A few of my 10-year-old brushes were finally showing their age and miles, especially some of the Isabey 6115 Rounds. I had heard nothing but rave reviews about the excellence of Rosemary & Co. oil painting brushes since the first ‘Weekend with the Masters’ event in 2009, but up until last month didn’t have a need to purchase any.
My Coast to Coast Plein Air Adventure was just weeks away so I decided it might be a good opportunity to put a few Rosemary brushes to the test against the Utrecht oil paint brushes in my collection, especially since Utrecht chose to discontinue one of my favorite brushes – the 207 series.
The oil painting ‘Transitions’ got a wonderful block-in with the Utrecht 207 brush.
I looked for brushes similar to those I already use and also purchased a range of other brushes I thought might be handy.
Artists’ reviews gave hearty thumbs up to the Ivory brushes, so I bought the Long Flats (all my Rosemary Brushes were the Long handle version) in sizes 0-12. One of my Master Oil Painting students gave praise to the Ultimate series so I purchased some of those as well in the same Long Flats to compare with the Utrecht 209’s.
One of my all-time favorite brushes for tree trunks and foliage is the Utrecht 103 X-Long Filbert Bristle Brush. I can push it forward or drag it around for thin or thick lines to create an amazing variety of strokes, and they can really take a beating. So I thought I would try out some Egberts that have the same basic shape.
All the tree trunks and much of the foliage in my oil painting ‘In The Morning Light’ were done with the Utrecht 103.
My mongoose brushes were also suffering (my round size 10 shrank to a sliver – smaller than the tattered size 8) so I added the Masters Choice Series 279 and 272 in sizes from 0-10.
Rosemary brushes are definitely high quality craftsmanship! You will not be disappointed if they are what’s found in your studio.
Having said that, the Ivory series will not be a repeat purchase. They are a beautiful brush and they hold a lot of paint, but they are a bit too slick for me and they don’t hold up well to my vigorous brushwork. Several started splaying out significantly after the first painting. They were also a bear to clean… took much longer than my other brushes. Holding paint ‘in’ the brush isn’t important to me – manipulating what’s on the outside of the bristles is what I’m concerned with.
So if you like a brush that holds a lot of paint it might be just the brush for you.
You can see the dramatic difference in splaying between the Rosemary Ivory series paintbrush that had one week of use compared with the Utrecht series 207’s with 8-10 years of use – and the size 10 207 is sharp as a razor (it smooshed out a bit when I put it on its side).
The Rosemary Ultimate Long Flats are a keeper. I bought the size 8 from Wind River Arts for $6.07 – the same size 209 from Utrecht is $5.93. While the Utrecht is a few cents cheaper and an excellent brush, the bristles are also about ¼ inch shorter – that extra length in the bristles adds some nice spring and fluidity to the strokes.
These might just become my go-to brush for most purposes.
None of the Egbert brushes match up to the Utrecht 103 X-Long Filbert, so that will remain a staple. I still don’t really need to replace them, at least 10 years old and going strong, but I should probably buy a dozen just in case Utrecht ditches them like they did with the 207 series.
The Rosemary Master Series 279 Long Flats and the 272 Long Rounds are also keepers. I haven’t exactly put them through the ringer yet, but they usually don’t get the same abuse from me that the bristles or blends are subject to. With mongoose hair in crazy short supply you might want to get some soon. Most companies are working on synthetic replacements – I’ll be sure to try some of them soon to see if any are ‘worthy’ replacements.
There is one Ivory brush that is a bit more promising – the Egbert – fun brush with a funny name. It isn’t as thick as the flats and holds a nice sharp rounded edge that is brilliant for thin lines.
What about you? What are your favorite brushes and what do you use them for?
Thank you for this blog. My husband bought me the Daniel Keys set of Rosemary Brushes, after I bragged about them. I bragged only from the rave review of my fellow artist friends. The set was very expensive and included the ivory and mongoose in various sizes and shapes. After only one day of use, one of the mongoose flats splayed out so badly, it was impossible to use. I contacted Rosemary and included pictures. I was told to boil the brush for one minute and shape it while wet. It sort of worked, but when I painted with it again, the same thing happened. I am not pleased at all, especially since I have 1,200 invested in them. I do however like the Egbert and some of the ivories.
Wow, you went all out Karen – that is a huge investment. I purchased more brushes than I normally would just so I could experiment and share my findings with the Master Oil Painting community. I hope you get to somehow put those brushes to good enough use to make the investment worthwhile. I have a studio full of past purchases I was excited about based on the reviews of others that now gather dust.
I’ve used Rosemary’s exclusively for the past six years. After cleaning them in turp. I wash them in Murphy’s oil. When I lay them down to dry I always put a little sunflower oil on the tip of my fingers and bring the brushes to a fine point or even flat. My brushes have stayed pristinely white and not splayed. I think it’s all about the washing.
I have resisted the mass migration to rosemary brushed as I have plenty of decent brushes on hand. I purchased a few to see how they are. I am really happy with the several other brands that I now use.
Always go with your instincts Mary – if you love the brushes you’re already using, it doesn’t make much sense to switch. I am the same – if I hear rave reviews I usually purchase a couple to try out – sometimes they’re keepers and sometimes not, but it’s fun to give new materials a go once in a while.
I’d be eying those Rosemary brushes for 2 years, reading reviews, getting their brochures, going though their enitre website. I finally took the plunge and got some (after comparing prices with local bought Winsor Newton for ex.). I got Ivory, Evergreen, and classic short flats. I paint mostly portraits & landscapes, alla prima and in layers also (2 or 3). What I found is that yes they are good brushes but nothing to rave about and no better than previous ones I had been using. The Ivory series and the short flats are not better that the Robert Simmons and I agree they quickly splay and become useless. The Evergreen series is too soft (Raphaël textura in small numbers does a better job). After discussing the brush issue with my teacher, we came to find a local brand called Zen (comes in dark silver long and short handles) with just as good power to hold the paint and take the hard work of most painters. These brushes have the advantage of costinf $3.-/piece, and when it’s used to the pojnt of not enough hair left, throw it away and buy a new one. Conclusion: there’s nothing like brand new brushes to handle the paint and your painting process. Find yourself something inexpensive and replace brushes as soon as they don’t behave anymore, as soon as they wear out. I’m never going to buy expensive brushes again. This was my experience and in no way reflects everyone else’s. Best to all, Dominique
Thank you Dominique, I have not heard of Zen – will have to try some out. Ken Auster used nubs of old brushes with dried paint on them. The first time I saw him painting back in the 90’s I thought ‘this guy is crazy, he can’t produce good work with brushes like that’ – he sure proved me wrong! The tools are not nearly as important as are the imagination and innovation of the artist.
Bill, an excellent local painter (you know him ), uses cheap student grade paint, those cheap brush sets from Hobby Lobby…i.e. 6 for 7.99…yet produces spectacular paintings!!
I know I’m coming in a bit late, but I wanted to comment that your friend Bill’s work may not be around for as long as it could be if he’s using student grade paints.
Lightfastness, colorfastness and longevity really have to do with quality of colors and pigments and even binders.
If you can convince him to use better paints posterity may thank you 🙂
Hello Dominique, I suspect you’re from Canada too. I have tried the Zen brushes as a cheap alternative to the Robert Simmons Platinum (which I love) as well. They seem to work well for a while and then lose tons of bristles. As you say, they’re only $3 Cad so not a big investment….still a bit frustrating though. I haven’t tried the Ivory series. Would you suggest them as a good alternative to the Robert Simmons (which can be expensive and hard to get sometimes). I particularly love the Robert Simmons 3/4″ short handle glaze.
I have some Rosemary brushes that I have not used a lot yet, so I can’t comment. I have been using a lot of Silver Brush bristle brushes and synthetic bristlon brushes and like them both. However, for my money, the all time best brushes were the Grumbacher Professional grade brushes. These are no longer made as far as I can ascertain (after hunting like crazy last year) and Gainsborough brushes are all that is left from the Grumbacher lines. As you can probably guess, my Grumbacher brushes (“Professional”) are pretty old – at least 20 years and have held up better than the Gainsboroughs, which are much younger.
I also have used utrecht bristle brushes and liked the 219 brushes but I don’t think this is a line they have continued to make. It was a boiled bristle and somewhat softer than the unboiled, but I get along just fine with the few I have.
I meant to mention that bristles on the few eggberts I have twisted after being used the first time, so I have been reluctant to buy any more of anyones. But the utrecht long flat looks good and so does the Rosemary 279, so I might try them when I next get inspired to spend more money!
Thanks for your critique.
Grumbacher brushes were my favorites as well Linda – especially in the 80’s. Mine all got worn down to very shortened filberts, but they lasted an amazingly long time.
I have many brushes, varying in price a good deal; I’ve used Rosemary & Co brushes (which by the way I don’t find at all expensive) mostly for acrylic (the Shiraz range particularly), and have just on Ivory brush, which I use for oil. On the whole, I’ve found them good value and of good quality. I do however allow my brushes to rest – in other words I have a dozen or so in the same basic shapes, so that I don’t scrub them away to nothing. However, you mention a brush giving up the ghost after just one use – I would find that very concerning; hasn’t happened to me yet. I’ve never actually tried Utrecht brushes – perhaps they’re not easy to obtain in the UK; but if I can find them, I will try them given your endorsement. And I must also have a try with those Egbert brushes from Rosemary – I use filberts a lot, and this would add another dimension.
I agree Robert, Rosemary’s are well priced. Brushes don’t seem especially expensive overall when we consider how long they usually last. I have some watercolor brushes that cost me $200 and $150 each back in 1988 – fortunately they should last my lifetime and beyond. Since I spend about $300 every 10 years or so on brushes, seems like a small investment for any hobby or profession. If someone’s budget is strained, they can always follow William Hook’s approach and only use a size 12 bristle – buy 3 or 4 of those and you’re set.
I appreciate your descriptions, conclusions and photos so much as I am fairly new to painting and I am in the process of ordering supplies now so this came at the perfect time!
I am already learning so much! Thank you!
Hi Susan – just starting out and seeing the vast array of art products can seem intimidating I’m sure. I would recommend you start with say a size 8 from a few different types of brushes and try them out, rather than buying brushes in multiple sizes. That way you can find your favorites and then buy a few more sizes of that brush style. Don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the hype – every artist is different and there is no magic brush. When I did watercolor in the 80’s I had some very expensive brushes that I bought because I read they were ‘essential’. I ended up using some old oil bristle brushes and other misc more often than those expensive brushes. The best thing to do is experiment and play and not go whole hog just because someone else says you should.
I received an email from Cathy telling me she talked recently with Rosemary Brushes and they told her the Mongoose brushes were no longer.
This was my reply:
You are right Cathy,
A few years ago when I called them they were still mongoose and they said they had a large stock of hair, but could buy no more and it would eventually run out. I guess it ran out. Or maybe they finally made it illegal to use the hair they bought when it was legal.
Thanks for pointing that out. I will add this conversation to the blog comments as well.
So the brushes are now badger hair. I am anxious now to give them a good try and see what the differences are. I have some badger hair brushes in my watercolor case – they are much softer generally, I believe, than the mongoose – we’ll see.
Bill, you can still get the Utrecht 207 flat, however, its bundled in a set.