Mastering Masking Fluid
PA Carole Massey shows us how to make the most of this versatile medium
Masking fluid is a solution of latex in ammonia and is used in watercolour painting to reserve small white areas of paper, or an existing area of colour. Watercolour painters know how easy it is to lose those precious flashes of white or areas of light that are so important in creating life and sparkle in the finished painting. Used carefully, masking fluid will help to create tonal contrast which is so vital to successful paintings. It is loved or loathed by artists - but I love it!
'Stormy Skies, Finistère'
I used a dip pen to draw the swirling lines of white spume in the sea and a small round shaper and my finger for broader passages. The spray effect was achieved by dipping the bristles of an old toothbrush into the fluid, then dragging my thumbs across them - you need to practise this or you can end up with blobs. Wash the toothbrush out immediately, but not in your painting water
WHEN TO USE IT
Masking fluid is usually coloured - yellow, blue or grey etc - so that you can see where it has been applied. It is most useful in masking out fine details which are surrounded by darker washes. In a landscape situation you might want to conserve white flowers in a field, distant fence posts, the spray of the sea, pink blossom against a vivid blue sky or shiny leaves catching the light; in portraits, it is very useful for reserving highlights in the eyes, hair, nose or lips, or even sometimes on clothing. There are endless examples where it is beneficial, but the important thing is to know how to use it.
'Baboon and baby'
Here there's a lot of drawing done with the dip pen and masking fluid to achieve the wiry hair of the adult baboon. For the baby's eyes I used the colour shaper for the highlight and drew the eyelids with the pen
SUCCESS OR FAILURE
The success or failure of masking fluid depends on three factors:
The dazzling contre jour effect of the setting sun sparkling on the water was achieved using mostly the colour shaper (and a lot of patience!) with some pen work in the distance. This painting relies on creating enough tonal contrast - the darkest area of the silhouetted fisherman against the bright water
REMOVING THE MASKING FLUID
Once the painting is completely dry, remove it by rubbing gently with your finger or an eraser. Some areas may need to be 'knocked back' in order to look natural with an additional wash, or you might want to apply more masking fluid over an existing wash to create pale sections. You can use it to reserve an existing colour then paint darker washes over (see fig 4, Autumn leaf). It should not be left on the paper for long periods, and can tear some of the softer handmade papers, so it's always best to test it out first.
Having allowed the wet in wet red/orange wash to dry for this gloriously coloured maple leaf, I drew the veins with masking fluid, then added a reddish purple wash when the masking fluid was dry
'Willy Lott's House'
Masking fluid was very useful to retain the light areas on the foreground reeds as they caught the light, and the figures in the background, enabling me to add dark areas quite freely. Once the mask had been removed, light green was added to some reeds for a more natural effect
From Photograph to Painting with Matthew Palmer
The Italian Job with Malcolm Cudmore
Spring Fervour with David Hyde
Market Day in Brittany with Marilyn Allis
Cromford Canal with Matthew Palmer
Portraits in Pastel Pencils with Heather Jolliffe
A Passion for Watercolour Painting