Review by Tina Koyama
One of my sketch kit essentials is and always has been a water brush. If I were a watercolor painter, I probably would have upgraded to a “real” brush a long time ago. With watercolor pencils as my primary color medium, however, I think plastic-bristle water brushes are actually more effective (not to mention more convenient). Dispensing a small amount of water at a time (the bane of painters when they need a juicy wash), a water brush is easy to control when used with water-soluble pencils. Most artists hate ‘em (once in an urban sketching workshop, the instructor forbade me from using mine!), but I like ‘em.
For years my favorite has been the Kuretake (which I reviewed when it was included in the April 2017 ArtSnacks box). I spotted a new one on JetPens the other day – a set of three Tombow Water Brush Pens (3 sizes for $16.95 or $6.95 each). Although Tombow makes a wide variety of popular colored brush pens, I didn’t recall seeing a water brush with the Tombow name before, so I thought these would be worth a try.
When I unscrewed the reservoirs to fill them, I frowned when I saw that there’s no plug between the reservoir and the connection to the bristles. (Compare that with the Kuretake, which has a black plug.) When I’ve used other water brushes without plugs, they have tended to gush a bit too freely, so I was afraid that would be the case with the Tombows. The absent plug does make the Tombows easy to fill: Just hold the open reservoir under the tap.
To my surprise, the water doesn’t flow excessively from the Tombows; in fact, they are just a bit wetter than the Kuretakes I’m used to. In my usual manner, I gave the reservoir a gentle squeeze to wet the bristles and dabbed off any excess water. I ran each brush tip once through a swatch of Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle colored pencil in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. The water flow and control were similar to the Kuretake.
Next I gave each brush a generous squeeze to thoroughly wet the bristles, dipped it into a watercolor cake, and made a single stroke in the Beta sketchbook. Again, I thought the flow was predictable and easy to control.
I think the two rounds are the most functional and versatile sizes for use in small and medium sketchbooks. Many water brush manufacturers seem to offer a flat option, but I’m stumped as to when it’s useful. It’s not nearly wide enough to make a traditional watercolor wash, even on small paper. (If anyone has used a flat water brush effectively, I’m interested in hearing about it.)
The Tombow water brush pens seem as good as the Kuretakes except in one important regard: The caps do not post well. When I took them out for street sketching, they kept falling off as soon as I posted them, and I ended up having to put the caps in a pocket to avoid losing them. On location, this is a deal breaker; I will lose undoubtedly those caps immediately, and a capless water brush is a useless water brush. At my desk, however, they are perfectly fine.