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How to Use Masking
Watercolor Painting Lesson

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Painting Video

Masking (liquid frisket) is a great tool for beginner watercolor painters. Masking reserves the white of the paper so you can paint a loose bold wash and not worry about the whites!

How to Use Masking Watercolor Painting Lesson

A few tips make using masking in your paintings easy!

Painting Lesson Level

Beginner
Intermediate

Skill Building

Masking

The First Rule of Masking

Let It Dry!

Always, always, always let the masking dry completely before you touch your brush to it. It WILL ruin your beautiful paintbrush if you don't let it dry completely.

Let the paint dry before you remove or add more masking. If you don't, it will ruin your paper - and your painting.

Masking Watercolor Painting Tutorial

Don't forget masking can be used on top of a wash as well as on white paper!

The Second Rule of Masking

Don't let your brush touch it!

It WILL ruin your beautiful brush. Do not ever use a brush to apply masking.

Don't bother to buy cheap brushes to apply masking. They will barely make it through one use.

The silcon applicators are nice, but I love using the eraser on a #2 pencil. The eraser should never be let near your paper for erasing since it scratches the paper and leaves marks (always use a white artist's eraser). But as a masking applicator, it can't be beat!

To remove the masking from the eraser, just let it dry and pull it off. That simple!

The Third Rule of Masking

Don't leave masking on your paper too long.

Masking is meant to be used for a week or so at the maximum. If you use it longer than that, you're exposing the paper to temperature and humidity changes. These will cause the masking to dye the paper (lovely yellow or bright pink, whatever the color of the masking you chose) or to bond with the paper, making it impossible to remove without damaging the paper.

I am not saying that leaving masking on your paper will definitely ruin it. Just that I've had it happen more than once, so please don't take the chance with your lovely paintings.

So use masking as an excuse to paint fast!

Disclaimer: Jennifer Branch Gallery is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertisting fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Most items can be bought multiple places. Any other recomendation links I receive no compensation for.
I will never recommend a product I have not used frequently and believe is the best tool for the purpose!

I use Grafix 4-1/2-Ounce Incredible White Mask Liquid Frisket

I've tried a lot of brands of masking and it removes the easiest with the least damage to paper. I've never had a problem using Incredible White Mask on Arches paper. I also like the off white color vs pink. It doesn't stain the paper and is closer to the true white you're looking for.

Masking Tricks

Reserving whites in watercolor

Masking in use and some alternatives.

Use Masking Over a Wash

Don't just use masking on white paper. Use it on a wash (that has completely dried.) This is a particularly useful trick when painting light flowers. I used it in the light purple verbena in the sketch above, but you could use it for highlights on sunflowers. Or paint the shadows moving through white daisies, let it dry, then reserve the flowers, already with their shadows.

Remove masking when painting is 80% done.

That's right, 80% done. Never wait to remove masking until the painting is finished. If you remove it before the end, you have time to blend some edges, layer a little of harsh whites. Otherwise, your painting will be dotted with little white paper cutouts. Not a good look.

Removing Masking

Masking must be removed completely.

I use a white artist's pencil or my finger to remove masking. If you've really built up the layers and pigment is thick on the masking, use your finger. The eraser will smear it easier, making your pristine whites disappear at a swipe.

Remember friction can give you a blister! (Yes, I've stupidly been there.) Take your time removing masking if you've used a lot.

Masking vs. Alternatives

Besides the obvious technique of negative painting, there are options to masking.

White Gouache

Gouache is what I use about half the time. It can be mixed with your other pigments to change the color (keep the mixes separate on your palette.)

The big negative about gouache is that it dulls the stained glass effect of watercolor. That luminous color just isn't there after mixing gouache. However, that can be a plus. The play of dull and transparent colors can be exactly the look you're going for!

Keep gouache use to small areas.

Always plan ahead for using gouache. Don't use it to fix mistakes. Use it deliberately.

Wax

You all know how I love using my wax crayons! They're easy to use, leave interesting sparks of pigment and don't completely kill transparency.

The negative of wax is it can't be removed. You can play with ironing and all the rest, but it simply doesn't come off nicely. So where ever you put it will be that color forever. No second chances, which can be hard for beginners.

The other negative is it's a bit shiny, but that's unnoticable under glass.

Razor

So the obvious negative of a razor is bloodstains...

Cutting through your paper is a hazard so practice on a scrap paper before your painting. It does damage the paper, of course, so use a razor as your very last step in painting.

The real negative and positive of razor pigment removal is it only looks good as a small thin line. It's a great small hairline white, but don't try to make it bigger. It never looks good.


Why I Rarely Use Masking Now

I don't use masking much anymore for 4 reasons.

1.

While Incredible White Mask does ok with Twinrocker paper, it doesn't always come off smoothly. I've tried all the brands, that one works the best but it's not infallible. Handmade paper and masking don't mix well and I don't recommend using both.

Twinrocker paper also has a heavier sizing and better recovery than Arches, and far better than cheaper brands. That means lifting paint is much cleaner and easier. So there is less need to reserve minor whites before hand.

2.

I paint a lot faster than a few years ago and also have less time to paint. I don't like wasting time waiting for masking or paint to dry!

3.

I use white gouache and wax. I only painted transparent watercolor pigments to start. Now I use anything that works!

4.

I'm a better painter than I was a few years ago. I don't have as much trouble negative painting tiny areas in a loose wash. That takes a LOT of practice though.









Use masking as a tool for that first loose bold wash and a layer or two after. That gives you the freedom to do the loose washes and not worry about reserving whites. Negative painting and painting loosely is much easier with masking

Masking is a terrific tool for beginner watercolor painters!

Homework!

Flowers are blooming like crazy in the Northern Hemisphere this summer!

Paint a quick sketch using masking, wax and white gouache so you know what each tool can do - and how to use them together!

Don't spend longer than 30 minutes on this sketch (excluding drying time). Paint another sketch using the new skills. The first is just to explore your tools.

Related Art Lessons

Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

How to Use Masking painting lesson by Jennifer Branch
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