I guess. I keep them around for blocking in large areas of colour, or if I know I’ll be using a lot of acrylic mediums with my paint.

Brushes that totally disappointed me (at least, when I used them with water-soluble oils): Winsor & Newton, Eclipse series and the Escoda Versatil series. The W&N brushes ended up being too soft to spread any paint around, and both the W&N and the Escoda brushes frayed almost immediately after making contact with the paint.

What are some of your favourite brushes? Any brushes that you’ve learned the hard way to avoid? Please share!