Watercolor painting isn’t just about where you put your paint, but also where you don’t. Leaving some white space on your paper gives your paintings contrast, creates highlights and puts the snow on those mountaintops.
Of course keeping watery paints from wading into those white spaces can be tricky, especially if the spots are small or intricately shaped. That’s where masking fluid comes in. Essentially liquid latex, masking fluid can take on any shape, repels both paint and water, and peels off without leaving a trace. No wonder some artists call it liquid magic!
To use masking fluid effectively, there’s definitely some technique involved. Here’s what you need to know to become a masking master.
How to Use Masking Fluid
Plan Out Your Painting
Before picking up your brush, you need to have your painting pretty well mapped out so you know exactly where the highlights and areas you want to preserve will be located. It’s always good to have a game plan.
Make That Stirred, Not Shaken
Sorry 007, but you don’t want to shake this concoction. You’ll end up with a lumpy mess that’s impossible to apply with any accuracy. So before dipping your brush in masking fluid, just stir the fluid gently with a wooden skewer (or even the handle of a paint brush).
Add Water — But Sparingly
If your fluid becomes too thick, you can add a drop or two of water to thin it out and make it easier to spread. Just don’t go crazy. Adding too much alters the masking fluid’s resistant properties. If you thin the fluid too much, it’ll end up adhering to the paper and become a real pain to peel off later.
Keep Your Best Brushes Far, Far Away
Masking fluid is where brushes go to die, so always use an old brush or a cheap plastic one. To help your brush hold up a little better, wet it and then coat it with some soap before you dip it into the medium. This will protect the bristles and make the brush much easier to clean off later. And speaking of cleaning, do it right away, before the gunk dries.
If you start using masking fluid on the reg, you might want to pick up some silicone brushes. These are great for getting into smaller areas, and all you need to do to clean them is let them dry and the masking fluid magically peels right off!
Think Beyond the Brush
Using different applicators for masking fluid can yield a range of amazing effects. Try a toothpick for thin lines or tiny dots, a squeeze bottle for larger areas, or an old toothbrush to create a splatter effect (a great way to mimic the random effect of light sparkling on water).
Use It on Painted Areas, Too!
You can also use masking fluid to preserve an area that’s already been painted so the colors don’t become muddy as you paint nearby. Just keep in mind: the fluid may pick up some of the color and make that area a little bit lighter after it’s removed.
Toss That Water
After cleaning your brush, immediately change the water or use a different glass altogether. Even the tiniest bit of masking fluid in your paint water can make your watercolors appear dull.
Wait for the masking fluid to dry completely before starting to paint; otherwise, it might mix and mingle with your paint, which is the opposite of what you want! And resist the urge to hasten the process with a hair dryer, as the heat will make the fluid bond with the paper — for good.
Be Patient (Again)
Once you’ve completed your painting, wait until it’s completely dry before coming back to the masking fluid. Then use a soft eraser, rubber pick-up tool, or your even just your fingers to gently peel the masking fluid off the paper . When you think you’ve got it all, slowly pass your hand over the painting to see if you can detect any areas you may have missed.
Add a Soft Touch
Masking fluid works very well to preserve white areas on your paper. So well, in fact, that you can end up with hard, unnatural edges around these shapes. If that happens, just use a stiff brush and some water to soften the edges up a bit. Now you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands!