Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith is a well regarded art retailer based in Seattle, WA (USA), operating through retail stores, mail order, and a catalog web site. In my view, their brushes are somewhat overpriced (marketing influence makes up the difference in value). Prices are equal to the highest charged by European manufacturers, and some lines of brushes are made for Daniel Smith by the daVinci brushmakers in Germany.

Kolinsky - At the top of the line, the Daniel Smith autograph 44-14 kolinsky sable round is a very finely crafted brush manufactured for Daniel Smith by daVinci in Germany. I like the idea and feel of the esohedrally beveled handles (which prevent the brush from rolling on a flat surface), but the stick seems a little too short to me, especially on the smaller brushes (#6 on down); total length of the #12 brush is 23.4cm. The tufts are well shaped and rather stiff, 31mm long and 26mm around at the ferrule (in the #12), and tightly packed at the ferrule edge. With effort, the tuft snaps when wet to a nicely defined "needle" point, but when charged with paint has a blunter tip; the belly is about 9mm wide when wet. Overall, the sorting of hairs seems to balance nicely the competing goals of resilience, capacity, flow, and pointing — but there are other brushes on the market just as responsive and at a lower price, for example the very similar brushes you can purchase directly from daVinci. Prices: #6, US$39.10; #12, US$152.30.

Daniel Smith kolinsky rounds (#6 & #12); Daniel Smith kolinsky flats (1/2" and 1")

The Daniel Smith 44-09 kolinsky flat, also made in Germany, is only available in the "square" tuft shape equivalent to a bright (this is the typical shape in mass produced brushes), with a double crimped nickel ferrule and black lacquered wood handle (total length of the 1" brush is 23.6cm). The tuft on the 1" brush is 5mm thick at the ferrule, a fairly standard size; when wet it is 26mm long and 25mm wide (viewed from the side, it has a 7mm belly). The hairs are evenly sorted and tightly packed, and all sizes large and small snap to a crisp edge when wet, though in the larger brushes the edge is sometimes slightly wavy. Offered in the standard five sizes (1/8" to 1"), plus a 3/8". Prices: 1/2", US$83.90; 1", US$168.60.

Other Sable - The Daniel Smith 45-01 red sable round is one of my favorite brushes, but for some reason these are only listed in the Daniel Smith annual reference catalog (but are available at their catalog web site). These are also German made — excellently cupped red sable hairs set on tawny stained wood handles that deliciously remind me of childhood art supplies (total length of the #12 is 23.8cm). The tuft is 24mm around at the ferrule edge and 30mm long, the belly when wet is about 9mm wide. The tuft snaps to a small "rounded chisel" when wet (a needle point viewed from one angle, a small, curved flat edge from the side). They have a stiff resiliency that is perfect for field work with dry pan paints. They are quite expensive as red sable brushes go, but I treat them as an indulgence. Flats are not available. Sizes range from #0 to #20. Prices: #6, US$17.70; #12, US$81.39.

Synthetic Blends - The inexpensive Daniel Smith 22-04 watercolor round, made in England with a nickel alloy ferrule and black lacquered wood handle (total length of the #12 brush is 23.1cm). These are rough duty brushes, not really acceptable for quality work because they don't point well, but great as student brushes. I use them for sketch painting with dry pan field sets, for punishing brush techniques such as scumbling; they work well with thick pigments such as earth oxides or cadmiums (the coarser bristles release completely and rinse quickly). The moderately packed tuft of ox hair and nylon fiber is 28mm around at the ferrule, 31mm long, and the belly when wet is about 8mm wide. The tuft snaps to a "rounded chisel" edge or split tip when wet. Flats are not available. Rounds range in size from #000 to #24. Prices: #6, US$5.15; #12, US$10.39.

Daniel Smith ox hair rounds (#6 and #12); Daniel Smith red sable rounds (#6 & #12); Daniel Smith aquarelle flat (3/4")

Other Types - Daniel Smith makes a sturdy acrylic flat, in four sizes from 1/4" to 1" (total length of the 1" brush is 22.1cm). The orange nylon fiber bristles are rather stiff as acrylics go, and make a very crisp edge, even in the smallest sizes. The clear plastic handle ends in an oblique bevel which is used to burnish paper, scrape coarse lines in wet washes, and scumble contrasting layers of paint. The brushes stain gradually to a dull gray color, but keep their spring and edge for a long time. Prices: 1/2", US$9.25; 1", US$16.95.

The Daniel Smith cactus wash brush is fairly stiff for a wash brush, with 42mm long bristles of squirrel and golden Taklon (nylon fiber), and a lovely wood handle lacquered in turquoise green (total length of the 2" brush is 21.0cm, the nickel ferrule is 9mm thick). It holds plenty of paint or water, and comes to a good edge if needed to shape the contours of a wash. I find it is soft enough to lay a wash evenly yet stiff enough to drive paint into paper crevices or accurately skim the surface to reveal the paper texture. My complaints: the brushes continue to shed hairs even after months of use, and the handle tends to absorb moisture, cracking the lacquer finish around the ferrule. According to the most recent (2004) reference catalog, Daniel Smith no longer offers this brush. Last price of a 2" brush: US$45.90.

Daniel Smith products are worth investigating and worth owning, provided you know what you are buying. There is really no reason, in today's market, to pay $150 for a kolinsky round brush — unless you want to buy it from a company with a big marketing budget to support.

Daniel Smith cactus wash
(1" and 2")