The Secret World of Brushmaking: Sonia G. Takes Us Behind the Scenes


Years ago, when Sonia G. was just starting out, she created Fundamentals, a series of makeup brushes that would make her name. Now, almost 6 years and dozens of brushes later, Sonia G. is reissuing these classic tools with updates to the carefully crafted handles.

The world of Japanese brushmaking is highly guarded—techniques that artisans have perfected for decades are confidential. But because of her longtime trusted relationship with her collaborators and manufacturers, Sonia is able to give us an exclusive look. Here’s her fascinating, step-by-step description of creating the handles of these legacy brushes.


Making the Handles

The new handles for the Fundamental Series brushes are made from walnut wood. We redesigned all the handle shapes to make sure they were durable as walnut is a more delicate wood. Each handle is different in hue and the pattern of the grain is unique to each piece. The sloping silhouette accentuates the details of the wood grain; there is more complexity in the grain in comparison to a straight handle.I’m happy to share a little bit more information with regards to the whole process.


The walnut wood is selected, sawed to an initial dimension, and then left to dry for some days before the next step can be done. Wood changes shape and tends to shrink. Leaving it to dry and settle in between the process mitigates the issues that could occur on the longer term.


The pieces of wood are cut to a rough shape with tools that have been created specially for each brush’s handle. The trick here is that the wood is not cut to the exact target size, but instead to a larger size. The handles are then left to rest again—this is to allow the wood to settle and shrink to its final size. At the end of the resting process, each handle will have moved differently.


After the wood is stable, and since all handles will have to be adjusted differently, they are then lathed one by one manually. This is where the handles are shaped to their final curves and dimensions.


Next comes the first round of polishing. I have noticed that the artisans will use different sanding papers depending on the area they are polishing. For example, it’s a different process on the body, the edges, or even where the logo is applied. This is to allow the edges of the handles to have more grip on the lacquers, or for the logo to be applied as smoothly as possible.


This is where the Tonoko coating happens and the tiny conduits of wood are filled and smoothed. Tonoko is a polishing powder made from finely ground stone. It’s a traditional process used by artisans that has many benefits: Not only does it accentuate the grain of the walnut wood, it strengthens the wood and mitigates the risk of shrinking.


The handles receive a matte primer coating of urethane.


Another polishing step is added to soften the surface and make the handles even smoother.


Now the handles are ready for the main urethane coating. Urethane is going to protect the walnut wood, increase the durability, and help with the water-resistance.


Inspection: this is when the coating and smoothness is re-checked and the final measurements validated.


The handles that pass quality control are shipped to the brush manufacturer!


Now that the handles are at the brush manufacturer, they assemble the brush hairs in the ferrules, and then attach them to the handles. The manufacturer also inspects each handle upon assembling.

The brush manufacturer works closely with the handle manufacturer during the whole process. If they have recommendations (maybe due to the ferrules, etc.), or if they encounter any issue, they will inform them.


The brushes go out into the world. When I saw them for the first time, I was speechless. I kept looking at the grain again and again. I was surprised and overwhelmed with emotions and I still feel the same way today!

The Sonia G. Fundamental Face Series is available as a set or as singles; click here to shop.

Additional images courtesy of Sonia G. and her brush manufacturers

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