Masking Fluid (liquid frisket)
Masking fluid or liquid frisket is commonly applied to dry watercolor paper to keep an area white while applying paint nearby. It can also be applied over previously painted areas to preserve the color beneath. Many watercolor artists use liquid frisket to mask off areas of their paintings that they want to preserve for later attention. Others alternate applications of frisket with transparent glazes to create unusual and varied textures.
All masking fluids are water-based suspensions of latex, however each brand uses a different formula. Many have a strong smell of ammonia which is added as a preservative. Some masking fluids are white, while others add a pigment so it is easy to see where the frisket has been applied on white paper. Most can be thinned with water, but that may not be the case with all brands. Some masking fluids need to be removed from the paper as soon as the paint has dried; others claim they can be left on indefinitely.
Tips for Using Masking Fluid
Types of Masking Fluid
- When the bottle of liquid frisket is new, pour some into a smaller, air-tight container. Label and date both containers. Store both containers upside down. When you want to use the frisket for a painting, pour a small amount from the small container into a shallow dish or lid, and replace the cap immediately. When the liquid frisket in the smaller container eventually goes bad, clean it out and add more from the original bottle.
- Make sure your paper is thoroughly dry before applying or removing the fluid.
- Don't paint over frisket until it has dried for at least twenty or thirty minutes.
- Do not try to speed up the drying process with a blow dryer or by placing the the painting in the hot sun. If you do, the frisket will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
- Never apply masking fluid with an expensive natural-fiber brush. Use a synthetic brush instead. However, the brush should not be so inexpensive or so old that it is not capable of creating the type of brush mark you need.
- After the masking fluid is dry, always check for small spots that you may have missed. Add another layer where necessary. Just be sure the first layer is completely dry before you add a second layer.
- Keep frisket from drying out in the bottle by dispensing a working amount into a small container and replacing the cap immediately. (Never return unused frisket to the bottle).
- Another way to keep frisket from drying out in the bottle is to store your bottle upside down. If air seeps in while upside down, a small amount will congeal around the opening and seal the bottle.
- Shaking the bottle causes two problems. First, it creates bubbles. These bubbles then burst when applied to the paper, leaving pinholes in the frisket where paint can leak through to your paper. Second, shaking causes the latex to congeal. Repeated shakings will result in a large ball of unusable latex in the middle of the bottle.
Gently stir instead of shaking.
- Leave your frisket on your worktable and every day or so turn it over. This will allow it to gently mix itself. When you're ready to use it give the bottle an extra turn or two.
- Hard edges that result from masking fluid can be softened with a damp brush before or after removing the frisket.
- Do not rinse out your brush containing masking fluid in the same water container you will be painting with.
- Write the date on bottle when you purchase it. (Old masking fluid may begin to clump over time. Some artists have reported having difficulty removing old masking fluid from the watercolor paper).
- If you decide to thin the masking fluid with water, pour a small amount into another container. Add the water to the smaller container rather than to the entire bottle of masking fluid.
Applying Masking Fluid with a Squeeze Bottle (Masquepen, Daniel Smith masking fluid, or decorator tips from Michaels)
- Art Maskoid (gray, remove within 24 hours, can be thinned with water. Available from Dakota Art, danielsmith.com, dickblick.com, cheapjoes.com)
- Daler-Rowney Art Masking Fluid (off-white, can be diluted with water. Available from islandblue.com, misterart.com)
- Dr PH Martin's Frisket Mask Liquid (Available from Dakota Art)
- Grafix Incredible White Mask Liquid Frisket (off-white, non-staining, tintable, can be left on the paper indefinitely, can be sprayed without being diluted. Available as a kit which includes a bottle of liquid frisket, a frisket applicator (the Grafix Incredible Nib), a frisket remover and an instructional pamphlet, "Tips and Techniques." Available from Dakota Art, danielsmith.com, dickblick.com, cheapjoes.com)
- Grumbacher Miskit Liquid Frisket (fluorescent orange, may stain paper, must be removed as soon as paint dries, best used with hard-sized paper, may lift the fibers of softer papers when removed. Available from dickblick.com)
- Lukas Liquid Mask (off-white, lifts off easily even if left on for some time, does not dry up like all the more expensive brands. Not water-soluble. Available from islandblue.com, tolehouse.com)
- Masquepen by Cruddas Innovations (pale blue, non-staining, has a needle tip for precise application. Can be thinned with water. Fluid is translucent, so you can see previously painted and dried areas below it. Available from danielsmith.com, dickblick.com, cheapjoes.com)
- Pebeo Drawing Gum (dries to a light gray color, non-staining, can be removed easily after several days, can be thinned with water. Available from Dakota Art, dickblick.com, cheapjoes.com, jerrysartarama.com)
- Schmincke Liquid Frisket (colorless, ammonia free. Available from jerrysartarama.com)
- Susan Scheewe Blue Masking Fluid (light blue, non-staining. Available from michaels.com)
- Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid (comes in two varieties: colorless and pale yellow, for best results, remove within 24 hours of application. Available from Dakota Art and most art supply stores)
- Daniel Smith Watercolor Masking Fluid (off-white, dries to a transparent caramel color, comes with squeeze-bottle applicator, inclues 5 fine-point applicator tips.
- Cheap Joe's masking fluid (dries to an off-white color, the 1/2 ounce bottle comes with a brush attached to the lid, the 2 ounce jar comes with No. 2 "uggly" brush, can be diluted with water
Applying Masking Fluid with a Synthetic Brush
- Do not shake the bottle; that will create bubbles. Daniel Smith Masking Fluid does not need shaking because their latex mixture does not easily separate. If you feel the need to mix, then gently roll your bottle once or twice across the table.
- Keep the bottle of masking fluid upside down in a small glass so that if there are any bubbles, they will remain at the top, away from the applicator tip.
- When applying the masking fluid, gently squeeze the bottle to start the flow out of the applicator tip. Stop squeezing once you have a "bead" of masking fluid.
- Begin applying the masking fluid onto your watercolor paper and allow the capillary action to draw out the masking fluid as you move the applicator bottle acros the paper. You may need to gently squeeze occasionally, if the capillary flow is interrupted.
- Keep the bottle inverted so that the capillary action once started continues to flow.
- Be sure to thoroughly rinse out the applicator tip immediately after using to prevent clogging when it dries. TIP: Purchase a second squeeze bottle and fill it with water. After applying masking fluid with the first bottle, immediately remove the tip, attach the tip to the second bottle and flush out the tip by squeezing water through it.
- If some of the masking fluid does dry inside the applicator tip, try loosening and removing it with a fine needle or stiff wire.
- Before you dip your brush into the masking fluid, protect your brush by thoroughly coating it with soap. (Dip it into dishwashing fluid or brush on small bar of soap, then work into bristles). You can also use liquid hand soap.
- Wipe excess soap from the brush with a tissue.
- Stir the bottle. (DO NOT SHAKE or you will get lots of bubbles).
- Pour a sufficient amount of masking fluid into a small container or mixing well on your palette, and replace the cap on the bottle immediately.
- Dip the soaped brush in the masking fluid and apply it to the paper.
- You can dip the soaped brush into the masking fluid several times to cover a large area, however before the masking fluid starts to dry on the brush, rinse the masking fluid out of the brush, re-soap the brush, blot off excess, and then re-dip in masking fluid.
- Always double-check for small spots that you may have missed. If you have missed some areas, be sure to wait until the masking fluid is dry before adding a second layer.
- Wash out the brush with soap and water, and then rinse in clean water as soon as you are finished.
- When the masking fluid has dried thoroughly, apply background colors and techniques.
- When the paint is dry remove the masking fluid with a rubber cement pickup, a soft eraser, with masking tape, or by gently rubbing with your finger. (Important: Remove all masking fluid from your paper as soon as possible.)
TIP: If some masking fluid dries on your brush, it can be removed with lighter fluid.
Creative Ways of Applying Masking Fluid
Frisket can be brushed, knifed, poured, spattered, dabbed, or sprayed.
You can apply masking fluid with a Q-tip for the large areas and a toothpick for the smaller areas. You can also use a damp sponge, toothpick, skewer (sharp), skewer (sanded to make dull), stick, dip pen, sharpened end of old brush handle, ruling pen, frayed rope, palette knife, credit card, spray bottle, syringe, mouth atomizer or a silicone tipped Colour Shaper (available from Daniel Smith). It can be spattered on with a toothbrush or stamped on with found objects.
Fine lines can be drawn with a Speedball mapping nib. Irregular patterns can be created by dabbing on frisket with crumpled paper or plastic wrap.
Masking fluid can also be applied with a Jacquards 1/2 oz Plastic Squeeze Bottle with removable stainless steel tips of various sizes (available from Dakota Art).
A unique frisket applicator can be created from an old brush. Dip the brush into the masking fluid, distort the brush, and allow it to dry. Dip this odd-shaped brush into masking fluid and dap on the paper to create irregular patterns.
Masking fluid can also be applied with the GRAFIX Incredible Nib. Rinse the Nib in clean water, then blot out the excess with a tissue. Dip into the frisket and apply to a small area. Rinse the Nib in clean water again, blot off excess, dip into frisket and apply to another small area. Repeat these steps often while you are applying the frisket. When you are finished, rinse the Nib thoroughly in clean water.
Removing Masking Fluid
Caution: Be sure the frisket has dried thoroughly before you try to remove it.
Liquid frisket can be removed by rubbing it with your finger. It can also be lifted by rubbing it with a piece crepe rubber (Liquid Frisket Remover or Rubber Cement Pickup). A ball of dried frisket or an eraser also works.
If there are pencil line underneath the masking fluid that you do not want to erase, place masking tape over the liquid frisket, rub lightly, and lift the tape. The frisket will come up with the tape, leaving the pencil lines below.
Advanced Masking Techniques
Elizabeth Kincaid combines masking fluid and frisket film as an added measure to prevent paint from seeping under the edges of the frisket film. After she has made a pencil drawing on the watercolor paper, she tapes the frisket film (with the backing still attached) to the watercolor paper. With a fine-tip permanent marker, she draws a line just inside and all the way around the shape that is to be protected. The line is about 1/16 inch inside the pencil outline on the watercolor paper. She cuts out the shape on the film, leaving a small amount of the marker line showing in order to see where the edge of the film is later. After the backing is peeled off and the film applied sticky-side-down on the watercolor paper, she uses a sharpened brush handle to apply a bead of masking fluid that fills the gap between the edge of the film and the outline of the shape on the paper. She overlaps the masking fluid onto the film so it's completely sealed in, with the marker line running down through the center of the masking fluid band. Her book is Paint Watercolors that Dance with Light.
Roland Roycraft dilutes Art Maskoid to a watery consistency for easy application and removal. He suggests adding enough water so that it is thin enough to flow through a pen. (When he opens a new bottle, he pours about a third of its contents into each of two empty Maskoid bottles. Then he tops off the three bottles with water and stirs.)
He applies maskoid to both light and middle-value areas. He applies maskoid with a sharpened twig to get thin lines. Where detail is less important, he uses a piece of twine or hemp rope taped to a brush handle or a 1/4 inch dowel. (When he is done, he cuts off the used piece of rope and slips up a fresh piece.) For irregular foreground shapes, he stamps with a crumpled piece of plastic wrap dipped in masking fluid. He often removes and reapplies masking several times at different points in the painting process. For example, after removing the first mask from an area that will be middle-valued, he sometimes re-applies mask over the highlight areas and then paints the middle-value. To protect large areas, he uses scraps of mat board fastened with masking tape. Maskoid is then applied along the edges of the tape around the mat board to keep the color from seeping underneath. His books are Watercolors with Light and Color and Fill Your Watercolors with Nature's Light.
Both Elizabeth Kincaid and Roland Roycraft use sequential masking.
Gordon MacKenzie, in his book The Watercolorist's Essential Notebook, describes a process of sequential or multiple masking that is similar to painting behind or negative painting.
First he masks out the major foreground shapes, covers the paper with the first wash of a mixture of Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna and Red Rose Deep, and lets it dry. Second, he masks out shapes in the middle ground, some of which overlap the foreground shapes. He then paints a wash of the same colors over that part of the paper, and lets it dry. Third, he masks out still more overlapping shapes that are further in the distance, paints a wash of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna, and lets it dry. Fourth, he masks out even more shapes, paints a wash of Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Red Rose Deep, and lets it dry. Finally, he removes all masking fluid, paints the foreground shapes, and adds shadows.
Grafixarts.com offers two creative ways of using their Incredible White Mask.
- To create extra light behind foliage, spatter frisket into the area where the foliage will be. Next spatter blue and yellow paint on top of the frisket. While the frisket and paint are still wet, spritz it lightly with water from your spray bottle and let dry. When you remove the frisket, you will find a chorus of values of white paper and color.
- To create foam in water, mask out the water area. After the frisket is dry, gently rub your finger over the frisket, removing only small portions. The frisket will pull apart in hundreds of tiny circles and ovals. Paint over these areas with the shadow color of the water. After the paint is dry, remove the remainder of the frisket and you will have foam.