Tech Tuesday REBOOT: White in Watercolor, part 1: Preservation

My theory last week was sound… Turns out that my stomach upset left me wide open to a cold bug. I spent three days in bed getting over the worst of it. I did manage to add some of the content below for the original post’s draft, but I just didn’t have the heart to post some half-assed version last week without any real meat to it, not to mention that two posts went completely missed!

I know that we’re all short on how much time we have to find the answers that we’re looking for, I never want to short-change you. So moving on to the good stuff…

White in Watercolor, part 1: preservation

Using white in watercolor actually encompasses quite a few techniques when it comes to watercolor painting, so much so, that I am dedicate this whole month’s Tech Tuesday posts to it. These cannot be total be-all-end-all articles, since it’s really hard to have the last word on anything in the art world. (Mediums and techniques change as years go by, society’s tastes change, etc.) This series is meant to be a good start towards including basics that you can use now.

*For you collectors and art appreciators out there, you may be able to deduce some of these techniques while looking at a finished work.

When it really comes down to it, white in watercolor breaks down to one of three processes; preserving the white of the paper, using some type of white medium in the painting process or manipulating the the surface of the paper (including manipulating the medium on the paper). This week we’re covering…

-Preserving White Paper-

The first suggestion to preserve the white of the paper is avoidance; try painting around the areas you wish to remain white. This is probably the best way to allow the luminosity of your watercolors to shine, since they are, after all, a translucent medium.

trans·lu·cent– adjective 1. (of a substance) allowing light, but not detailed images, to pass through; semitransparent.

Another option, to preserve the bare paper, is to use a masking substance. There are quite a few options handy for this, like; masking fluid (specially formulated latex, sometimes called liquid frisket), masking tape or film (also sometimes referred to as frisket), stencils or wax.

Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid

Click for a link to the new product.

The masking fluid that I’m currently using is from Winsor & Newton, pictured on the left. This formula has a slight tint that makes it easier to see where you have placed your masking fluid. I find toothpicks to be handy for applying small specks onto paper. For larger areas, use the Grafix Incredible Nib. It has an awesome bullet tip that’s fairly narrow and a wider, chisel tip to do larger passes with. If you simply must use a brush, dedicate one that you don’t love for this purpose. The latex can gum up the ferrule and isn’t always easy to clean up. I’ll cover some intensive brush cleaning another day…

Masking tape is pretty cut and dry. If you’ve ever stretched your watercolor paper, done any DIY or papier-mâché, masking tape is already your friend. My notes to you here are;

  • it does not age well- be sure to replace any rolls that have been sitting a couple years, they’re probably glued together now
  • it’s not meant to be on your paper long term- it may lose tackiness and fall off. Worst case, the glue in it may decide to grip into your paper and pull up paper fibers when you try removing it)

Instead of just straight lines, you can use decorative scissors for a neat flair. Cutting tape isn’t always easy, you may want to stick it onto plain paper and then cut, so you’re not wrestling with the adhesive side flapping about. I know this is slightly bordering more on crafty than fine art, but I think that just depends on how you use the materials you have.

For a description of some masking film options, I’ve included this link from Iwata. There are just so many options you can get into and this post is meant as a jumping off point! Iwata makes some excellent films and you can get a good feel for your options on their site. It seems these are sill more commonly used for airbrushes, but there’s plenty of room for use with watermedia as long as you use some nice sharp scissors or fine knife (like a scalpel or X-acto blade)! I love this assortment of blades from X-acto and have used these for years with polymer clay and everything else!

If your stencils (or masking film) doesn’t have an adhesive holding them firmly (yet easily removeable) to your paper, you may experience disappointment with paint seeping under the stencil or film for a “blobby” result. You’ll definitely want to take some time and use either a fairly dry brush, a paper towel or even a sea sponge to dab the color gently onto your paper. I’m not linking anything for stencils here because there are so many awesome companies that produce them. If you can’t find something that is premade, or don’t like the thought of using something mass marketed, you can also opt to cut your own stencils. (I’m sensing a future post on this topic too!)

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this week’s dive into this subject. I’m loving the feel of this fresh, new year. Here’s to an amazing New Year for us all!

As always, let me know your thoughts. I want to know your experiences in painting. Which parts worked for you?

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