Introduction to Artists' Sable Brushes

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What is an Artist's Sable Brush?

A Sable brush is a very high quality artist's brush made from hair from the tail of a Sable. Sable is also known as Kolinsky or Siberian Mink. It is also known as a Red Tartar Marten. A small mammal, that is closely related to the Martens.

Why Sable Hair?

Sable hair produces the best soft hair brushes. Each Sable hair filament is conically shaped and have a scaled surface. This provides with excellent spring and colour carrying capacity. Sable hair are resilient and point very well. Each Sable hair filament has a wide belly. This is the mid-section of the hair/brush head. When sable hair is bound together, they have a wider belly and a longer lasting point. These make for a well shaped round brushes.

Are Sable Hair Brushes Expensive?

These brushes are very expensive, but are woth the investment. The cut hairs are sorted according to length. They are separated from the fur, mis-shaped hairs, damaged and defective points. According to "Winsor & Newton", the world renowned manufacturer, only 5% of the available Sable hair is acceptable for their Series 7 brushes. Sizes 10, 12 and 14 which are quite exclusive in the Series 7 range calls for a craftsman/woman with 15 years apprenticeship. 15 years!!

What are Sable Brushes suitable for?

Sable brushes are best suited for Water colour and Gouache. They are perfect for these kind of paints. There are some specially designed Sable brushes for Oils, without the pronounced belly, but of a slender shape. Since most oil painting takes place on coarse/rough surface canvas, this will affect the brush.

Simple care rules

  • Clean the brush immediately after use
  • Never rest the brush on thier hairs
  • Shape up the hairs after cleaning
  • Store the brushes in a box with a tight fitting lid and only when completely dry

Brief history of the Winsor & Newotn Series 7 Sable Brushes

Winsor and Newton, holders of the Royal Warrant, were given orders by Her Majesty Queen Victoria in 1866 to produce the highest quality brushes in her favourite size, Number 7. These were made with Red sable hair, Ivory handles and sterling Silver ferrules. These Sable brushes were then supplied to connoisseurs with ebony handles and less lavish ferrules.

See my guide on Artists' Sable Brushes Shapes and Uses, for watercolour.

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