Winsor and Newton synthetic brushes

Take an in-depth look at Winsor & Newton’s new Professional Watercolour and Oil synthetic brush ranges in this review by Alan Bickley.

I’ve been working with synthetic brushes for both watercolour and oils for some years, so was delighted to put two ranges of synthetic brushes, the Professional Watercolour synthetic brushes and the Professional Oil synthetic brushes by Winsor & Newton, through their paces.

Winsor & Newton have developed an innovative synthetic bristle blend that offers a quality and performance to rival natural sable and hog brushes, both designed to perform at a professional level. Synthetic is a credible alternative to natural hair and can often work out to be more economical.

First impressions

The first thing that strikes you with the Winsor & Newton brushes is the ergonomic sculpted birchwood handles. These allow the brush to sit comfortably in your hand, while the second curve of the brush handle allows for different painting positions.

The feel and balance of these brushes is excellent. On first inspection, both the watercolour and oil brushes displayed a good deal of spring and snap-back and quickly return to their natural shape, which is an essential requirement for me. Plus, nearly all the brushes in these two new ranges are 100% FSC-certified.

To discover the full range of Professional synthetic brushes, visit the Winsor & Newton website.

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour synthetic brushes

Winsor and Newton synthetic watercolour brushes

From left to right: synthetic wash 2in; synthetic squirrel medium quill; synthetic one stroke ½ in; synthetic mop ½ in; synthetic round size 6; synthetic pointed round size 4; synthetic rigger size 0.

There are seven shapes available in this range of Professional Watercolour synthetic brushes:

  1. Mop
  2. One stroke
  3. Pointed round
  4. Rigger
  5. Round
  6. Wash
  7. Synthetic squirrel medium quill

I’ve been painting with synthetic watercolour brushes for many years, so I know how I expect them to perform. I tested them on a selection of Winsor & Newton Professional watercolour blocks 140lb (300gsm), Hot Pressed (HP), Cold Pressed (Not) and Rough; these are glued on all sides which means there’s no need for paper stretching. The paints I used are a box set of Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolours.

I started with a series of graduated washes, and it was clear that this synthetic sable brush delivers excellent water and colour carrying capacity, with the colour flowing evenly and consistently, as you would expect from a natural sable brush. The brush heads have a positive and resilient spring and shape retention, and instantly snapped back into shape during use. The degree of spring feels just right for maximum control between brush and paper, and the 2in flat wash brush makes easy work of large expanses of controlled washes such as skies – possibly the best flat wash brush that I’ve ever used!

As soon as you pick up one of these brushes, the first thing you notice is how balanced they feel in your hand, and I particularly like the matt grey finish on the handles.

Watercolour painting using Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour synthetic sable brushes

Watercolour painting by Alan Bickley

A Fine Autumn Day, Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolour on Winsor & Newton Cold Pressed watercolour paper, 11x14in (28x35.5cm). 

Washes of burnt sienna, neutral tint, raw sienna and burnt umber were added to complete this simple scene. I used a selection of Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour synthetic sable brushes, including the rigger to ‘pull out’ the delicate branches in a single sweeping action.

The Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour synthetic one stroke brush

Winsor and Newton watercolour synthetic brushes

  • Top brush: ½in synthetic sable
  • Middle brush: round size 6 synthetic sable
  • Bottom brush: synthetic squirrel medium

All three brushes were fully loaded with ultramarine watercolour. I used a swift and continuous brushstroke across a Winsor & Newton Professional watercolour block, Cold Pressed 300gsm. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the colour carrying capacity that these synthetic brushes deliver.

Winsor and Newton professional synthetic brush

When fully loaded, the mop brush can hold a large quantity of paint – just the job for covering large areas with a flat wash.

Cleaning synthetic paint brushes

Brushes are one of the painter’s most important tools, so you want them to last and perform to their highest potential. Cleaning them should be an important part of your painting routine.

Wipe your watercolour brush with a lint-free rag and rinse under running water using a mild soap, making sure that all the soap has been removed. To clean synthetic brushes that have been used with oil, use a rag to wipe away any excess paint, then wash them with Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner.

Watercolour painting using Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour synthetic brushes

Watercolour painting by Alan Bickley using Winsor and Newton brushes

A simple sky study

I painted a graduated wash on Winsor & Newton Cold Pressed watercolour paper, which produced an excellent graduation. I used ultramarine blue, raw sienna and alizarin crimson towards the horizon. This was washed in using the Professional Watercolour Synthetic Wash Brush 2in and the boats were loosely dropped in using a synthetic round size 6 and the rigger brush. The 2in brush allowed the colour to flow evenly and consistently, covering a large area very quickly.

Winsor & Newton Professional Oil synthetic brushes

Winsor and Newton professional oil synthetic brushes

Left to right: 1in flat, round size 8, filbert size 8, flat size 6, bright size 6.

The Winsor & Newton Professional Oil synthetic brushes are available in a range of sizes across six shapes:

  1. Bright
  2. Fan
  3. Filbert
  4. Flat
  5. Glaze
  6. Round

These brushes feature synthetic flagged bristles that replicate the flags of natural hog hair bristle. (Flags are ‘split ends’ on the bristles that allow for greater colour-carrying capacity and shape retention, qualities that are often found on more expensive brushes). These bristles are both durable and resilient, which makes them ideal for heavy use – I tested them on a variety of supports, including a rough gesso application and a smooth surface.

I tend to be rather hard on my brushes, particularly when working on larger supports, and I can wear down a natural hog brush very quickly. The durability of these synthetic bristles is exceptional; they offered me firm control for a variety of expressive strokes and marks. I look for brushes that are capable of moving heavy-bodied colour over the surface, coupled with good positive mark-making capabilities – these brushes excelled at both. The ergonomic, sculpted handle sits comfortably and securely in your hand, in whatever position you hold the brush and whether you paint in detail or have a looser style.

Testing the Professional Oil synthetic hog brush range

Winsor and Newton synthetic oil brushes

I was able to achieve a wide variety of mark-making with the Professional Oil synthetic hog brush range. The firm bristles offered outstanding colour carrying capacity, from painting thinly for my underpainting to brushing on heavy impasto oil paint. The ergonomic, sculpted handles gave me a controlled, comfortable and balanced grip – such a great design!

Oil painting using the Winsor & Newton Professional Oil synthetic brushes

Oil painting by Alan Bickley

Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, oil on board 15¾ x19¾ in (40x50cm). 

I gave the Winsor & Newton Professional synthetic oil brushes a good workout during this painting. I can be fairly heavy-handed with brushes, particularly during the early stages of a painting when I’m rapidly blocking in my tonal areas, and they were easily up to the task. I started off by working thinly in layers, gradually building up the paint with more body as I progressed, adding areas of impasto in places to create the strata of the rocks. Lots of dry brushwork was also used in the final stage using the 1in flat brush.

Find out how Alan Bickley created Old Harry Rocks, using the Winsor & Newton Professional synthetic oil brushes, in this step-by-step demonstration.

Benefits of synthetic brushes

Uncompromising quality, performance and shape retention are everything you’d expect from a Winsor & Newton Professional brush, and their Professional synthetic brushes for watercolour and oil are an excellent addition to an already impressive stable of artists’ brushes. They bring together the many great qualities that synthetic hair can offer, for both watercolourists and oil painters alike.

They're beautifully hand-crafted, and I particularly like the unique ergonomic sculpted handles, which allow for a greater control as well as being perfectly balanced. Since testing them, they have become firm favourites in the studio.

Both the watercolour and oil synthetic brushes have the qualities that I look for in a good brush – do try them if you are considering an alternative to natural hair brushes, I highly recommend them.

Want to try the Professional synthetic brushes for yourself? Visit the Winsor & Newton website.

Alan Bickley studied fine art and graphic design at Stafford College of Art and spent many years as a designer and editorial artist in the newspaper industry. He has won many awards in The Artist Open painting competitions and is a regular contributor to the Painters Online e-newsletter. Alan’s more recent work can be seen on his artists profile page.