The Necessary Evils of Masking Fluid

I hate watercolor masking fluid. I use it as seldom as possible. But in a detailed painting like my current tractor scene, with areas of snow that I needed to remain white, masking was unavoidable. Right now, having painted the large washes that put my white areas in jeopardy, I am removing the mask and is it ever a slow process! I've never owned a mask pickup - I usually just rub with my fingers or a white plastic eraser until I get a large enough ball of removed mask to use that as my mask pickup - kind of a snowball effect.

So many reasons to hate masking fluid!

  1. Stinky
  2. Drippy
  3. Violent (to brushes, anyhow!)
  4. Difficult to remove
  5. Staining - can you believe that the Winsor & Newton yellow masking fluid has left the faintest yellow tinge behind in some areas that I masked?

I have purchased the Winsor & Newton Permanent Masking fluid in the past, and I will never use it again. It's non-removeable, so it's only for areas that you intend to keep white, but it didn't work for me - the wash I laid over it was not repelled and my lovely white area did not stay lovely or white.

If you must use masking fluid, do not use your favorite brush to paint it on. Pick a brush you aren't too attached to, and give the bristles a good coating of soap. The soap will keep the mask from penetrating the brush hairs and ruining your brush.

I've also tried laying mask on using The Incredible Nib from Cheap Joe's. I wasn't too impressed. Despite the nice chisel tip on the nib, the mask is still thick enough that it doesn't spread crisply, and precision is difficult. The fine tip on the other end of the nib is better for detail areas, but after using for a few minutes, mask starts to ball up on the tip and needs to be removed to continue to get a fine line.

Also be careful that your mask is completely dry before painting over it. Moisture penetrating the mask may mean that your mask will be permanently adhered to the paper. And don't use mask on cheap student grade paper - it may lift layers of paper off when removed. And yes, these are all lessons I've learned the hard way. Another reason to dislike masking fluid!