REVIEW: ZenArt Black Tulip Watercolor Brush Set

ZenArt Black Tulip Watercolor Brush Set Product Shot and Sample Paintings

Looking for a watercolor brush set that is vegan, synthetic, holds a good amount of water, and has tips that spring back into shape easily? The ZenArt Black Tulip Watercolor Brush Set offers just that.

Specs

  • No. of Brushes: Six
  • Rigger 2, Rounds 8,10, Flats 8, ¾”, Cat’s Tongue ¾”
  • PVC Travel Case
  • Vegan synthetic squirrel bristles
  • Kiln-Dried Birch Wood Short Handles
  • Hand-crafted
  • Uses: Watercolor, Gouache, Inks, Dyes

Video

The ZenArt Black Tulip Set

ZenArt Black Tulip Brush Set Photo

The ZenArt Black Tulip Watercolor Brush Set has six brushes, a Cat’s Tongue, a Rigger, two Rounds and two Flats. I’ll go into the uses for each of those brushes later, but it’s a great selection, allowing for a wide range of techniques.

They are good to use with watercolor, gouache, inks, and dyes.

ZenArt Black Tulip Brush Set in Packaging

The set comes in a PVC wallet. The plastic is sturdy and can be used for storing the brushes. There is an insert that clearly lists the types and sizes of the brushes. On the back there is information on caring for the brushes so they’ll last a long time.

ZenArt Black Tulip Individually wrapped brushes

The brushes also come individually wrapped in a thinner plastic to help keep the brushes safe during shipping.

Each brush has a hard plastic cap to keep the bristles from damage. These caps are meant for shipping only. Trying to put them back on can result in damage to the bristles.

As with most new brushes, the bristles have a coating on them — again to keep them safe from damage in shipping. A quick wash with water and little mild soap, and your bristles will be soft and pliant and ready for use.

The ferrules are metal. I had a problem with the ferrules in my set. I’ll talk about this more, later.

The handles are hand-made with kiln-dried birch wood. The size and type of brush are clearly listed. The handles are the same length for all sizes, but wider depending on tip size.

Brushes have a balance point — that area on the handle that widens below the ferrule. There is no right or wrong for this balance point — it’s a matter of preference and may differ according to what you are painting.

The length, weight and balance of these brushes suited my hand and small working space very well.

The bristles are a vegan, Japanese synthetic meant to simulate squirrel hair. The blend of different diameter fibers results in a brush that is absorbent, and flexible with smooth strokes . No one’s truly matched good quality real hair brushes yet, but synthetic means the brushes will cost less, and no animals have sacrificed their lives for your bristles.

Equally important as how much water/paint a brush can hold is how evenly it releases that water/paint onto the paper. The paint flowed well. I easily changed my results by varying the angle of the brush and the amount of pressure I applied.

The brushes retained their points well, having enough spring yet they were flexible enough to create loops.

Although the Black Tulip brushes are labeled as faux squirrel, they are not as soft. I think that makes them better for mediums like gouache, but not as good for something like Chinese painting.

Customer Service

ZenArt Philosophy

I mentioned the ferrules above. All six of them were loose in the set I received. The ferrule holds the bristles in place and keeps them from shedding so it’s important that they be snug.

I contacted ZenArt and asked if they still wanted a review, because I had to let you know about this. Their response:

“Hello Sandra! Thanks for letting me know! They’re not supposed to be loose at all. My apologies for that. Of course, write your review but we’ll still send you a proper replacement Black Tulip brush set to try again and add to your personal tools. I’ll let you know once they’re shipped. It’s what we do for our customers.”

The fact that ZenArt was willing to have me continue with this review tells me they take action when problems occur. That counts for a lot in my book.

I’ve used these brushes quite a bit over the past few weeks, and have lost no bristles, and the ferrules have tightened. Four no longer wiggle at all, and two wiggle just slightly.

​​ZenArt Black Tulip​ – The Brushes

ZenArt Black Tulip brushes in use

You may be wondering what the different brush shapes in this set are meant to do, and how well these brushes do them.

Before I started any serious painting with these brushes, I just played with them. Swirls, twirls, streaks, strokes, wet, really wet, damp, dry, really dry – I tried everything I could think of. I did some things that are potentially harmful to a brush.

These brushes all performed wonderfully. Despite the loose ferrules, no bristles came loose even when I was twisting and dragging a mostly dry brush along the paper.

Two things to look for in a brush are snap and spring.

A brush that won’t change shape as you paint curves and swirls has little spring. I was able to paint circles and loops with these brushes. That’s good spring.

After painting curvy lines, the brush that doesn’t quickly return to its original shape while wet has little snap. Even after full circles the Black Tulip brushes returned to their shape. That’s good snap.

The bristles were responsive to angles and changes in pressure, allowing me to change the flow and creating a wide variety of marks and strokes.

As brushes dry, they loose some of their spring and snap. That’s how you know it’s time to load up more water/paint. When this happens, the bristles may separate (splay). These brushes did splay, especially when I was twisting and twirling, but it took a while and they snapped back into shape once rewet without needing to be shaped with my fingers.

The Cat’s Tongue

Zen Art Black Tulip Cat's Tongue Brush

The Black Tulip set includes a ¾ inch Cat’s tongue.

If a flat brush and round brush had a baby, you’d have something similar to a cat’s tongue. Jack of all Trades, they are as good at washes as they are at fine lines and detail.

A common problem when painting wet-over-dry (aka glazing), is having the brush lift color already there, instead of adding more color. Synthetics are more likely to do this than real hair brushes. Since the cat’s tongue is one of the larger brushes in the set, I paid extra attention to that issue.

Winter Watercolor Painting by Sandra Strait

The Black Tulip Cat’s Tongue brush displayed great versatility and flexibility. The spring was evident, no matter how I twisted and turned the brush.

It was easy (and fun) to create interesting shapes, and to get in-between to paint detail in the small spaces.

I had no problems with color lifting while layering.

The Rigger

ZenArt Black Tulip Rigger

The Black Tulip set includes a size 2 Rigger.

A rigger (aka liner or script) brush is used for painting long, thin lines such as the mast of a ship.

A common problem with these brushes is that they are too stiff for curved lines.

Brush Test ZenArt Black Tulip

I have to confess. I almost never use a rigger brush and don’t consider myself to be very good with them. You may note in the video, that I’m not holding the brush in the correct rigger manner. The longer a bristle is, the farther up the brush you should hold it, and with a rigger you should hold it close to the end of the handle while painting. I don’t, though.

I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive my Black Tulip Rigger was. Usually when I try to do loops, the brush will straighten out (no spring) midway and splatter paint all over. That wasn’t a problem with this brush.

The Rounds

ZenArt Black Tulip Round brushes

The Black Tulip set includes two round brushes, sizes 8, and 10.

Rounds are the most commonly used brush and they tend to be a workhorse. As such it’s important they can do a little bit of everything.

A common problem is tips that are too rounded for fine lines.

Watercolor Painting by Sandra Strait

Both spring and snap were quite apparent in these round brushes. Responsiveness to angle and pressure made it easy to create interesting shapes and fine detail.

I’m not a calligrapher, but I think it would be easy to write with these brushes. It would definitely be easy to draw.

The Flats

ZenArt Black Tulip Flat brushes

The Black Tulip Set comes with two flat brushes, sizes 8, and ¾ inch.

Many artists paint only with flat brushes. Used flat they’re great for washes. Used on the side, you can get medium sized marks, and thin lines when used on the edge. For fine detail, you paint with the corner.

Of all the shapes, a flat is most likely to splay. It’s so common, that I expect it and use it to make interesting marks.

Closeup of Black Tulip Flat Brush

Here you see the worst of the splaying. This occurred after I used the brush to draw circles and most of the time, it wasn’t this bad. Once rewet, the bristles snapped back into shape without the need to use my fingers for the shaping.

Comparatively, I found the Black Tulip flats to splay less than other synthetics I’ve used, and it was more flexible than most of them.

Green and blue watercolour painting

There is full range of marks and washes to be had with the flat brushes in this set. Fabulous shapes and fine detail were easy to create, and I just had a great time.

My preference is for the round brush, but I’d be happy to use just these flats.

Examples using ZenArt Black Tulip brushes

Berries gouache watercolor painting by Sandra Strait

While playing with the brushes, I used them in ways that I’ll seldom use them while painting more serious work. But it gave me a very good idea of their capabilities.

I used every one of the brushes in the set for this gouache painting. The paper was mixed media, which buckled a bit and wasn’t as absorbent, but it made no difference to the brushes.

Watercolor Paintings of animals by Sandra Strait

I’ve used my Black Tulip brush set for every painting I’ve done since I got them. That’s way more paintings than I can share here, but they include both gouache and watercolor and are done on cold press, hot press, rough and over a rough-textured gouache background.

Watercolor paintings of scenes and florals

ZenArt Black Tulip – Overall

The ZenArt Black Tulip watercolor brush set is a great bang for the buck. I’m impressed with the flexibility and responsiveness of these brushes. Are they the best synthetics I’ve ever used? No. But the better ones cost about 10 times more.

The ferrules were loose when I got the set, which can be a serious problem. The ferrules have tightened with use, and despite extensive use, the brushes haven’t lost any bristles. I suspect they will with age, sooner than they would have otherwise. Customer service response was good, and I was told that replacing defective sets was the usual response.

These sets run around $30 USD for all six brushes. It comes included with an offer for a free ZenArt Sketch Journal, too. Despite the ferrule problem, I think these are a great set of brushes at a great price.

About ZenArt

ZenArt is a family run art supply business based in London. Frustrated in the search for brushes that would meet her needs, Ardak Kassenova co-founded the company to create professional brushes created by artists for artists. With each sale, ZenART donates to UNICEF’s partner, “Art in All of Us” (AiA), helping to inspire children across the globe to share their similarities and differences through art to promote tolerance and understanding.

Tools

Disclaimer: I received a six brush set of Black Tulip brushes from ZenArt for the purpose of this review. I received no other consideration, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews
28 Comments
  1. alice 2 weeks ago

    excellent review, sandra, and you made some wonderful paintings. I love watching the sped up motion in the video of your painting

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Thank you so much, Alice! I had a great time doing that video as you might have been able to tell!

  2. mjmarmo 2 weeks ago

    Thank you for this! I can always use info like this!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Thank you, Jean! I’m glad you found it helpful!

  3. Zoie McIntyre 2 weeks ago

    Thank you so much for the information Sandra. 🙂

  4. Brenda Sommerville 2 weeks ago

    Thanks Sandra,got mine 8n the cart.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Yay! I can’t wait to see what you paint with them!

  5. Pat Boglio 2 weeks ago

    great thorough review. I’m so tempted!

  6. Mary Roff 2 weeks ago

    Wonderful review, Sandra! They look like wonderful brushes!

  7. Marisela Delgado 2 weeks ago

    Hola, Sandra! Great review on such pretty brushes. I hope you are staying warm! San Antonio got snow last night and early this morning! That’s crazy! I haven’t seen snow like this since I was a sophomore in high school (1985). ❄⛄ I hope you are well.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Thank you Marisela! I am staying warm. Portland got snow on Friday, but it is melting today, thank goodness. We still have 4 ft drifts in our backyard. It hasn’t been as long since I’ve seen such things, but it isn’t something we see often. Stay safe and healthy.

  8. Walter F Pierluissi 2 weeks ago

    Another amazing review like usually expected from the Great Sandra!!!! An artist I am honored to know through her art in doodlewash and Instagram… If I need information about a subject about watercolors, bridges, journals, gouache, pens and other things art related,I will always go and look for Sandra’s comments and reviews. thank’s Sandra for your time and good info…. Walt.

    • Walt. F Pierluissi 2 weeks ago

      Where said bridges, is a mistake…. I wrote brushes and somehow my phone translator rewrote bridges…. Stupid 🤪🤪🤪 phone!!!!

      • Author
        Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

        Lol! I knew what you meant. Word correct is definitely not as helpful as the inventors meant it to be!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Wow! Thank you so much, Walt! I’m honored to receive such a glowing compliment from an artist I truly admire!

  9. Mugdha 2 weeks ago

    Hello Ms. Sandra,

    I hope you are doing well. Thanks so much yet again for such an informative review – rather a wonderful lesson in what to look out for in brushes. And apologies for having seen the review quite a while after you posted it. But thanks so much again and I hope to see your next review very soon. Do please continue to be safe and healthy. 🙂

    Love,
    Mugdha

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

      Thank you so much, Mugdha! Your comments are welcome and appreciated no matter how long after the review is posted! Stay safe and healthy.

  10. Nellie Nellie 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Sandra! Really beautiful work! So much light and fun.

  11. Brenda Sommerville 1 week ago

    Sandra, thank you for the review. I received my brushes and they are well made and fairly priced, however, I found them too large for my hands. I have very small hands and an on-going injury that forces me to use very light weight and smaller brushes. Customer service was great.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 1 week ago

      I’m sorry they weren’t the right fit for you. I have small hands as well, but fortunately found them to be a good balance for me.

  12. Michelle Hohertz 1 week ago

    Great review. I also had issues with receiving brushes with loose ferrules, and they sent replacements. They are not my favorite synthetic brushes and the bristles do this weird thing where they become very hard again each time that they dry. I agree with you they are much better used for gouache than watercolor. However, I do love their rigger brush!

  13. JA Wilson 1 week ago

    Thanks for the review..Been waiting for power back to read it. I mostly use Mimiks for the same reasons you give for these, so I’ll add these to my list of I want to tries. Especially the Cats Tongue. Also I haven’t found a rigger yet I like so that’s good to know…likely user error , but I keep on trying.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 1 week ago

      Thank you! I find riggers hard to use, too, though I didn’t have any trouble with these!

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