How to Use a Rigger Brush
Watercolor Painting Lesson

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Painting Video

How to Use a Rigger Brush Watercolor Painting Lesson

Painting Lesson Level


Skill Building

Art Supplies
Rigger or liner brushes were invented by the French brush company Isabey to paint ships' rigging. Liners, a rigger with a bit more of a reservoir, were invented for sign painters. The terms liners and riggers are now used interchangeably by most brush sellers.

When you use a rigger in most watercolors, you hold the brush as far toward the end as possible and flick it. You can pause slightly for a knobby branch affect. Or you can move smoothly for straight, even lines.

The huge advantage of a rigger is the tiny tiny tip. It's the perfect brush for adding the last bit of detail in a painting. Try not to pull out your rigger until the last 5% of a painting, but then go for it! A rigger can do tiny perfect details or disappearing twigs. It's all in how you use the brush!

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Riggers hold a lot less water and paint than most brushes so they take a little bit of practice. With a rigger, you can flick the brush to create jagged, natural strokes with very little effort. You can also use the brush smoothly for delicate, even lines. It's all in how you're using it!

Painting Natural Objects

Rigger brush painting

Sketch painted almost entirely with a rigger brush on youtube video.

To paint natural objects such as grasses or tree branches, hold the rigger towards the end of the brush. Delicately flick the brush so that it disappears at the end of the stroke if you want little twigs or grass leaves. To paint knobbly branches, flick the brush then pause briefly so the paint blobs a little. This is a great way to paint trees of any kind. Riggers are great for painting small details like flower stamens as well. Just hold it at the tip, flick the brush and left it blob a little!

A natural hair rigger brush, such as a sable, will leave hit and miss strokes, perfect for natural objects. Natural hair holds more water than synthetic brush hair so you can paint for longer, but the results won't be as even as synthetic.

But What If I Want Smooth Strokes?

It's lovely to know how to paint natural objects, but sometimes we want to paint something even and solid, like a building railing. To use the rigger (or liner) to make smooth, even strokes, hold the brush nearer the ferrule and use smooth unjagged strokes. Paint only with the very tip of the brush. If you let too much of the brush hairs bend to the paper, you can get little blobs and unevenness.

Synthetic brush hair will leave much smoother, regular strokes than natural hair. If you're wanting to do hand lettering, a synthetic is probably easier to use than a natural hair brush. Synthetic hair will dry out quicker, which is more of a problem in smaller sizes.

To paint intricate railings, like you see in Charleston or New Orleans, you can alternate smooth strokes with intentional blobs to look like elaborate ironwork.
Rigger brushes are a great little tool for improving your painting! They're very inexpensive, so you can get a lovely sable brush for about $15-20 or a nice synthetic for under $5. I usually only have small sizes, 1 and 2, because I think instead of the larger size riggers a nice pointed round brush is much more useful. It can do as small a point and has the large water reservoir.

For tiny natural objects or precise architectural sketches, a rigger is the ideal brush!


  • Paint several winter trees with a rigger brush.
  • Write your name several times with a rigger brush.
    When your signature looks good, you have great brush control!

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Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

How to Use a Rigger Brush painting lesson by Jennifer Branch
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