Given the fluidity of ink painting, it’s imperative that painters be armed with trouble-free brushes. Whether used for ink-and-wash painting (sumi-e in Japanese) or calligraphy, these brushes typically have relatively long bristles that respond well to the artist’s hand, moving pigment with little drag. Traditionally, there are two main types of East Asian ink painting brushes. White “goat’s hair” brushes, made from sheep’s wool, goat hair, and sometimes the hair of other furry animals like cats, are best for laying washes and soft calligraphy techniques. Brown “wolf’s hair” brushes, commonly made with stiff bristles from horses and weasels, were best for sharp, distinct lines. Today, these categories remain the same, but newer composite brushes blend the two types of bristles (and sometimes include synthetic material, too) for the best of both worlds. Explore our list of high-performing traditional and composite brushes to take your ink painting or calligraphy to the next level.
1. Sinew Trading Company Happy Dot Brush
Big brushes are what many people picture when they think of traditional ink painting, but a liner brush is essential for detail work. This brush’s weasel-hair bristles are stiff but springy, so while it is best loved for fine lines, it can be used for most any effect on a small painting.
Sinew Trading Company Happy Dot Brush
2. Yasutomo Hake Flat Wash Brush
Hake brushes hold lots of ink for covering large surfaces. The bristles on this sheep’s wool version are gentle on the thin paper that is used in traditional Chinese and Japanese ink painting. These same qualities make it beloved by artists for a range of uses, including laying down size and glazing ceramics. The inexpensive 1-inch-wide brush is well suited to medium-scale works.
Yasutomo Hake Flat Wash Brush
3. Oriental Art Supply Super Flow Brush
For soft shapes and washes, sheep’s wool or goat’s hair brushes are a popular choice. But their mop-like heads can be difficult to control. OAS’s Flow brush, especially in this extra-large size, mixes the resilience of stiff bristles with soft bristles’ ability to hold and move pigment. The head measures 1/2 inch in diameter and its longest bristles reach out just over 2 inches. This is a good, high-quality choice for beginners.
Oriental Art Supply Super Flow Brush
4. Johin Kengou Shinyou Brush
The small city of Kumano, in Japan’s Hiroshima prefecture, is the capital of fine Japanese brush-making. Many of the brushes that come from Kumano are among the finest in the world. The excellent Johin Kengou Shinyou brush has the four virtues of Japanese calligraphy (or shodō) brushes: it has a round tip with a sharp point, dense and even bristles, and a bounciness or elasticity that allows for the brush to move freely on the paper.
Johin Kengou Shinyou Brush
5. Yasutomo Mountain Clouds Sumi-E Brush
Yasutomo JB brushes also come from Kumano, and are handmade by the experts there. This composite brush is made with 50 percent sheep’s wool, and rounded out with horse hair and a small amount of synthetic bristles. The “Mountain Clouds” name references the brushes ability to hold long lines of ink without spotting or streaking. Hang the brush by the loop at the end of the handle to keep it in top shape.
Yasutomo Mountain Clouds Sumi-E Brush