Yarka

Yarka is distributed worldwide by Fostport Inc., founded in 1993 by James Foster and Igor Portiansky to export Russian art supplies to the world market. The Yarka company has operated out of St. Petersburg Paint since 1934 as a joint venture of the St. Petersburg Artists' Paint Plant, the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, and the Soviet (now Russian) Artists' union. They manufacture a set of 24 watercolor paints, and has in the past supplied some of Russia's most famous watercolorists. (Watercolor painting has a long and very respectable history in Russia, as lovingly described in Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography, Speak Memory.) Yarka brushes appear to be drying up on the domestic retail art market: two outlets where I have found the brushes in the past no longer carry them. However, they have popped up at other art stores, and the paints are always available almost everywhere — tucked in the bottom shelf with other "student" paint kits.

Kolinsky - Yarka kolinksy sable round brushes are not your usual sable brush. The hair is coarser than other marten and sable brushes you will find, and comes to a very dark tip. Cupping is poor; the tuft only forms a blunt point no matter how sharply it is snapped, and is somewhat small (in the #12 it is 32mm long, 29mm around at the ferrule, with a 9mm belly when wet). The handles look cheap, made of a porous wood, stained a brownish maroon with a coat of lacquer and fuzzy gold lettering, but they have a nice length (23.4cm in the #12 round, 25.9cm in the #20 flat) and are well balanced.

The Yarka kolinsky sable flat brushes are not high quality. The hair in the flats is rather coarse and tightly packed (29mm long and 20mm wide at the ferrule) but is so long or so poorly set that the tuft does not always come to a crisp edge. With most of the Yarka flats I've bought I had to trim the hairs by hand to get a decent edge.

Even so, these are among the most economical kolinsky brushes, and they hold up to use very well. They usually release pigments quickly in the rinse and provide even flow when moderately charged; if they are saturated, the brushes will puddle at the start of the stroke. I like them for loosening up my painting style and laying down the coarse tints on which the rest of the painting is layered. And the prices are very hard to beat — for the rounds: #6, US$16.80; #12, US$46.50.

Yarka kolinsky rounds (#4 & #8); Yarka kolinsky flats (#12 and #24)