This review is written by Marvin Chew
In this second review of Escoda Artist Signature Set, I will be looking at Joseph Zbukvic’s Signature Set 2, consisting of two Aquario brushes sized 14 and 18.
Aquario is a mop brush made of top quality natural hair from the tail of Squirrels found in the region of Kazan, in central European Russia. Squirrel hairs are the softest of all natural hairs and therefore, they are the best at retaining liquid, making them the ideal tool for laying in washes on large area, wetting the paper or absorbing excess liquid.
Unlike most traditional mop brushes where hairs are bound with wires, Escoda has designed this mop brush (with Joseph’s input), by using a metal circular ferrule much like a standard round brush.
Curious as to why the need for such a change in design, I asked Joseph Zbukvic what are the advantages of having the hairs bound in a ferrule as opposed to being tied up with wires. “The mops are easier to care for that way. If used on their side wires don't scratch the paper. But in reality, they all use the same squirrel tails really,” replied Joseph.
Personally though, I still prefer the look of an old-fashioned wire-tied mop brush. Unless you hold the brush on the side in a very odd angle (almost flat, 180 degree), I don’t foresee scratching the paper as a major problem for most artists.
After using Aquario for a couple of months, I soon discovered its other advantage. I noticed that the nicely bound hairs stayed snuggly in the ferrule. There were no loose hairs falling out unlike some traditionally wire-bound mops, where I often have to stop and pick up a stray hair or two from the wet paper - rather annoying when watercolour washes are supposed to be done in one quick and flowing motion.
Here are the two Aquarios no. 14 and 18, which I have tested for this review.
Another advantage of Escoda Aquario mops is the amazingly sharp points they have. Due to the natural characteristics of squirrel hairs, they are so soft that they do not snap back to the original shape after each stroke. That’s when having a sharp point helps with painting smaller areas and cutting into corners. Having said that, I prefer a cat’s tongue squirrel brush for such manoeuvres.
Below is a picture of various natural squirrel hair mop brushes in my possession (from top to bottom):
- Colorpro 2803 #1
- Matisse #5 and #8 (Made in China)
- Daley Rowney 24 #7
- Alvaro Castagnet Squirrel Mop Brush #10
- The two Aquarios under review, Escoda Aquario #14 and #18
From the picture, it is quite obvious that the two Aquarios and Alvaro Castagnet’s mop (the one in red handle) have the sharpest points of all.
Photo comparing the Aquario Mop brushes with Isabey Cat’s tongue 6235 #8)
For watercolour painting, especially in half-sheet size and larger, a good quality large mop brush is a must. Any experienced watercolour artist will tell you they would probably be lost without one as it is often the first brush they use whenever they start painting, either to wet the paper or to paint a large wash to establish the base colour.
Laying in the first colour washes of a fishing boat painting with Escoda Aquario #18
Watch the Aquario in action when I painted large colour washes on a full-sheet landscape painting in this Youtube video (from start to 2:56)
However, if you use watercolour as part of an ink and wash sketch, Aquario or any squirrel mop brushes for that matter, are not really necessary in my opinion, especially so if the sketch is done on non-cotton made paper which are less absorbent. That is because the huge amount of liquid / paints released from the mop brush would be too much to handle in a sketch.
Squirrel hairs are so soft that they do not snap back to the original shape, making it quite impossible to paint details accurately. A good quality sable brush would be more ideal for sketching, and I prefer a good quality synthetic brush such as Escoda Perla (which I reviewed earlier) for painting details.
Natural squirrel hair mop brushes are not cheap. Larger ones can cost more than a hundred dollars, but owning a quality one is always recommended for all watercolour artists. I think you won’t go wrong with Escoda Aquario. It is one of the best squirrel mop brushes available. I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent mop brushes to any watercolour artist.