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Basic Information: Masking

June 21, 2010

Masking is an easy technique if you want to block out a section of your painting to keep the color of the paper or a lower layer of paint, to make a straight edge, or make a clean sharp edge in a painting.  Here are the masking materials that I have found that work the best.

For watercolour paints or ink wash paintings, use Windsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid.  It comes in a bottle and is a milky white.  (And it smells funky!)  This is a liquid latex type substance that you can apply to the paper, paint over in watercolors, rub with your finger or a gum eraser to remove the mask after the paint dries, thus retaining the white color of the paper.  Some times people or other brands of this product refer to it as “frisket”.  I used the W&N Art Masking Fluid to mask out the white vinca flower leave veins in this old painting of mine:

I used the liquid mask to make the lines in the vinca flower leaves, which left me with white lines, then I did a wash of pale green over the lines to soften them.

There is a pen-like tool called the “The Incredible NIB” by Grafix which is the best thing to use to apply the Windsor & Newton liquid mask.  Mine has a black handle, one pointy end and one chisel tipped end; the ends are a material like fiberglass.  If you use a regular brush, the rubbery texture of the masking liquid usually gums up the bristles of the brush and won’t come out; usually the brush is ruined.  If you cannot find the NIB tool, try using a chopstick or the handle of a thin paintbrush to apply the masking fluid.  If you close the bottle well, the fluid keeps and I’ve had my bottle for years.  I try to give the bottle a good shake after I am done using the masking liquid (not before, as this causes air bubbles which will prevent even flow.)

For acrylic paints, I use a few different tapes.  If I do not need a perfect, sharp edge but want to control the paint in an area of a surface, then I tend to use a middle range priced drafting tape.  This may have a little bit of the paint bleed under the edges but works very well, especially is your brush strokes go from the center of the tape to the area you are painting rather than toward the edge of the tape thus pushing the paint under it.  The drafting tape is very similar to masking tape but has lower adhesion / is less sticky.  Masking tape has too much variation is quality and I have found the brands generally have a weaker paper backing, probably because it is cheaper.  Masking tape, especially cheap kinds, is more likely to embed in the paint and be harder to remove.  I have had the tape shred into little bits instead of pulling up in one piece while drafting tape has stayed intact and not ripped up any paint it was stuck to.

The next most expensive tape I have used is blue painter’s tape of the hardware store variety.  This makes a sharper edge, has a good tensile strength, comes in wider thicknesses and is not so sticky as to damage or rip up any paint it is stuck to.  You can often get a discounted price on buying a multi-roll pack.

The absolute best tape for masking is a lime green 3M Automotive Performance Masking Tape that you can find in car parts shops.  It may be a dollar to a few dollars more per roll than blue painter’s tape.  This creates the sharpest, cleanest edges of any of the tapes I have used, even when pressed and gently rubbed down over rough, textured surfaces.  I wish I have a box of this stuff.  I have also had a variety of different interesting results using self-adhesive shelf lining stuff that can be cut with scissors, razor, box cutter or -preferably- an Xacto knife.

For oil paints, use the above techniques for acrylic paints, taking care that the surface you apply the tape to is sufficiently “dry” or hardened off enough.  This will require the painting have down time between layers of colors, but if you want a nice sharp edge, planning “drying” time into your painting will make it worth it.  The best example I can think of are the gorgeous abstract paintings of William Conger, my favorites are very large (some being eight feet wide or so), have bright jewel tones and hues, volume is implied in the colors’ shading and shadows, and shapes have sharply defined edges:

In a way, a painting like this is architectural and reminds me of a stained glass window.  The rich colors and sharp edges really are fascinating in person.

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Categories: Painting, Uncategorized
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