Step 6 – Iris No. 9 Watercolor Demonstration

What About My Synthetic Brushes?

What Are They Good For?

Lifting 🙂

In last week’s post, I sang the praises of kolinsky sables. Not wanting my synthetic friends to feel left out, this week is their week. And boy, do they do a great job of lifting!

In the above photo, I’m using an inexpensive, synthetic brush to create texture and form. I am lifting dry pigment on dry paper with a damp brush. I can’t get this effect any other way.


1. For subtle lifting effects, use a gentle approach. This means trying softer brushes first before reaching for your fritch scrubber. You’re not scouring last night’s lasagna pan, you’re sculpting a masterpiece. Gradually try, progressively stiffer brushes until the desired effect is achieved.- synthetic blends to synthetics to bristle, etc.

2. Let water be your friend. Wetting dry pigment in just the area you want to lift and waiting a few seconds before using a damp brush will allow the pigment to lift easier with less agitation.

3. Remember to rinse or wipe the brush after you’ve lifted pigment. Or else, when you put the brush back on the paper, the pigment will be applied back on the paper too. Almost too obvious to say, but this is the most common occurrence I’ve seen when students are first learning this technique.

4. Flat brushes generally have more lifting power than rounds. But, sometimes a round is perfect to achieve a subtle light value. And filberts create nice rounded effects.

5. All are welcome. Yes, when it comes to lifting, I’ve had success with brushes designed for acrylics and oils, student and professional grade.

6. If you try the above and get a mess, it could be the paper. Lesser quality watercolor paper does not respond well to this technique.

Clarifying Summary:

Damp, synthetic brushes are great for lifting dry pigment. When the paper is saturated with wet pigment, sables will have more wicking power and may be more effective. The determining variables on which lifting tools to use are:

1. How wet or dry is the paper and pigment

2. The pigment properties (staining vs non-staining)

3. How much pigment is on the paper. Interestingly, it’s easier to get a lifting effect when a lot of pigment is on the paper than a little.

Best Advice: Get to know your brushes, pigments and paper. Experiment.

Quote for the week:

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

–Mark Twain

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