- A Kolinsky sable-hair brush (also known as a red sable or sable hair brush) is a fine artists’ paintbrush. The hair is obtained from the tail of the kolinsky (Mustela sibirica), a species of weasel rather than an actual sable. The “finest” brushes are made from male hair only, but most brushes have a mix of about 60/40 male-to-female hair. Kolinsky bristles tend to be pale red with darker tips. The weasel is not an animal that is raised well in captivity and is generally isolated to the geographical region of Siberia. Due to this difficulty in harvesting the hair, and the fact that other natural and artificial bristles are not comparable in quality, these bristles are rare and expensive (Source: Wikipedia).
- If looked after, a good kolinsky sable brush should last 50 years. The secret is in cleaning and storing the brushes removing any residue, which can alter or destroy the special qualities of the hair. Avoid acrylic paint, which dries quickly and clogs the bristles, ruining the capture and flow of liquid.
The Financial Times had a wonderful article on the lengthy process of making Winsor & Newton artists’ brushes describing it as an art in itself (www.ft.com). The production process was explained as follows:
- The brush hair is graded by hand: size “0” brushes, used for detail work, require 3mm-4mm hairs; the longest is 60mm. The sorted hair is stacked to a diameter of about 10mm and wrapped in cartridge paper to be sent to the brushmakers who will generally work with shorter hairs, the smaller brushes being in greatest demand.
- The handles, which come to the factory from a workshop near Bergamo in northern Italy, are made of dried birch which is shaped then primed and painted in a deep gloss.
- The nickel ferrules that connect the hairs to the brush are imported from India and China, and the assembly is all done by hand.
- Linen thread is used because it is stronger than cotton thread and the glue used must withstand solvents.
It is clear that the key to excellent artists’ brushes is selecting the finest hairs, excellent craftsmanship, and with the Winsor & Newton Series 7, Kolinsky Sable Brushes also speak of a very long history that started in 1866 by the order of Queen Victoria herself.