What Are Kolinsky Brushes?
Paintbrushes labeled as Kolinsky are made from the hair of an animal known as a red sable. They are known as some of the finest brushes an artist can use. One interesting thing is that the “red sable” is actually a misnomer as they are not sables but a species of Asian weasels. The hair that comprises the usable part of the kolinsky watercolor brushes is taken from the tail of the kolinsky. The very best of the best of these brushes use strictly mail hair from the tail. However, due to reasons of practicality, the usual selection of these brushes uses a mix of 60/40 male to female hair.
The kolinsky does not fare well in captivity and so tends to live in isolation in the remote wilds of Siberia. Since there is no synthetic hair which is even remotely comparable to the kolinsky hair, the kolinsky watercolor brushes are very expensive and highly valued. The brushes are usually used in conjunction with watercolor painting, however, there are brands which are of a lesser quality that are frequently seen in oil painting and even in glazing with acrylics.
Interestingly enough, one of the brushes most unusual uses is to hand tint dental ceramic. This is due to the fact that the hair is super-fine and able to easily be formed to the painter’s needs.
In 2013, the United States began a ban on these types of kolinsky watercolor brushes due to concerns on how the hair was being harvested. A very strict set of guidelines involving the international community was put into place to ensure all of the hair that went into the making of these brushes was humanely harvested and followed international rules. For those who hold these brushes near and dear to their hearts, the lifting of the band could not have come soon enough.