AIM TOOLBOX: Water Color Masking Fluid

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

I love playing with watercolors, I’m going to admit that right now. I love the way the colors run together, the little blotches of pigment, and basically everything else about it. I’m not a watercolor expert, which means that whenever the paint does something unexpected I have the giddy feeling that I just discovered something amazing. (What did I tell you? I love the process.)

My philosophy teacher in high school used to amazing things with watercolor, and I would always try to sneak a look at his paintings before and after class. One day I noticed him using something to cover up portions of the paper while he was working– cut to 15 years later and I finally decide to buy myself a little bottle of masking fluid to play around with. (I bought Winsor & Newton Colorless Art Masking Fluid.)

Still a little overwhelmed to jump in, I watched this introductory video, decided on a test project; and gathered my brushes, paints, and spirit of exploration.

A note: the first time I used the fluid, I ruined my brush. It was a cheap brush, granted, but after that I sharpened up and coated the next brush in dish soap before dipping it in the masking fluid. I coated the whole thing in the dish soap, then squeezed the excess out. (This video shows you how.) Trust me. It’s better that way.

I drew a basic outline of the words I wanted to mask out with pencil. After coating the brush in soap, and gently rolling the bottle of masking fluid to mix it up, I dipped my brush in and saturated it.

Bit by bit, I covered the words with the masking fluid.

All the lines are covered in the fluid now. I’ll be able to erase the pencil lines once everything is done.

I let the masking fluid dry COMPLETELY before I began to paint with my watercolor. (The dry masking compound feels like rubber cement. You’ll know it’s dry when it is only slightly shiny, and your finger does not stick to it.) The watercolor will not stick to the mask, so you will be able to see what you’re working with.

When I had finished my first layer of paint, I let it dry COMPLETELY, then added a little more masking to what would be the little abstract windows in the buildings.

Then I let those dry COMPLETELY (do you see a theme here?) before I went in and darkened all the fields of color.

When I was done working around my masked areas, and everything was dry, I lightly rubbed the masking agent off with the tips of my fingers. (This alone is worth the trouble. I love pulling glue off of things.)

Once the mask was off, and I did a little erasing, I had crisp white lines to work with.

The masked areas were pale enough to let me add a little light yellow watercolor. I love the way the white letters stand out.

Tips to remember

• Test out the water color paper you’re going to be using before you start your artwork. Some of the papers I tried stuck to the masking fluid terribly, and I had to tear the paper to get the dried mask off.
• Coat your brush in soap, or you will ruin a brush, and most likely the piece of paper you’re working on. The first brush started to pull the drying mask fluid back off the paper, and it totally ruined one of my projects.
• Let everything dry COMPLETELY before moving from fluid to paint, or paint to fluid. The fluid will cling to wet paper, or your wet paint and make a wet mess.
• Remember to have fun! Let that childish sense of wonder take over for an afternoon… and when you’re done experimenting, send us the outcome! April’s DIY Challenge is Watercolor, after all.

10 thoughts on “AIM TOOLBOX: Water Color Masking Fluid

  1. I didn’t know about the dish soap trick! Now I have to dig out my masking fluid. Do you think it’s still good after 10+ years? (I bought it in high school) 🙂

    1. In the video she said that hers was 15 years old, so it’s probably usable! Just make sure to pull any of the dried bits out, or they will glue to your piece.

  2. Hi, Masking fluid is great to play with and it’s fascinating the different ways it can be used. But it’s expensive for what it is, especially here in Australia. There are cheaper alternatives. Masking fluid is latex, water and ammonia (to keep the water from going off). You need to turn a bottle of masking fluid every day because the latex will set even with the water. You can also use Elmers Rubber Cement.

  3. I just discovered this blog and love this post! I recently bought my first set of watercolors and this added tip will give lots of creative possibilities – thank you! I have a very rudimentary question … how do you get your paper to not be so wrinkled after painting, or do you put something on it before you paint to prevent it? Thanks for any tips and help you can provide. Thank you!

    1. Alot of the wrinkling has to do with the quality and thickness of your paper. I get really good results with the Arches Aquarelle papers (Rachel talked about the cold press paper here – but I usually like to use the hot press because it’s smoother and I can draw and scan better with it.)

      Sometimes, though, I’m just playing around and I’ll use cheaper or thinner paper (like in the photos above.) When I’m worried that my paper will warp, I use artist masking tape to pin the paper firmly down to a waterproof surface (the black tape in these photos) and leave the tape on till the paper is completely dry.
      The Arches Aquarelle paper comes in “block” form, which means the edges are all sealed together to prevent warping; after you paint you pull the sheet off that you painted on. Most times I pull a sheet off before I paint, and tape it down, because I’m a creature of habit. (;

      Hope that helps! Rachel has some great watercolor posts on the site, if you haven’t seen them already.


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