Sable brushes are the best. There’s no debate about this. Sure, there are some use cases where the benefits of sable are irrelevant. The fine control provided by sables is lost on large-format oil paintings, for example. So on large paintings, why go to the expense? And–oh boy!–sable brushes are expensive. I paid $60+ over ten years ago for the Isabey 8 in the lower foreground of the accompanying photo. That Isabey brush is $72 today on one of the online bazaars.
The Isabey brush along with the brushes in the coffee can is part of my watercolor kit. I’ve paid a lot for the precision and control that good sables provide. Watercolors benefit from those qualities and so the expense is worth it. Besides, that Isabey brush is over ten years old and is still going strong.
Sables are great for oils too but I will never use my watercolor brushes on oil paintings! Oil painting is murder on sables. Solvents and driers just kill them. I always dip my brushes–all brushes not just sables–in oil when I put them down. Even with this expedient, oil painting shreds sable brushes.
There is a class of sables made expressly for oils. They’re considerably cheaper than good watercolor sables. The brown, long-handled brush in the photo is one of these oil-purposed sables. Notice that this class has longer handles than the watercolor sables. The cheaper price means that it’s less painful to replace them, which is an important consideration. Even with dipping them in oil and washing them with a mild linseed-oil soap, the oil sables eventually get interred in my brush graveyard.
Unfortunately, the prices of the oil-purposed sables are climbing. Some brands have doubled in price over the past year. Because of the rising prices, I did something that I’ve never done: I bought a brush kit of modestly priced sables. I paid $29 for the four silver, stubby brushes you see–sizes 2,4,6,8. I normally use 6’s and 8’s. They’re even shorter than the normal watercolor brush. That’s one way to cut costs.
I used the new brushes today on the painting in the background–Woman in a Striped Dress. They handle acceptably, not great but OK. The true test will be their durability. If they fall apart after a couple of sessions, the modest $29 is a waste. If they survive for as long as my other sables, they’re a bargain.
I don’t mind the stubbiness but if you do, then you won’t be interested. The brand? AIT Art Russian Sable (Russia is known for its sable). The brushes are made in Germany.