I love those little bushy-tailed rascals a lot, but I also really like brushes made from their tails. I had to really develop a mental block against thinking about where my favorite squirrel mop brushes really come from in order to be comfortable using them (much like not thinking too hard about where bacon comes from). I do like some synthetic hair brushes, and they’ve come a long way with them (especially Escoda brand brushes), but there’s still nothing like the load of pigment that you get with a natural hair brush, nor the way they hold their points under use over the long haul (treat them right, and a natural brush will be your best pal for a long, long time).
Recently I purchased my first brush from Rosemary & Co., the handmade brush company based in the UK. I wanted to be able to take a modest sized squirrel mop brush out on location without having to take my treasure selection of Winsor & Newton mops outdoors where they could be lost or damaged. So after some diligent research and review reading, I dropped the $14.14 for a Rosemary R( Pocket Pure Squirrel Hair Mop (med). With fast FedEx shipping from the UK, the total came to $28.26.
Today I decided to do a brush comparison of the Rosemary R9 and the Isabey 6202 I picked up about a year ago. For good measure, I also included my favorite Winsor & Newton #00 that I sue most often in the studio.
So let’s get to that comparison….
Here’s a basic comparison of the brushes after they’ve been wetted:
Top: Rosemary R9; Bottom: Isabey 6202
The first thing I thought when I pulled the R9 from the package was that the closed tube was exactly the same size as the Isabey and it made me nervous that I might have just bought a duplicate brush of he same size. But wait: after I wet both of them, I noticed was the fullness of the R9 compared to the 6202. How did they do that? Both come to an excellent point, but the R9 definitely has a fuller belly. I then pulled out my favorite W&N #00 squirrel mop for further comparison, and found that it, too, was close to the size of the others, but there are a few distinct differences.
So here’s what I found: I would say the Isabey is close in size to the W&N #00, but with a way fuller belly, so I think that the R9 could probably pass for a size #1 mop, and it holds a tremendous amount of pigment.
Next was a quick test with the two pocket brushes and paint (done in a Strathmore 5.5 x 8.5 400 series watercolor sketchbook) with Prussian Blue:
The wash I got with the Rosemary R9 on the right was an absolutely beautiful thing. The pigment flowed easily from the brush without leaving too big of a pool of dark paint at the end of the stroke (a real plus when you’re trying to lay down a nice sky background. Both brushes handles fine point strokes, with a slight bit better one from the R9.
I’d probably use the Isabey in a small sketchbook, around 3.5″ x 5.5″ and the Rosemary might even work up to an 8″ x 10″ sketchbook.
Of course this is just a simple, initial testing of the Rosemary brush, and more use will help with a final determination. I’ll post an update in a couple months after it gets some use at the line up of plein air sessions over the next couple months.
Summary: The Rosemary & Co. R9 appears to be a quality brush. The hairs are secured by copper wire around a traditional goose quill sheath (I’ll have to contact them to confirm that). Some care will need to be exercised in replacing the brush into the travel cap, and it will have to be put away wet; once dry, the hairs flare out too much and it makes it near impossible to get the cap on without catching stray hairs even by spinning the brush around while doing it. This is not a big deal for me, but others might not be patient or careful enough, and become frustrated by it. Another possibility would be to store it outside the cap when not in use and allowed to stay dry (to avoid mildew and rot of the hairs), and wet it slightly to put the cap on when you’re ready to go out painting.
So if you’re looking for a good travel brush to use while painting plein air or urban sketching with small sketch kits, I think you probably could get away with using just this one brush if you want to go small, fast, and light with your kit.
That’s all for this one. Happy painting and have fun out there!
Addendum: I tried out the brush some more this afternoon. Did this 5.5 x 8.5 all with the Rosemary mop. It’s a keeper! I love how this brush handles and how much pigment it holds. What a pleasure. This baby is going to see a lot of mileage for a while.
Bottom Line: GET ONE!