Sable brushes have always been one of those things where I thought it’d be nice to have one, but couldn’t justify spending the money on one. One day I saw an advertisement on the Jackson’s UK website for their new Squirrel Mop brushes and decided to check them out. They had a large number of squirrel hair brushes available, which were meant to be closer to sable hair brushes than synthetic but much more affordable. Though I look after my brushes, I had always been reluctant to buy a sable brush in case I lost it or accidentally ruined it somehow, but I was quite happy to take a chance on the cheaper squirrel hair brushes.
The first Jackson’s Pure Squirrel brush I bought was the Mop (pale handle at the top of the picture), but a few months later I acquired a few more in my next art supplies order; the XL English Oval Wash (Sky Wash), the Medium Stippler Fan and the little One Stroke which doesn’t seem to be available on the site anymore.
The Squirrel Mop I got was a size 8 and cost about $18 AUD. It’s a good size and holds a lot of water, yet it still comes to a fairly fine point when wet. Performance-wise, it’s comparable to other squirrel mops I’ve used, though it does shed a hair or two occasionally.
The Sky Wash was $27 and it holds a huge amount of water. Almost too much; I found that I often ended up with too much water on my paper in the first painting I used this brush for, as I wasn’t used to such a thirsty brush. In theory, this should make it an excellent brush for large areas and for loose, wet-in-wet effects, but unfortunately I had a pretty big problem with this brush that meant the first time I used it was also the last time I used it. Over the course of doing the background for one painting, I ended up having to pick at least 6 hairs out of my washes. When I reviewed the Princeton Neptune brushes, I joked that some of my older synthetic brushes had shed worse than my German Shepherd, but it wasn’t much of a surprise coming from such cheap brushes. It is, however, disappointing to have such severe shedding in a brush I paid close to $30 for. Almost all brushes will drop the odd hair (which is tolerable and which most artists expect anyway), but this Sky Wash takes the cake.
The Stippler Fan brush uses slightly shorter and thicker hair than the other brushes. This means it is stiffer than the other brushes (which are all very soft) and can be used to create either subtle stippled effects or more pronounced textures. It’s actually hog bristle, so technically it shouldn’t be included in this review as the others are all squirrel, but I figure I might as well just review all my Jackson’s brushes in one post. It still feels softer than other hog bristle brushes I’ve used, so I wonder if there’s at least some of the squirrel hair mixed in. At only about $9 (AUD) it’s still competitively priced compared to cheap synthetic fan brushes bought locally. I find it handy for creating clumps of foliage with thicker mixtures of watercolour paint.
The One Stroke is a sort of ‘flat’ with a long but narrow point. From memory it was quite cheap but I don’t know the exact price since this type appears to have been discontinued. It almost feels like a weird balance between a flat and a round brush, but unlike the other Jackson’s brushes reviewed here, I never used it much (I prefer to just use a round or a flat, whichever the occasion calls for). I ended up giving it to my father to use for various painting/varnishing purposes in his garage, but apparently it kept shedding on him.
Jackson’s squirrel hair brushes are, for the most part, reasonably priced compared to natural hair brushes from other brands. However be prepared for the possibility of having to keep picking hairs out of your watercolour paintings more frequently than you might have to while using other brushes. I do like a lot of Jackson’s other products, and it’s possible that I was just unlucky and got a few duds, but I don’t think I’d buy more of their brushes.