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(Also known as Liquid Frisket)
"I have provided some information for watercolor artists on getting the most out of using masking fluid. I hope you will find it helpful."
~ Anne Hudec

Liquid mask is a removable latex liquid, which is applied to watercolor paper to seal and protect the underlying surface from watercolor paint. It can be purchased in art supply stores under various brand names such as Winsor Newton, Lukas, Rowney and others, and it is often tinted to allow an artist to see the protected area more clearly. Some artists prefer to purchase the colorless version of this product, due to the fact that the tinted product can give a false sense of color when painting the surrounding areas. Having said that, the colorless liquid can be difficult to distinguish from the color of your paper, and hence tricky to apply, so it is a matter of personal choice.

Liquid mask can be used in a variety of ways, and its use is only limited by your imagination.
It can be used in a step-by-step approach to separate foreground from background, thereby allowing you to work freely over large areas with glazing or washes. Once the background is complete, the liquid mask is rolled off the paper with a clean finger or a liquid mask pickup eraser, and then the foreground is worked independently of the completed background (Click Here for Example).
Liquid mask is ideal for retaining intricate details that would be difficult to paint around, such as the white of a cresting wave in an ocean of blue, a stamen of a flower, or a highlight in an eye.
It can also be used for creating complex shapes - applied in a layering manner - and laying the masking fluid over paint that is already on the paper. The caveat to this practice is to test the lifting abilities of the pigments you wish to use, as some paints lift easier than others, and will be removed along with your mask. Retouching those areas individually can easily rectify this shortcoming.
Masking fluid can also be used in a spattering method, slowly building up the texture between washes to create the illusion of a beach or other stippled object. To do this, you would apply a layer of wash then allow the paper to dry completely. Next, spatter your paper with liquid mask and allow that to dry. You would then apply your next layer of wash (or spatter your paint in a similar manner as your liquid mask) and allow that to dry before spattering your next layer of liquid mask, repeating this method until you have achieved the desired results.
It can also be used to seal the edges of larger blocking materials, such as Frisket film. The film is cut into shape and laid down on your painting. The liquid mask is then used to seal down the edge of the Frisket film so that paint does not seep underneath the film (Click Here for Example).
Once applied, liquid mask provides an element of freedom to the otherwise careful planning of a watercolor painting.

Of course every art material has its pros and cons, and liquid mask is no exception. Although liquid mask is freeing for the artist, its inherent detrimental aspects include:

               •  Shelf Life of the product
               •  Application difficulties
               •  Removal problems
               •  Hard edges of the surrounding paint

We will consider each of these challenges in the following paragraphs.

Shelf Life:
Liquid mask is a mixture of rubber and latex that is suspended in ammonia. It may also contain various additives such as flow-promoting agents, stabilizers, tints, barrier materials (to prevent excessive adhesion to the paper), and thickeners (for product control).

The liquid can be easily affected by heat and cold, shaking of the bottle, and exposure to air.
Store the bottle of mask at a reasonable studio temperature, unless your studio is an unheated garage - then I would suggest you keep it in the house.
Do not shake the product as this causes the suspended rubber/latex to clump together and form a ball in your bottle, which leaves less of the product for you to use. Shaking the bottle also causes air bubbles to form in the liquid. When this is then applied to your painting the bubbles burst as the liquid dries, which might not be apparent at the time of application. It will however be noticeable when paint seeps through the leftover dried bubbles and destroys what you thought would be your pristine highlights. For mixing the fluid, I always keep a chopstick handy that I use to gently remix the tint that sinks to the bottom of the bottle.
When purchasing liquid mask, buy from a reliable source that has a frequent turnover of their product. Be sure to tip the bottle in the store to check its viscosity - it should move like cream - not honey. Exposure to air through use of the product causes the ammonia to evaporate, and the liquid mask will become thick and hard to use. To avoid this, it is advisable to pour a workable amount of product into a small bowl or lid so you can recap your bottle. Any skin that forms at the neck of the bottle in-between use should be removed before stirring the fluid. If your mask becomes thick over time, you can thin it with ammonia that you can purchase from the hardware store.
Application Difficulties:
There are two very important rules about applying masking fluid.
The first rule is to test the fluid on a scrap piece of the same paper you are going to be working on. If the paper does not contain enough sizing, the masking fluid will not release, and you will tear your paper.
The second rule is that your watercolor paper must be bone dry. No exceptions. If it is the least bit damp you will not get the masking fluid off.
Liquid mask can be applied to the surface of your watercolor paper using a variety of tools. Because it is a liquid, most artists use a paintbrush for this application. The downside of using a paintbrush is that the latex quickly dries within the hairs of the brush, making it impossible to remove. Therefore, if you are going to use a brush, be sure that it is a cheap synthetic brush because it will quickly become ruined if you are not fastidious in your cleaning. I used a paintbrush for the longest time before switching tools, as you will read further down the page. When I did use a brush, I meticulously followed these rules in order to save my masking brushes:

          1) Coat the brush with bar or liquid soap so the latex does not adhere to the hairs.
          2) Make only 3 passes with the mask, and then clean the brush with water.
          3) Re-soap the brush and start again.
          4) Do not dip your brush up to the ferrule (metal casing)
          5) Always clean the brush with Goo Gone® or a similar product when finished, to remove residual fluid.

It seems like a lot of stages, but one quickly falls into a dip-paint-wash routine.
Eventually, someone told me about a ruling pen (a drafting tool) and I switched to this as a permanent fixture in my masking collection. The pen has two fine prongs that are separated by a wheel set on a fine threaded shaft. By turning the wheel the points of the ruling pen increases or decreases their distance from each other, thereby giving you a wider or narrower line (Click Here for Example).
For fine lines, I have used a bamboo kitchen skewer, which works well, however a very fine crochet hook works even better. Most recently I have also purchased a MasquePen “ and MasquePen “ SuperNib Attachment for masking lines. This product has a squeezable bottle with a nylon nib that is easy to use.
The key to using any masking tools is to hold the instrument vertically to allow gravity to release the mask from the bottom of your tool. You will get a smoother line the faster you draw it, as the mask sets up quickly. Do not touch the masking fluid that has started to dry with the tip of your tool, as you will pick up the drying mask, instead of placing down more. If you are laying your masking fluid and you overshoot the boundaries you wish to protect, do not wipe over the fluid while it is wet ­ wait until it is dry. The thinness of the masking fluid when you smear it will absorb into your watercolor paper, and you will be unable to remove it.

If you are applying your masking fluid in a very detailed area that requires critical placement, you will find due to the viscosity of the liquid that it may creep over your guidelines as it settles. Since I don’t like leaving my pencil lines showing (this is a personal preference), I will lift almost all of my graphite with a kneadable eraser, and then I will lay my masking fluid down inside my original ghost of a penciled line. If you do not lift the graphite, and leave the pencil marks exposed and wash paint over them, the Gum Arabic in the paint will seal the graphite underneath and it is nearly impossible to remove it. It is especially annoying in a very light part of your painting.
I mentioned earlier of spattering your masking fluid. To use this technique, first protect any portion of your painting that you do not want spattered, with scrap paper cut to the desired shapes. You can also protect your paper with an old towel, however the masking fluid will not wash out of it. For fine dots (such as for sand or snowflakes), dip an old toothbrush into your masking fluid. Turn the brush over so that the back of the brush is facing your painting, and run your thumb down the length of the toothbrush bristles. To get larger droplets, turn the toothbrush with the bristles facing downwards, and whack the handle of the toothbrush downwards against your other hand. This drops larger spots of masking fluid onto your painting, which then can be painted to look like large rocks on your beach. With this method you can also create a directional spatter that can look like a snowstorm.
Removal Problems:
I seem to remember a rule distinctly when it has caused agony! Whatever you do, do not leave your masking fluid on your painting for any longer than necessary.
Remove your masking fluid within two weeks, whether you have completed that painting stage or not.
I have had the experience of the tint from the fluid sinking into my white paper below, and upon removal of the mask I have been left with a nicely yellow-stained paper (Click Here for Example). The only solution is to start all over again. So, if you are interrupted from your painting process in mid-stride, take the time to remove the masking fluid. It is much less time consuming to reapply the fluid when you are ready to paint again, than having to repaint your painting up to the same point when you last stopped.
In our hectic lives, we are wanting to accomplish as much as possible in a limited time, therefore we might turn to a hair dryer to accelerate the drying time of various washes on our paintings.
It is a good idea to turn off the heating element of your hair dryer - if you have this feature. If this is not available to you, I would suggest that while you blow dry your painting, you hold your other hand above your paper by an inch or two so the back of your hand can register how hot your hair dryer is blowing - as the heat will bake the liquid mask into your watercolor paper. If this happens, it is impossible to remove the mask without removing chunks of your watercolor paper below. Any subsequent washes will then absorb unevenly, and you will be faced with a splotchy painting.
Likewise, if you live in a hot climate such as Arizona, do not leave your painting (with masking fluid applied), in your hot car or in the sun, as you will be faced with the same results. If you have run into this problem, and you simply cannot part with this damaged painting, I have read that there is a way to repair the surface of your paper to an almost pristine state so you can continue working on it. I must admit I have never tried this method, preferring instead to transform my painting’s reverse side into a good-sized practice piece for color testing and techniques for future paintings.
To repair your damaged watercolor paper surface**:

The theory behind this method of repair is that you have a hole in your paper that is abraded, and it will absorb your pigment at a different rate than the smooth undamaged surface of the surrounding area (Click Here for Example). The key then, is to coat the damage (hole or tear) with a specific ratio of acrylic medium mixed with water so that you can recreate the rate of absorbency (sizing) of the surrounding undamaged paper. To figure out the correct ratio of acrylic medium to water you must spend a lot of time testing, as every watercolor paper has a different degree of sizing.

Using a piece of the same brand of watercolor paper that you used for your painting, purposely create the same type of damage on this test piece that you are wanting to repair on your painting. Next, mix up a small amount of acrylic medium with water and apply it to the damage. Once the medium is dry, glaze over the damaged area and surrounding undamaged area with a stronger pigment to check how the pigment has absorbed into the paper. Apparently, with the correct ratio of acrylic medium versus water you can mimic the absorbency of the surrounding paper. You may find that you will have to paint with a dryer technique in this area because you will now have a dent in your paper where the paint will pool - where the missing paper is - regardless of how well you matched up the absorbency of the surrounding area.

**Disclaimer: I have not tried this method myself, so use it based on your own judgment.
Hard Edges:
You will find that when you paint over your masking fluid, and then remove the fluid, you will have very hard edges to your paint. If that is the look you are after, then great ­ you don’t have to do anything more. If not, this can be easily rectified with a gentle touch, using a soft fine brush and clean water to soften the edge. Likewise, you can use a cotton swab to gently remove the surrounding paint, while constantly turning the swab so you are not reintroducing paint to the area. This softening technique does require practice; so give it a try on scrap paper before touching your actual painting. Alternatively, you can remove the masking fluid when you have done several glazes, then continue to glaze over the exposed area so that the glaze automatically softens the hard edge (Click Here for Example).
I hope that I have provided artists who are unfamiliar with using liquid mask a base from which to get started. This list has been compiled mostly from my own errors with using the product, so I hope that this will save you a lot of frustration. The “Don’ts” of this list seem longer than the “Do’s,” however having said this, if you follow these guidelines, liquid mask is actually very easy and satisfying to work with. Using liquid mask judiciously brings great freedom to move on to painting larger areas without having to worry about the little whites that really make your paintings pop.

Happy Painting…
~ Anne Hudec
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