Second only to the artist in bringing a miniature to life is the paintbrush. Paintbrushes come in may types and prices. The determining factor in both a brushes prices and its ability to perform is the type of hair used in the brush. There are many types of hair used each with its own properties:
Kolinsky Sable takes first place in brush hair. It is the most desired hair in a water color brush, not used in oil or acrylic painting, but works marvelously for miniature painting. It is its ability to form a perfect point that makes it the most widely used brush hair by the most experienced miniature painters. While water color artists have to pay a dear price for the large Kolinsky Sable brushes they use, miniature painters are fortunate in that they only need little Kolinsky brushes which can cost as little as 5.00 online. Kolinsky Sable is very durable and has excellent paint holding ability. It holds a lot of paint and the paint does not come off until you want it to. (Compare that to a nylon brush which is too slippery and so the paint slides right off if you load it with paint.)
Sable, usually red Sable, has similar properties as Kolinsky but does not hold the same point. It makes a pretty good dry brush though as it holds paint well. Cheaper Red Sable with thicker hair will make a more durable dry brush than the better hair. Red Sable is cheap man's Kolinsky and in large brush sizes 50.00 on Red Sable may help someone who cannot afford a 200.00 Kolinsky, but in small miniature sized brushes, the cost difference is just a couple of dollars and so not worth it.
Squirrel is softer than Kolinsky or Red Sable and so it does not have the snap or stiffness that is needed for painting miniatures. It does, however, make a great dry brush.
Mongoose is very tough, affordable and holds paint quite well. Its durability makes it a wonderful dry brush that will just not die no matter what you do to it. I have a size two flat mongoose brush that I use for dry brushing and it still looks like new after a year of hard service. A Kolinsky or Red Sable will just get killed dry brushing unless it is a cheap Sable with thick hair. Mongoose brushes can make good points as well and are perfect for those who like a tough brush. Rosemary of England makes many varieties of mongoose brushes all of amazing quality and that for almost nothing in price.
Synthetic or Nylon brushes really suck and in small sizes they offer only little savings as compared to a quality brush. Synthetic brushes do not hold paint as well as natural hair, the do not form a sharp point, and, most frustratingly, the tips always curl after even a little use. Dipping the brush in boiling water for a second will straighten out the tip, but do you want to do that every week or spend a couple more dollars on a decent brush? There are some better Synthetic brushes, the best being, perhaps, the Robert Simmons White Sable. The synthetic "White Sable" on these brushes hold paint very, very well. They do not, however, form a sharp point and they do curl with use. But if you need or like synthetic brushs, they are a good way to go. If you use enamel paint, then a synthetic brush is the way to go.
Robert Simmons synthetic White Sable Brush, size 3/0 (notice the curling of the tip).
Miniature painters striving to paint at the very highest level that they are able to will want to get Kolinsky Sable brushes. Sounds simple, but there are many manufacturers of Kolinsky Sable brushes and many brush sizes so making a choice can be confusing.
First there is brush size, what is a good size? The good size is what you get used to. A quality Kolinsky Sable brush will come to such a good point that a size 2 can have as sharp as a tip as a size 3/0, the larger brush will hold more paint and be bigger, but they both will have great tips. A size 0 and 1 is a good place to start. Then if you find that you liking the bigger brush better, you may want to add a size 2 at some point. If you find yourself liking the small brush better you may want to add a size 1/0, 2/0 or 3/0 at some point. You will never need brushes larger or smaller than these sizes. If you do not get good Kolinsky Sable brushes but something cheap, then you will need smaller brushes to get a smaller point as only the Kolinsky Sables make the perfectly sharp point. Sizes are not uniform between different brush manufacturers, so always check brush measurements when considering different models of brushes.
Winsor Newton Series 7
Amongst quality brushes, most well known are the Winsor Newton Series 7. These brushes use very fine quality Kolinsky Sable and come to a great point. Often, however, there is a tendency for the point to split on sizes 1 and larger if it does not have just the right amount of paint on it - so the point can sometimes be finicky and thus frustrating. All in all they are great brushes and not badly priced if purchased online.
Winsor Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brushes in sizes 3/0, 2/0, 0, 1 and 2.
Winsor Newton brushes are short in the small sizes and long in the large sizes. Their smallest brush, a 3/0, is very short, shorter than ideal. A short brush does not hold as much paint, so a longer thin brush will work better. Winsor Newton also makes "special" miniature brushes. These are similar to their standard Series 7 brushes but with shorter brushes and so they do not hold as much paint. They also cost more, better to go with the standard Series 7. Winsor Newton Series 7, though no doubt the most famous brush, are not perfect. I have heard that their quality has declined, if so, they still work very well. My one complaint is that they brush size and Winsor log are silk screened onto the brush handle and wear off very quickly, so after a while you won't have any idea of what size brush you are using.
Escoda Kolinsky Tajmir
Escoda of Spain makes a fine quality Kolinsky Sable brush called the Tajmir. It is a beautiful brush, and the log and brush size do not disappear from the handle as they do on the Winsor brushes, and they cost less. Their size 0 is one of my favorite brushes. It is thin like the Winsor size 3/0 but longer and so holds a lot of paint. It is great for lining, small areas, or even an entire mini as it holds a surprising amount of paint for such a small brush. If you are into tiny brushes, this may be the one small brush you will ever need. I also regularly use a size 1, which is notably larger than the size 0 and it can fulfill pretty much all brush needs for which the the 0 is too small. In comparison with the Winsor size 1 the Escoda does not have as sharp a point, however, the point of the Winsor 1 is more inclined to split, so it is a bit of trade off - don't worry about this too much, both Winsor and Escoda make a great brush and you should be very happy with either one. While Escoda makes several brushes smaller than the 0, I have never found it necessary to use a smaller brush than their 0. For very large minis some people may also desire a size 2, though I have always found the 1 to be sufficient.
Escoda Kolinsky Tajmir, size 0 and 1.
Other Quality Kolinsky Sable Brushes
Da Vinci makes what is considered an excellent Kolinsky Sable and I have been told that they are better than the Winsor Newton Series 7 in that they are not as prone to their points splitting, though I have not used them myself. They are as, if not more, expensive than the Winsor Newtons.
Rosemary of England makes an excellent Kolinsky Sable for the water color artist at a wonderful price. For painting miniatures with acrylic paints, however, I found the Rosemary to be quite impossible as the tip insisted on splitting unless the brush was very, very wet - to wet for painting miniatures - gave that brush to my wife for water color painting. So while Rosemary makes a great Kolinsky for a water color artist, they are not for painting miniatures. Rosemary does, however, make wonderful mongoose haired brushes of excellent quality that cost almost nothing.
I recently acquired some Reaper Kolinsky Sable brushes and found them to be quite nice brushes. On the small sizes the tip is shorter than found on the Winsor or Escoda brushes, but they still work quite nice. Looking at Reaper's website, however, I have not been able to determine which of their brushes are the Kolinsky hair brushes as they have very limited information on their brushes on their website.
Natural haired brushes require proper care if you want them to last. Well taken care off, a brush can last for years or even a lifetime and so getting the best brush possible is very well worth it. Kolinsky Sable brushes are meant for water color, acrylic paint is tough on them, so the miniature painter needs to take better care of their brush than would a water color artist if they want the brush to last.
After each painting session it is a good idea to clean the brush with Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver. Master's Brush Cleaner removes all the paint residue, even dried paint residue, while leaving a light conditioner on the brush to prevent the hair from drying out and becoming brittle.
After cleaning, brushes are best stored upside down to dry. Hanging the brushes upside down to dry prevents water from collecting at the base of the brush where it will dissolve the glue holding the bristles. (No, that glue is not waterproof, don't ask me why not.)
There are several brush holders available, such as that pictured below, to hold your brushes upside down while so that they dry properly. Springs at the top of the brush holder hold the brushes.
The aluminum model is a commercially available model. The attractive wooden model my brother made for my water coloring wife (Srishtiart.net) for Christmas. Unfortunately (at least for her), she did not have enough room on her art table to fit it, so I snuck off with that a few weeks after I stole her stainless steel pallet. Having an artistic wife is great, I even get to have nice paintings hanging all over my house.