Apparently using masking fluid prior to painting a watercolour picture is cheating! Or so I was told a few months ago. But then I’ve also been told that you shouldn’t stretch your watercolour paper, and you should never ever use gouache with your watercolour. There are also others who believe pencil marks should be so faint that you can’t see them. And yet others think you shouldn’t draw at all – they say you should just go straight in with paint.
But hey, you know what? As far as I’m concerned, you should be able to do whatever you like when it comes to art (and in this instance – watercolour painting). You’re the one doing the painting so if you feel you want to add masking fluid, or salt, or thick pen marks, then just do it! Life is too short to worry about whether you should or shouldn’t be using masking fluid.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what masking fluid is and why you use it, then read on and learn!
Masking fluid in non-technical terms is liquid stuff that you put on watercolour paper to keep the paper white underneath while you do heaps of painting and other stuff on the rest of the paper. Does that make sense? Picture this – you want to paint a yacht on the ocean. The sky is a lovely clear blue. The boat’s mast is white. What do you do? Do you paint around the mast, which can be very tricky with watercolor because poor timing and brushwork can cause “blooms” and streaks. Or do you just paint straight through the mast with the blue of the sky and then paint back over it with white watercolor paint or gouache later on (and thereby losing the white of the paper)? You don’t have to do either. Masking fluid can be your saviour here.
Masking fluid comes in a variety of bottles and containers, and in a variety of colours. My choice is Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid (the one that dries to a soft yellow colour). Winsor & Newton also make a colourless variety (which is hard to see when it’s dry), and in other brands I’ve seen a blue masking fluid (which I find too distracting when I paint around and over it).
To use your masking fluid, open the lid and give the fluid a gentle stir with a brush handle or a wooden skewer, (don’t shake your bottle of masking fluid. It will only turn into a “blobby” mess at the bottom of the bottle and then “plop” onto your painting when you’re trying to apply it and just ruin your entire painting)! Pour a small amount into the lid of the bottle and apply to the area you want covered.
To apply the masking fluid, you can use an old (note the word “old”) watercolour brush, or a wooden skewer (the kind you use for making kebabs), or a colour shaper that you use when working with pastels, or use anything else that has a bit of thick pointed end (I’m constantly amazed at what I see students using). You can also apply it very randomly by spattering with an old toothbrush. If you use an old watercolour brush or a toothbrush, make sure you wash it immediately afterwards with warm soapy water to ensure you get any excess masking fluid out. If you don’t, the brush will go hard and you’ll have to throw it out! In this blog you’ll see a picture of a very simple design that has been drawn onto a watercolor page, and being “painted” over with the flatter end of a wooden skewer.
Once the masking fluid is dry (it should be sticky to touch but shouldn’t come off on your finger), you can paint over it and the paper will remain white underneath. When you’ve finished painting and the paint is dry, you can remove the masking fluid to reveal the white paper underneath. To remove it, ensure you have a clean, dry hand and use your fingertips to rub it off very gently. You can also use a soft rubber but fingertips are just as good.
If you find that the white that is left behind is too thick then you can paint back into it, very carefully, to get the thickness you want.
So, what do you think? Would you call that cheating or just being a little bit clever? Of course, it’s not for everyone, and it takes a bit of practise to get the right thickness, but if it comes in handy every now and then, well then, just use it and enjoy the outcome. Happy masking and painting!