At Artist Hardware we have been helping art supply companies make paint brushes for years. We’ve worked in partnership with some of the finest brush making families in Europe and helped to pioneer new artist tools in Asia. We work hard to understand the newest technologies, but always respect tradition in what is still today often a hand crafted product. Here’s a little bit about the history of artist brushes and how the Sensu Brush is designed to be a true artist tool in that continuum.
A Bit of History
People have been painting on walls in caves with pigment and animal fat as early as 40,000 years ago. The early “brushes” were sticks, split palm leaves, whalebone or even shavings of wood.
The paint brushes we see today were first made with animal hair, often of long-hair hog bristle. Other animals used for their hair include squirrel, goat, ox, badger, horse-hair, and sable, a member of the mink family. Each of these hair types is understood for its unique characteristics and matched to the type of paint that it works best with. Sable brushes, for example, are considered the absolute best for watercolor painting. Knowledgeable artists seek out, and often wait on reserve lists, for larger size sable brushes that can only be made after extremely cold winters in Siberia and Mongolia. In these severe conditions, tails get bushier and their hair longer and more resilient. After mild winters, large size sable brushes can become scarce.
Up until the late 1800s, bristle was cleaned, sorted, and mixed by hand, and brush heads were affixed to their metal ferrules by hand-gluing. Specialized machines for mixing, finishing tapering, gluing, and handle-making are in wide use, especially in Asia. However, fine artist brushes are still individually made by hand. A skilled brush maker can take up to 8 years to master the steps. The finest brushes, like sable, are often made only by the most experienced craftspeople in the factory. Very often these masters are women, and we’ve met many over the years with even 40+ years experience.
Making Synthetic Bristle
The search for a substitute for natural bristle led to the use of artificial fibers such as rayon and nylon. Until recently (in the last decade), synthetic hair required a period of break-in to achieve some of the absorbency of natural bristle. Straight ends needed to be worn away by use to improve their performance.
In the last decade, synthetic bristle makers have mastered the ability to taper the end of the synthetic bristle to create the same effect that natural bristle has. They have also recently been able to deploy technology to create flags that the natural bristle has. Ever seen a shampoo commercial with the little split ends on the hair (flags)? These “split ends” are good. They hold onto paint, like natural bristle does. By putting these flagged bristle together with graduated lengths and widths of hair we can make a synthetic brush very similarly to what a natural bristle brush would be.
Designing the Sensu Brush
These are all things we took into account when designing the Sensu Brush. By utilizing our experience and access to the newest technology with synthetic hair, we were able to design a brush with conductive properties that has a very similar feel to a traditional watercolor brush. By experimenting with endless formulas of graduated diameters and lengths of synthetic bristle we were able to create a brush that didn’t just work for a touch screen, but one that truly worked for an artist. The Sensu brush head is engineered to hold together as it meets the glass surface of the screen and not splay out, like that brush that frustrated you in your paint-by-numbers set when you were a kid. Sensu has a tension or “snap” that provides some resistance and feedback as you paint with it.
Better Instruments Make Better Players
Even if all this Sensu love and care is lost on any particular user, we believe that we will still be making better artists of them. I’ve played several instruments in my life and believe the adage that “Better Instruments Make Better Players”. Moving up to a better instrument can allow better playing with less effort. You can expect a more pure tone. A better instrument can even, perhaps, inspire with its beauty. That’s our pitch for the Sensu Brush – you’ll play better with it!