Monday, March 16, 2009


I have had requests to share some of the techniques I use in my watercolor paintings, so I thought I might try sharing with you my "watercolor techniques and tips" once a week or so. I have read so many books over the years, and tried so many things, that I might just be able to give you some new and exciting tips to incorporate into your art! Many of these techniques and tips will apply to all paint mediums, but I will be writing with watercolor in mind.

Okay - the first thing I'd like to tell you about is called "masking". Masking is a handy way to preserve the white of your paper, or to preserve a color you want to keep in certain parts of your painting while you add glazes of color.

Masking fluid  is made by many companies - some well known and others not so well known, so shop around for one that is not too expensive but works well. Ask at your favorite art store which one(s) they recommend.   Most masking fluids come in white, yellow or blue color. I use a colored brand so that when it is dry, I can see it on the paper.

To apply masking fluid, pour some into a small container like a film canister (if you can find one any more), or a small pill container. Start with just a small amount so that you don't waste any. I pour the unused portion back into my larger container as soon as I can - once the fluid starts to set, you cannot reuse it, nor pour it back into the original container. You can also keep some in the small container if it has an airtight lid.

There are several ways to apply masking fluid to your paper. One is with a brush -but it should be an old brush, or one that you buy specifically for this purpose, as masking fluid tends to ruin brushes. When applying with a brush, you should wet your brush in water first, then dip the brush into a small amount of dishwashing liquid which has been slightly thinned with water, then into the masking fluid. You will need to repeat this procedure every 2 - 3 strokes for the fluid to flow well, and to not harden your brush. Wash your brush well as soon as you have finished masking your painting.

A special tool which has been created for applying mask is The Incredible Nib. 

This tool has a sharp end and a thicker end, and is made out of wood - I think it is bamboo.  You can dip the end in the mask and paint it on the paper without having to dip into the dishwashing liquid, and you don't need to worry about ruining a brush. You can create thin lines, thick lines, or fill in larger spaces with this pen.

Of course, you don't have to buy special tools. You can use skewers, toothpicks, and other instruments - they just may not be as satisfactory or create as continuous a line as you might want.

This little masquepen is wonderful for creating very thin lines on your paper, such as I used in my painting "A Pair of Onions". It gives really good control once you learn how to use it without blobbing. 

However you apply the masking fluid, BE SURE it is dry before you continue your painting.. and DO NOT use anything to hasten the drying process. A blow dryer will cook the fluid to the paper!

Okay - now that you know about masking fluid, why would you use it? Let's say you wanted to paint a tree that looks like it has snow on its branches. You could use some masking fluid to keep the white of the paper which will represent the snow while you paint the tree trunk, branches, , the sky, and any other items around the tree branches. When you have completed  your painting, and you remove the masking fluid, you have the pure white of the paper - and your snow is done! In the case of my onions, I laid down a first wash for each onion, then masked off the lines in the onion's skin. This preserved the lighter lines while I painted the other glazes over top. When my painting was complete, I removed the mask, and had the lighter colored lines automatically!

How do you remove the masque? You can get what is called a rubber cement pick-up which is like an eraser for masking fluid. It is not very expensive, and will last you many, many years.

Have a great week painting, and if masking is a new concept to you, then I hope you have lots of fun creating paintings with this great technique!


Kim said...

Oooo, this is good stuff. I can't wait until next week's tip. I didn't know about the dish soap thing when using a brush to apply masking fluid. Very handy tip. Do you use simply masking fluid if you are going to block out a large area or do you combine techniques?

Joanne said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the great question! The answer is yes and no. :-) In some cases, you can just mask around the outer edges of the object you want to protect and keep white - so you don't have to mask the entire thing. But, in other cases, like when I use the Pouring of Colors technique, I have to mask the entire area I want to keep white, and in the second pour of colors, I have to mask all the objects I want to keep the colors of the 1st pour. So - it depends on what you are doing in the painting, and what you want your end result to be.

Anonymous said...

Great topic! Looking forward to more...