Tricks and Treats for Using a Mask:
Watercolor artists everywhere have their own ideas about how to preserve whites. The white areas of your painting provide highlights as well as what artist’s call sparkle to your painting. It is exciting to see light areas against dark areas. This brings interest and continuity to your composition.
The purist actually avoids painting over the white areas of their watercolor painting, allowing the pure paper color to be used as the whites. This is known as negative painting and can be quite difficult for beginners and novice painters.
Planning is your first key concern when preserving the white areas. A value study is an essential step in planning your watercolor painting. This exercise enables you to see the lightest and the darkest areas of your subject. Which in turn helps you to preserve your whites by avoiding the area, or by using a mask.
There are several ways to mask out or preserve an area. First,you can use masking fluid which is designed to resist the watercolor paint and then be easily removed when the painting is complete, revealing the white paper beneath. Masking fluid, frisket, maskoid, drawing gum, it’s all pretty much the same material. There are several brands and it really is a trial and error process to find the one that works best for you. However, there is very basic information for using masking fluid that is pretty much universal.
1) Always use an inexpensive brush to apply the masking fluid. This is because masking fluid can dry in the brush and this will ruin it.
2) Wet the brush in water before dipping into masking fluid. This makes it easier to clean the brush after use.
3) Apply masking fluid to dry paper only. It is best to test the masking fluid on a small spot to ensure that it will lift easily. Frequently cleaning your brush may be necessary throughout this process.
4) Masking fluid is meant to be a temporary application,you should only leave it on for short periods of time, usually between 1-3 days at the most. It will eventually become permanent if left on too long and you will not be able to remove it.
5) Make sure the masking fluid is completely dry before painting over. You can speed the drying time by using a blow dryer.
6) Only when your painting is completely dry may you remove the masking fluid areas with a masking fluid pick up, which is a rubbery type of material made for this purpose.
7) Masking fluid does leave a hard edge that is sometimes undesired. These edges can be softened by softly scrubbing with a moist brush.
8) Masking fluid has a limited shelf life, usually about 6 months to a year. It is best to buy smaller amounts to avoid having it dry up. It is possible to thin the fluid with ammonia but that is only if it is still in a liquid state.
Frisket Film is another product available for masking and is a great alternative to liquid masking fluids. The dry film is prepared on a translucent backing paper to make it easy to see where you are applying the mask. Just place the film over the area and burnish. This will leave the film only in the areas that are burnished. It can also be removed with a masking fluid pick up.
Rubber cement has been around for years and is also used to mask. The application is similar to masking fluid, however, rubber cement is a lot thicker and harder to work with. It can be more cost effective if you are covering larger amounts of area.
Artist tape is good way to mask larger areas as well. This is usually an acid-free white paper tape with low tack adhesive, available in ¾ inch, 1 inch, and 2 inch sizes. You can also remove some of the tack or by placing the length of tape on an article of clothing such as jeans, and then place it on the watercolor paper. This helps the tape to be removed without damaging the paper surface. Artist tape can be torn or used as a straight edge. Masking tape is not recommended for watercolor use as it is not acid free and it can also allow the paint to seep under the edges.
Scraps of paper can also be used to mask out interesting areas. You can keep the paper in place by taping from underneath or by using a repositionable spray adhesive. Just make sure the adhesive is applied to the underside of the paper and is completely dried when you place it on your painting.
Wax is another method of preserving whites. This, however, is a permanent masking method. Once you apply the wax, either in a crayon or pencil form, it can be rather difficult to remove completely. You can scrape the hardened wax off but it does leave enough residue to resist the watercolor paint. It is possible to sand or scrub the area although this can damage the surface of the paper. Because of its permanency, wax is a great way to preserve reflective whites such as highlights.
These are just basic examples of ways to preserve the white areas of your watercolor painting.
The best way advice is to experiment on a scrap piece of paper with the different techniques and document the process. This will enable you to reproduce the process on your painting. These masking techniques can also be used with other mediums as well, such as airbrushing and acrylics. Also, just remember, if all else fails, there’s always white gouache! Happy Painting!