22 September 2013

About brick&mortar stores and synthethic brushes

This weekend I was thinking; "Hey, I have some 28mm Gothic Horror miniatures left, I may want to take a few and warm up my techniques so I'm back in my 28mm painting mindset when my Empire of the Dead kickstarter arrives".

So I pick up the minis and feel really inspired - I have a few ideas that I want to try out. Then I look at my paintbrush collection.... it's full of worn out 1 year old Kolinsky brushes that no longer offer any kind of precision. Then there is a pile of synthetic garbage that is less than a month old and which I bought out of sheer desperation. All of them having - split or bent hairs having served in but a few painting sessions. Complete garbage.

I also noticed that many of the standard paints that I basecoat and use as a foundation for many custom colors (I predominantly mix my own paints instead of buying every single shade) are nearly spent.

But I'm thinking, "No problem because I have two brick&mortar stores within driving distance".

On my way into town I remember that one of the stores is run and staffed by complete idiots (no seriously) who prefer to play Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon on the checkout counter with their friends instead of serving the customers. I shit you not, it's like a daycare center for the feeble minded. If there ever is an equivalent to Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares for wargame stores I will submit their name and address so that a guy with Tourette’s can go there and tear them apart.

Then I also remember, that they only sell Games Workshop/Citadel paints and those sad excuses of paintbrushes from GW that while true enough not being synthetic - have the quality comparable to crayons when you are looking for a rollerball pen. Since I'm looking for Vallejo Paints and pro-brushes that store is struck from my list and I probably save some teeth grinding as well..

The second brick&mortar store in town is generally a place I like and where I do most of my hobby supply purchases. However, over the last couple of years it has dipped in quality in regard to item availability and products stocked. They have been out of Kolinsky brushes for 3 years due to their normal supplier no longer having them on their list (something I ask about every time I visit). So no Kolinsky brushes here either. And what alternatives are there – well - synthetic garbage and Games Workshop crap brushes of course. No brushes to be bought in this store either. I go over to the paint rack hoping at least I can buy some of the paints on my list. The paint rack looks as if it had been assaulted by a person with uncontrollable body spasms a minute prior to my arrival. Of course all standard paints that people use the most are gone (white, dark brown, matt black etc) and not available. No... they have to be ordered from the supplier and there is no telling when they may be available again in the store I learn.

Bummed out, and not for the first time either, it's an empty handed drive back home while I wonder "Why do I even bother?".

I get home, log online, type in a store in ENGLAND, where I see every single imaginable paint from every manufacturer being in stock, 30% cheaper and ready to be dispatched which means if I order Monday it will usually be in my postbox on Thursday/Friday the same week if I'm lucky. This is what it has come to. It is faster, more convenient and cheaper to order from another country because what I need is either out of stock or not carried by the brick&mortar stores in town 20 minutes from my house.

Adding another layer of bizarre circumstances to the whole situation, the shipping from England is ALWAYS cheaper than buying or ordering from a store in Sweden and almost always have a faster shipping time, how the hell is that even possible? I am also able to pay with PayPal while Swedish internet stores only accept pre-payment through bank account or use of credit card.

And then these local store owners may wonder why people don't buy products locally. Or why longtime repeat customers may hesitate and worry about wasting time by going down to the store when you can order what you need. And while doing so you are also fed information, you know: if the product is available, in what quantity, or when it will be back in stock as well as getting an estimated shipping time – pay less and receive your items faster through by buying your products internationally...

I understand that brick&mortars stores can't have a full stock of every miniature wargame - but there is really no excuse for not having the basic supplies of paints, brushes, basing material etc. That stuff is always going to sell. If it's not in stock, at least have an idea of when it will be back. I am a remarkably patient guy but I am going to weigh my options. If it takes 2 weeks for a bottle of paint to be back in stock I will order and receive the product from the UK or the US before faster.

Returning to the synthetic brushes - who uses this shit? Seriously. And for what purpose?
They are impossible to maintain in good shape and the brush either splits or has the top hairs bend making it impossible to precision paint. Why hobby stores insist on carrying and selling this useless product is beyond my understanding. The only use for a synthetic brush is drybrushing sand on a base – and they are not even good at that. I’ve seen the hairs around a dog’s ass to be in better condition and shape than those of a synthetic brush after a couple of sessions. If I was a store owner I would either stop selling them or at the very least make sure that I can provide quality brushes for those with higher ambitions than just hitting the miniature with paint. For that I can use my fingers without paying for it.

Seriously, if you are still using synthetic brushes - go out and treat yourself with a nature hair brush. Your painting quality will increase by at least 50%. Read this article , which btw features the same Kolinsky brush that I have used for 9 months to paint several hundred 15mm miniatures and several dozen 28mm miniatures. And look at that tip - still properly shaped. Too bad it is worn out and have gone too thin.


  1. Good points on the brushes. I bought some Raphael Kolinsky brushes sometime last year and they are all still working pretty well. I have started to get replacements but they are in better condition than any other brushes I have used on 1/4 the amount of models.

    The local supply issue is a bit of a conundrum. It can be frustrating to find some things locally.

  2. Excellent rant. I fully agree with your comments on synthetic brushes. Utter utter crap. My mother in law bought me a nice looking (and quite expensive) brush set last year, unfortunately they were synthetic, and as such lasted a few sessions, before being relegated to scenery duties or drybrushing...

    A shame about the game stores, I think the problem is, they are owned and staffed by hobbyists and not businessmen...


  3. Couldn't agree more with your predicament Anatoli; it's order online everytime for me ;

  4. I totally agree about the quality of synthetic brushes. They always look great until they get wet and the tip curls. The difference in price between synthetic and sable isn't always that much either. I do buy some synthetics though for certain jobs, usually larger brushes for overbrushing bases, undercoating or varnishing. Basically all the things that will ruin a brush really quickly.

    These days I use Creative Models Kolinskys. I find they offer consistent quality which is really good as some manufacturers brushes can be hit and miss. I used to use Pro Arte brushes, and they could be great but half the time you'd get a new brush and the damn thing would fish tail or lose it's point the moment you put paint to model.

    One of my pet peeves is also W&N series 7 brushes. Years ago they were the in thing with painters. Not sure if that's still the case but all the best painters seemed to use them and that encouraged everyone else to go out and buy them thinking that an £8 brush would make them better painters. A few years back I picked up a series 7 brush out of curiosity (I think I got it for the 'bargain' price of £6) and whilst it was a good brush it didn't really out perform the brushes I was using (think I was onto Em-4's Kolinskys then) and didn't last any longer. So in my opinion if a brush costs more than £4 it better do something pretty damn good, like blow you whilst you paint!

    On the issue of B&M stores, I'm with you there as well. I don't use them in general. There's no guarantee they're going to have everything you need and it can just end up being a waste of time and money (money that would cover the shipping costs of ordering online). Even if your favourite online store is out of stock of something, you've still got many alternatives to pick and choose from. Being at the mercy of what might be the only place in town to buy a particular product really is a thing of the past.

    Games stores are like record stores in many respects. They're obsolete as far as being retailers. Their only saving grace is that they do offer in many cases a place to go and actually push models around a tabletop. Why clutter a shop with racks when you can fill it with more gaming tables though? Well, I guess you've got to make some green so stick hobby supplies on the back wall and specialise in those products rather than it being the afterthought that it normally seems to be (it can't be too hard to keep on top of stock levels of such a limited inventory) Charge people a small fee for using the tables and sell snacks and drinks as well (perhaps the table fee includes a drink or something). Anyway, I'm rambling now....

    1. Exactly, unless you are a Golden Deamon painter, you don't need a brush for more than £4. You can get really good brushes for £2-£4. You always have to take into account possible accidents with wet super glue etc - ruining a brush for £2 is not the same as accidently ruining a brush for £8...

  5. Superb Rant, even living in England I make most of my purchases online as any postage cost is far cheaper than trying to park my car in Sheffield.

  6. Gaming stores are going to sell synthetic brushes. That is just the nature of the beast. I always get my quality brushes from a local art store. Usually cheaper that way too.

  7. So, guys... what is the exact brand of brushes you guys recommend?

    1. Kolinsky Red Sable, from Creative Models is the brand I use and favor. Great quality at very cheap price. They are in fact priced in the same range as regular synthetic brushes.

      I used to emergency order some from Maelstrom Games, but when they went under I have not ordered from the UK until this week - and I ordered from Wayland Games. The brushes were something like £2.35 per brush in the sizes I always use the most ( 2/0, 0 and 1)

  8. In the US the supply of Kolinskys is rapidly drying up. Seems a division of our government is requiring a new form that contains exactly the same information as the old form and which apparently doesn't actually exist. An individual getting brushes from overseas doesn't have a problem as long as its smaller than a size 7.

    I do think that the quality of the Winsor Newton brushes has fallen off quite a bit over the last 3 or 4 years. My preferred brand are the DaVincis followed by the Rapheals.

    In the US it is difficult for a brick and mortar store to stock quality brushes, they can't match the pricing of the online art retailers like Dick Blick. Typically they stock whatever they can get their hands on, so the quality drops off and even the supply of cheaper Kolinskys is drying up.

    Like anything else we use a brush is a tool. Using quality brushes goes a long way in developing good habits and painting skills. Using cheap brushes just sets you back, time and money for no return.

  9. Don't get me started on brushes.... a few years ago I needed some new brushes urgently and didn't wan't to wait for an internet order to arrive. So I bought a set from Games Workshop out of desperation because there was no other brick and mortar games stores nearby. I must have been having a brain fart or something, I don't know what I was thinking. All were rendered useless after just a couple of painting sessions. I'd wasted the best part of £20 and ended up throwing the lot in the bin within a week.

    I then did what I should have done in the first place and invested in a new set of Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brushes. Three years later they still look as good as new. They cost a lot but the quality is unsurpassed.

  10. There's nothing worse than trying to paint details with a curled brush tip. Madness!

  11. I love my series 7, quality brushes must take quality care to maintain and clean. Many people don't take care of their brushes so they end up failing them in the end. I try to avoid synthetic brushes they just fall apart like mad.

  12. I live in the same area as Anatoli and went to the FLGS today after work in order to get:

    - GW Black Wash
    - Army Painter Metallic Primer
    - Vallejo Matte Varnish

    None of which were in stock. As a result of which I will probably end upp ordering them from the web instead...

  13. Sorry to hear about the Bricks & Mortar frustrations. If you're getting your brushes sent over from the UK anyway then I can strongly recommend Rosemary & Co. I use the R&C Series 33 brushes pretty much exclusively these days. Great brushes and about half the price of the W&N Series 7. Quick delivery within the UK so hopefully the international service would be good too.


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