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Playtime with Pens: Masking Fluid

arches paper Calligraphy Experiments winsor and newton

maskingfluidOne of my goals in starting this site is to prompt myself to do more experimentation with materials and techniques.  For most purposes, I use Winsor and Newton gouache, Brause nibs, and Arches paper, and while those are all excellent materials, I default to them in part because I haven't spent a great deal of time experimenting with other possibilities. I am a little self-conscious about posting these results since these experiments are just that -- as opposed to work that has been through several drafts -- but I'm hoping that the information will be both helpful to readers as well as a useful archive for myself. For my first foray into these experiments, I chose to play with something I've heard artists talk about before but that I've never used or seen used:  masking fluid.  Masking fluid is a white or cream-colored substance that you can use to temporarily block out areas of a substrate and later peel away.  It behaves a little like dried rubber cement, very easy to pull or rub off the paper, but it's also fluid enough that it can be used with metal nibs to create lettering. To use it, I first sketched out in pencil a rough placement for my lettering and then went over it with a much wider nib (in the hopes I would primarily be covering the pencil marks that I could later erase). IMG_8059 IMG_8071I then used watercolor over the lettering.  I am not very practiced in painting with watercolor -- or anything else for that matter -- and was ultimately unhappy with this result, but the close-ups give you a sense of how beautifully bright white the lettering becomes against even a lighter color like the green-gold I used.IMG_8078I tried a second time with my other daughter's name, opting this time to just paint over the letter strokes with a wide, flat brush.  I like these results better, but I'm interested in trying a few simple horizontal or angled brush strokes with a flat brush that's much larger.IMG_8092IMG_8090The pencil marks remained problematic, and I'm not sure how to combat this.  If I tried to gently erase them before watercolor went on, I often ran into my masking fluid strokes, which damaged them.  I suppose the ideal method would be to get your design down on layout paper, and then to work over a light box so you write onto a totally clean substrate.  Or to work free-hand, if you can manage that (I rarely can). The other important lesson I learned is that the masking fluid worked best on papers with harder surfaces.  I used Arches hot press for the examples shown; I did do one test prior to that on Johannot heavyweight, and the masking fluid peeled paper fibers away with it. I'm quite happy, in the end, to have a bottle of this in my arsenal.  I would love to do more trials using a layer of lettering done with masking fluid with additional layers of writing behind or above it.  Hopefully there will be further results to report on soon!  In the meantime, if you've ever used masking fluid, please share your thoughts and experiences.  I'd love to know more!


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  • Doug Smith on

    Incredible. Amazing that your father can’t do the simplest things with his hands. This must have come through your mother, via Leo, and artists going back several centuries. What you are unhappy with strikes us as breathtaking and gorgeous.


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