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Becky Samuelson tests the Jackson’s Raven Synthetic Squirrel Brushes

Posted on Tue 08 Aug 2017

It is always a pleasure to test new brushes and I am delighted to put Jackson’s Raven synthetic mop brushes, Series 528, through their paces. The Raven is made from synthetic squirrel hair and is a black, short handled mop brush, beautifully balanced in the hand and available in six sizes. The largest size is No. 6 (£17.20rrp), reducing in size to No. 4 (£13.20rrp), No. 2 (£10.30rrp), No. 0 (£8rrp), No. 3/0 (£6.50rrp) and No. 10/0 (£5.60rrp). I shall be testing Nos. 4, 2, 0 and 10/0 in this report.

I initially played with the brushes making various strokes (Figure 1, below). It is difficult to gauge brush sizes from an article so I measured the length of hair from the base of the brush to the very tip, just to give you an idea. Approximately they measure: No. 4 is 3.5cm; No. 2 is 3cm; No. 0 is 2.5cm; and No. 10/0 is 2cm.

Figure 1 Brushmarks The top, smallest marks are made with the 10/0 followed by 0, 2 and 4. You can see that both broad and fine marks are possible at the same time with each brush.

The brushes are very comfortable to use. There is a softness and fullness to the hair that mimics squirrel brushes, each brush coming to a really good point. The brushes also hold an excellent amount of paint, facilitating long continuous strokes of watercolour and felt comparable to the more expensive pure squirrel brushes with regard to release and application of paint.

If this is the first time you have used a mop brush, I would first play with the brushstrokes on paper. Just paint really long speedy strokes to build your confidence and realise their potential.

Don’t be afraid that you are wasting paper; just let your hand go and see what you can do. This will help you remember what to do once you start on a sky!

Good handling

I completed various paintings to try out different techniques – some wet in wet, some wet on dry – and find how the Raven brushes perform. The first is a small study of a boat (Figure 2, below). Using the Raven No. 0, I wetted the paper then washed in the sky using cobalt blue and light red wet in wet. When dry, I mixed cobalt blue and raw umber for the distant hills and cobalt and new gamboge for the greener aspect. For the sea, I applied a pale wash, wet on dry, in one continuous stroke, avoiding the white buoy.

When this was dry I repeated the wash, adding a touch of raw umber to the mix, but starting level with the boat, gently easing the top edge with a wet brush. I used the smallest brush, Raven No. 10/0, for the fine detail such as the mast, reflection and buoy.

It was quickly obvious that the brushes are beautifully made, sensitive in their paint handling and application and, because they carry a lot of paint, there is a freshness and cleanliness in the brushstroke.

If you can remember speed of application helps with cleanliness and freshness in the wash then it makes sense to use a brush that delivers that!

These brushes will hold what you need to apply the wash without reloading your brush too often. I felt pretty impressed with these brushes and keenly planned the next illustration.

Figure 2 Boat Study, watercolour, (14x14cm)

Large scale

I was keen to try these brushes on a larger scale and using the wet on dry technique, which really tests how much each brush can carry. Having drawn the picture (Figure 3, below) I mixed a good puddle of cobalt blue and, using the large Raven No. 4 brush, I painted down to the top of the clouds in one go. This left some nice hard shapes for the tops of the clouds. If you feel you need to soften any edge then immediately do it.

Above the hills, I painted a paler low sky wash adding a smidgeon of cadmium red to the mix.

Wet on dry is made easier because these brushes hold a huge amount of paint. Don’t be tempted to use a smaller brush. Be brave and use a big brush and enjoy the experience of painting with really loose paint delivered by a top-class brush. Once dry, I repeated the sky adding a second layer of clouds wet on dry.

I love the drama of skies and enjoy playing with layering paint. These brushes encourage expressive and painterly brushstrokes and would certainly assist the more nervous painter to develop bolder and fresher washes.

I then changed to a Raven No. 2 and added yellow ochre to the sky colour in the palette and painted the distant hills. Using a stronger mix of ultramarine, new gamboge and raw umber, I painted the next layer of stronger trees.

Once this was dry, the water had a similar treatment using Raven No. 4 and a mix of cobalt blue and raw umber to give a good sea green in one quick clean wash. The water was developed adding further paint to the nearer aspects with the smaller Raven No. 0 in sweeping horizontal brushstrokes. Once dry, the light masts were finally lifted out using the Raven No. 10/0 and clean water.

Figure 3 Harbour View, watercolour on Bockingford Fat Pad, (28x38cm)

Building up layers

With this study (Figure 4, below) I wanted to block in colour by building up the layers, gradually increasing the detail. Using the larger Raven Nos. 4 and 2, I covered the whole of the paper using cobalt blue for the sky and olive trees and Naples yellow for the barn and grass. I then let it dry. I concentrated on working in large washes of colour repeating the olive trees using a mix now of cobalt blue and Naples yellow plus repeating the grass colour. I continued building up the tones in the olive trees blocking in centrally but creating more of an open framework for the outside edges of the trees with darker more specific leaf shapes. The Cypress tree and foreground had new Gamboge in the mix. I used the finer Raven No. 10/0 for the smaller leaves and nearer grass. I was very excited by these brushes; they really do perform well and do everything I asked of them.

Figure 4 Tuscan Olive Grove, watercolour on Bockingford Fat Pad, (20.5x20.5cm)

Brushstroke variety

This final example (Figure 5, below) combines both wet on wet and wet on dry with both broad and fine brushmarks. I initially reserved any fine light areas with masking fluid using a Colour Shaper to apply it, as it can ruin brushes! If you don’t have a Colour Shaper, use a cocktail stick.

Once dry I covered the whole of the background wet in wet, using cobalt blue and raw umber for the water, raw umber for the sand, and raw umber, cadmium red and ultramarine for the shadow under the boat. I used Raven No. 4 for the water and No. 0 for the sand – a brush for each main colour. Then I left it to dry.

Next, using the shadow colours I painted the shadow side of the boat; you only need a couple of strokes with these brushes. Each application of paint was allowed to dry before I assessed the tone and decided whether it needed another layer of paint.

All the fine work was done with Raven No. 10/0. The buoys were painted with cadmium red and new gamboge with ultramarine for the top. When fully dry, I removed the masking fluid and applied shadow colours to the railings.

Figure 5 Fishing Boat, watercolour on Bockingford Fat Pad, (20.5x20.5cm)

In conclusion

These four brushes allowed me to do everything I wanted to do. They performed brilliantly in covering the paper for both large expansive washes and equally for fine, detailed aspects. Comparing them like with like to pure squirrel brushes, they hold a comparable amount of paint, have all the benefits you would expect from squirrel, but in a synthetic version (no animal products were used in their manufacture) and at a fraction of the cost. I shall shortly be going on my painting travels and these brushes will be coming, too. Do give them a go and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. To find out more visit

Becky Samuelson

Further information on Becky, her paintings and tuition can be viewed at

Becky Samuelson tests the Jackson’s Raven Synthetic Squirrel Brushes


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