Agreed.  In fact, I’m a vegan (diet and clothing) or at least “veganish” (I know a few folks who are self-righteously fanatical about it, and I am not one of them) and try to find non-animal art products whenever I can, but it’s very difficult.   I hope to test a new “vegan” watercolour soon.   And not only that, I work on animal trade issues as well, and have attended several Conferences of the Parties to CITES.  But that said, I’ve always heard that the hairs used tend to be at least a by-product of the fur trade.


Mustelids don’t really do well in captivity (although we are often told they do) due to their high metabolism, activity and home range sizes…there is a lot of stress-related illness in them.   I have found that synthetics work for me for all but the finest brush (WN 000 Series 7), but that’s just me and my particular style of work.   I don’t do washes as such.


I also find, and this is a bit embarrassing, that even at a rather advanced age, I keep discovering new ways of doing things, with the same old materials, or with new ones.  





Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905)-472-9731
[log in to unmask]






From: SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of mali moir
Sent: January-20-14 7:23 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [SCIART] sable brushes


Thanks to all for the research on this interesting topic,

I thought there were farms too, as one of the brush companies I buy from, ProArt, told me they had 2 ranges of the brushes I liked, they were especially promoting one more than the other as they claimed 'this farm treated their animals better'.
I also assumed that the tail is not used in the fur coat trade and that the whole animal is not killed just for the tail, I cant imagine we could afford these brushes if this were the case.
But still ....
And still again ... I would love to know of a synthetic brush that is as soft as the WN Series 7 and I mean really soft.

thanks again ........ Mali

Mali Moir
Botanical, Scientific & Natural History Artist
Melbourne Australia
Tel: 0422 575 034

Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2014 12:01:00 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [SCIART] sable brushes
To: [log in to unmask]

And thanks Barry for further info on CITES. It seems odd that the animal is not farmed. I have to admit that thinking about using a brush made from just the tail hairs of a wild animal gives me pause.... I would suppose though that the rest of the hairs are used in non premium brushes. But still ....





On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 11:56 AM, Kathleen Garness <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Thanks for researching this Lore! :)


Kathy G


On Jan 20, 2014, at 9:30 AM, Lore Ruttan wrote:


OK, my curiousity got going. Here's what I learned this morning. The species in question is Mustela siberica. It has two common common names; the Kolinksy, and the Siberian Weasel. The finest brushes are made from the hairs of from the tip of the tail of a male in winter coat! Now we know why Winsor Newton brushes are so expensive!


Why all the kerfuffle? It's an issue related to paperwork that tracks place of origin. The US doesn't like the paperwork that the Europeans use (go figure!). Here is the text from a Dick Blick FB post.


"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun requiring specific certification of certain products and is closely regulating the distribution, importation, and exportation of natural hair brushes that may have been made from endangered species. According to the National Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) “Trade in kolinsky hair is managed by the provisions set out in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Kolinsky hair comes from the species called mustela siberica. It is important to know that this is NOT AN ENDANGERED SPECIES, but because of a seldom used provision in CITES, trade in kolinsky hair requires CITES documentation.” 

One of these requirements is documentation of the country of origin of the hair being used in the brush. Many of the major brush brands are manufactured in Europe, which follows different regulations and necessary documentation. While these companies and the European CITES are claiming that their version is comparative and valid, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started refusing to allow brushes which do not come with the forms they consider to be valid from entering or leaving the United States. 

Art material retailers, brush manufacturers, and art material vendors, with the help of NAMTA are working to come to an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Services and CITES to help ensure that the necessary information and documentation can be made provided to them so that natural hair brushes can again become easily available to the artists who rely on them."


Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at


Lore Ruttan, Ph.D.

Lore Ruttan Illustration


Visit my Etsy shop at

Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at


Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at


Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at