Isabey (pronounced "eezabay") is a well regarded French brush manufacturer headquartered in Brittany. They produce a wide selection of brushes, most sold in the USA. The brushes are made to high standards, and I've found that I sometimes consciously must choose other brands, just to keep variety in my learning, because Isabey brushes often feel right. Even so, the brushes are among the most expensive you can buy in the USA (tariffs and all) and the quality is not always up to that duty.

Kolinsky - Isabey's top end brush is the Isabey 6228 kolinsky sable round, a lovely kolinsky brush with a full sized tuft, and the Isabey 6227 Z kolinsky sable round, which is the "thin bellied" version of the same brush. Both are made with a very lightly double crimped nickel ferrule and black lacquered wood handle with a gray tip. The handle is made "albata" style, which means its width and length are adjusted to balance perfectly with the specific tuft size, making it easier to hold from almost any point on the handle (total length of the #12 is 26.2cm). The tuft of the 6227 Z is the smallest of any brush: 29mm long and 25mm around at the ferrule; the belly is 8mm wide when wet. The tuft is rather stiff and must be snapped hard to bring the hairs to a needle point. (No flats are available.) Sizes of the 6227Z range from #00 to #14. Prices of the 6227Z: #6, US$32.50; #12, US$151.70. Sizes of the 6228 range from #000 to #14. Prices of the 6228: #6, US$42.10; #12, US$242.30.

Isabey 6227 Z kolinsky sable round (#6 and #12)

Other Sable - The Isabey 6223 red sable round is a less expensive natural hair brush, made with a double crimped nickel ferrule and black lacquered wood handle (total length of the #12 brush is 23.4cm). The albata wood black handle with a gray tip is slightly thinner than, and almost as long as, the Winsor & Newton Series 7 (and as long as the CJAS "Legend"), making it easier to hold from almost any point on its length. Sizes range from #000 to #14. Prices: #6, US$17.00; #12, US$67.00.

The Isabey 6238 red sable wash is 100% pure red sable, made with a double crimped nickel ferrule and a black lacquered wood handle with a gray tip (total length of the 1" brush is 23.2cm). The dry hairs are shorter than typical for a flat, and splay at an outward angle from the ferrule, but when the brush is wet the tuft snaps to a nearly perfect "square" shape, 27mm long and 23mm wide at the ferrule, with a 6mm belly when wet. According to the manufacturer, "while other manufacturers market weasel as red sable, this is genuine pure red sable with unparalleled snap, spring and control for a watercolor flat brush." The hairs dry fairly quickly and clean up moderately well; the hairs have a tendency to absorb staining pigments. Worse, the wetted edges on some of these brushes were so ragged that I had no choice but to trim them with a razor blade — inexcusable in brushes this expensive! Comes in four sizes, from #2 (1/4") to #8 (1"). Prices: #4, US$24.40; #8, US$123.10.

Isabey 6238 red sable wash (1/2" and 1"); Isabey 6235 petit gris wash (1/2" and 1")

Synthetic Blend - The Isabey 6239 syrus flat, a blend of sable and synthetic fiber with a red handle and white tip, is one of my favorite flats (total length of the 1" brush is 21.1cm). Again, the tuft proportions are relatively square (27mm long and 23mm wide at the ferrule, with a 5mm belly when wet), and the edge is not crisp but very finely serrated with the hair ends in unequal alignment. The larger brushes hold a lot of paint for their size, and the paint discharges evenly, yielding a crisp edge at the first touch. Disappointingly, the smallest brushes have a tendency (as in the cheapest natural hair brights) to splay once wet. Comes in standard four sizes, from 1/4" (#2) to 1" (#8). Prices: 1/2", US$12.40; 1", US$44.40.

Isabey 6239 syrus flats (#10 & #20); Isabey #6 replique

Other Types - The Isabey 6421 kazan squirrel wash, designed for small to medium sized glazes and washes, is made with a nickel ferrule and gray lacquered wood handle with black tip. It is distinctly smaller and thinner than any other wash brush I've tried (total length of the 2" brush is 17.1cm, and the ferrule is only 5mm thick). The tuft is made of short, very soft and fine Siberian kazan squirrel hair, which supposedly has the highest capillary action of any natural hair, but the tuft is much too small (32mm long) to hold much water, and of course the high capillary action means the water stays in the brush rather than releasing onto the paper! And I was very disappointed to see the lacquer crack and swell after only a few months of use. Available in 1", 11/2" and 2" widths. Price: 2", US$74.70.

Isabey 6421 kazan squirrel wash
(1" and 2")

The Isabey 6234 squirrel mop is perhaps Isabey's most famous and beautiful brush. It's blue squirrel hair tuft is set in a plain lacquered wood handle, with the tuft secured by a goose quill ferrule wrapped in four places with brass wire. It points like a kolinsky round and carries an large charge of water. The tuft of Siberian blue squirrel hair has the highest capillary action of any natural hair, enabling the reservoir to hold a very large volume of water, but as before the extremely fine hair clings to the paint rather than releasing it in an even flow — and for the same reason, clean up is work. A small (#2) squirrel mop is also available as a brass travel brush, with a gold brass cap that functions as the handle, but at this tiny size it's not really useful as a wash brush. All around, this brush is more of a curio than a useful tool. Sizes run from #000 to #12. Prices: #6, US$48.70; #12, US$91.00.

As I've implied, some Isabey brushes can be a joy to use — provided you have no concerns whatever about price. And even if you do use them, you will discover a gaping disconnect between the marketing promise and the physical shortcomings of the brush in your hand. I discourage you from buying any Isabey brushes until you have enough familiarity with other brands to appraise for yourself Isabey's unique combination of craftsmanship and hype.

Isabey 6234 squirrel mops
(#0, #4 and #8)