by Gregory Conley, B.A. in Studio Arts
"This is a generous,
professional tool, that
The Holy Grail of watercolor brushes?
In 1971 as a senior in high school, I worked part-time at an upscale department store. Being the devoted artist that I was, I was in awe of the Winsor & Newton Series #7 Kolinsky red sable watercolor brushes in the art supply department. With my employee discount I purchased a #12 Series 7 Kolinsky Sable for just under $40. It was my teenage "holy grail" and I had attained it.
I now have a 32-year-old Series 7 #12 Kolinsky sable that is careworn, chipped and stained but still a solid brush. It was the only "primo" expensive brush I ever bought (except for a set of small brushes), and it was probably worth the investment in the grand scheme of things. You would be hard pressed to even find that size W & N Series 7 brush today. The largest I've seen lately is a #10 Series 7 going for up to $210.00. Yow!
Kalish Brushes - 2003
I had read of Kalish Finest Kolinsky Brushes in their small ads in various art publications and became intrigued with the claims of quality. I checked out their web site at http://www.kalishfinestbrushes.biz/ and wondered if their brushes were as great as all the hype. After emailing Harry and establishing the fact that I was not some fly-by-night looking for a freebie, he very cordially shipped a (slightly dented) top-of-the-line #8 Kalish Finest Quality Series 1 Round Red Kolinsky Sable.
Harry and Ruth design these brushes in New Jersey, fax their specs to an old-world style brush making factory in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland. This factory serves Great Britain, Europe, and in the USA, Kalish Finest Brushes.
When I unwrapped the brush, I first wet it down and shook it out. And held it.
Holding this brush gave me a serious case of dejá vu, carrying me back to that day in 1971 when I bought my first W&N Series 7. The weight and balance feels very natural and graceful in your hand. The brush measures in at 9 1/8" in total length. The red sable is very lively and measures a full 1 1/32" in length.
I cannot thank Harry at Kalish Finest Brushes enough for submitting his Kalish Series 1 #8 Red Sable for review. Holding this brush reminded me once again of who I am, another Artist with a capital "A"... in the ranks of thousands. One who appreciates high quality and occasional "holy grail" finds such as this. If he wants it back, he'll have to track me down on the shores of Lake Erie.
I own 4 other #8 red sables: a Grumbacher Gold Series Watercolor Classic (USA), A Kolonok 1001 (Russia), a Winsor & Newton Cirrus 110 Round Kolinsky (England), and a Winsor & Newton Series 820 Red Sable (England). These all measure an inch less in overall length. And the longest hair length in 7/8".|
I used the Kalish through a series of 10 paintings and found it a joy to be-held (sorry). This is a generous, professional tool, that is well-crafted and solid. The hairs have a "life" in them that can add a spark to your own artistic responses. The diameter is slightly larger than a "standard" #8 and the added body allows for fully charged brushwork. It holds more paint, and comes to a fine tip.
"Our Kolinsky hair is strictly TOP QUALITY from SIBERIA, TAIL OF THE MALE, WINTER COAT. They are not mixed with summer-coat or other hairs as is a practice among most brushmakers today. Individual hairs that are defective are removed during brushmaking, which is certainly not a common practice." Harry Kalish
So how's it rate?
It rates a full 5-stars in the "tap" test. (A brush fully charged with water is tapped dry on my index finger as it is rotated) The tip always springs to a point and will stay centered, unlike some lesser-grade red sables that don't have the resilence to hold shape when wet and are often bent at an angle after a stroke. We all have those laying around as utility brushes.
It is no wonder that artists such as Frank Webb and Dean Morrissey have responded with praise to Kalish products. Harry and Ruth are friendly, and very knowledgable in all things Kolinsky. Kalish's passion for perfection is evident on their thorough web site as well as in their finished product.
The Kalish Kolinsky Series 1 #8 Round red sable towers over standard "Red Sable" #8 brushes.
Wait, it gets even better...
As of January 2003, the price for a Kalish Finest Kolinsky Series 1 #8 is $42.00 (US) and a Winsor & Newton Series 7 Pure Kolinsky #8 can run between $120 to $160 (US).
www.Watercolorpainting.com recommends Kalish Finest Kolinsky Brushes as an exceptionally low-cost, "primo" quality Kolinsky Red Sable Brush. The high-priced "Big Boys" in England have got nothing on this union of American aesthetics and Irish Old-World craftsmanship.
Greg Conley, 2003, 2005