Cheap Joe's

Cheap Joe's is a catalog art retailer whose product quality and spirit of doing business are among the best in the world. Many of their natural hair brushes are made for them by a manufactory in Spain — Cheap Joe's won't confirm it, but I am pretty sure the company is Escoda.

Kolinsky - The CJAS Legend Kolinsky round is an extremely well made brush at a great price. The handles are dark blue lacquered wood with a quadruple crimped (#12's and up) gold-plated nickel ferrule. The handle in the larger sizes is nearly as long as the leggy Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes, but not long enough to seem awkward (total length of the #12 round is 26.8cm). The tufts are very well shaped of unusually fine and evenly sized hairs, 37mm long and 27mm around at the ferrule, tightly packed at the ferrule edge (you cannot open a gap between the hairs and the ferrule with moderate pressure), with a 10mm belly when wet. The hairs are a little softer than other brands, but there is a snappy core that gives the brush resilience, and the brushes snap to a fairly good "needle" point. Best of all, these brushes are relatively inexpensive as kolinskies go, so they are a great value if you want to experience what fine sable brushes have to offer. They're only available from the Cheap Joe's direct order web site, or through their mail catalog. Sizes range from #2 to #16 in even numbered intervals. Prices: #6, US$44.50; #12, US$102.60.

Cheap Joe's Legend kolinsky rounds (#6 & #12); Cheap Joe's Magic Dragon kolinsky flats (1/2" and 1")

The CJAS Magic Dragon (their name for the kolinsky flats) regrettably come in only two sizes, 1/2" and 1", with well balanced, lacquered dark blue wood handles (total length of the 1" brush is 23.1cm). The slightly stiff tuft seems chunky — 8mm thick at the ferrule — and has a very rounded, 9mm wide belly when wet (it looks almost like a watercolor round when viewed from the side), which gives it good capacity and solidity. Even so, the brush is great for wash applications where the softness of the hairs is important. The tuft in the 1" brush is 30mm long and 26mm wide at the ferrule, somewhat loosely packed at the ferrule edge. When wet, the tuft snaps to a square shape, with sharp corners and a crisp "chisel" edge. These durable brushes handle nicely, release paint with an even flow, and clean up well. An excellent value for the price. Prices: 1/2", US$29.95; 1", US$69.95.

Other Sable - Cheap Joe's also offers a CJAS Dragon's Tongue "Tajmir Kolinsky" sable round brush, available in sizes from #1 to #18. These are rated as slightly stiffer than the "Legend" brushes, and have blue lacquered wood handles and a nickel ferrule. The tuft is somewhat longer than a regular round (but shorter than a rigger), making the brush especially useful for lining or energetic brushwork. Flats are not available. Prices: #6, US$10.95; #12, US$39.95.

Synthetics - A fairly wide range of synthetic brushes are available under the brand name CJAS Golden Fleece including rounds, flats, riggers, ovals, fans and wash brushes (these from 1" to 3" wide). The rounds are sized from 000 to #14, then skip to the "Golden Fleece Giants" at #28, #32 and #38 — for the budding watermedia Rosenquist among you. And there is the CJAS Dreamcatcher sable and nylon fiber blended brushes: flats come in two sizes, and the rounds from #2 to #18 in even numbered intervals. Prices of the Golden Fleece rounds: #6, US$5.95; #12, US$9.95.

Joe's brushes are (along with ABS Brushes, Escoda, Kalish or Rekab) an excellent place to start your brush collection, regardless of the price level you can afford. The mail order catalog contains unusually complete merchandise information — tuft sizes and resiliency/absorbency ratings — to guide your selection.