Skiing down into Les Carroz, watercolour, ( 33x48.5cm)

Jane Ward demonstrates three simple masking techniques using fluid, tape and candle wax to help you retain brightness and energy in your paintings.

'Preserving the white of the paper can be difficult in watercolour painting, and having to paint around intricate or small shapes can alter the flow and drying times of your washes,' says Jane.

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'I find that masking the paper first with either masking tape, masking fluid or candle wax – or all three – can lead to more interesting tonal values and negative shapes.'

I also used all three techniques for Skiing down into Les Carroz, above.

The tree in the foreground had masking tape, fluid and wax applied at the start of the painting to suggest the snow on the pine tree.

A little wax was also rolled across the paper under the tree, which helped to create sparkle and light in the snow.

Masking fluid

1. What is masking fluid?

Masking fluid is a latex rubber fluid that’s ideal for masking areas of work needing protection. Beautiful fluid washes can be applied without worrying about intricate areas of white paper that are needed to add contrast and detail to a painting. Masking fluid can be useful when painting boats, petals on flowers, gates or wooden posts, or any areas of a painting that need strong contrast.

2. How do I use masking fluid?

Before using masking fluid, plan your painting so you know exactly where the highlights or areas you will want to preserve are.

Never shake the bottle, as it will cause the product to lump and you might end up with tiny air bubbles in the fluid.

Never leave a bottle in sunlight and be aware of painting outdoors in the hot sunshine; I have known masking fluid to melt into the paper if it’s left too long.

3. How long can I leave masking fluid on the paper?

I have left masking fluid on a painting for over a week, but it can become difficult to remove.

The time you can safely keep the masking fluid on the paper depends on a number of factors, including the brand, external temperature, and paper. Arches NOT paper is the most robust to deal with masking techniques.

4. How do I apply masking fluid?

Apply masking fluid with applicators that come with the bottle, an old brush for larger areas, or a palette knife, wooden cocktail stick or Colour Shaper, which are ideal for intricate detail, including grass and rocks.

If you’re applying with a brush, add washing liquid to the brush before and after, to protect it. Always use an old brush, never a new sable!

5. How do I remove masking fluid?

To remove the masking fluid from the paper, make sure the painting is completely dry. Then either use a soft eraser, or just rub it off gently with your fingertips.

6. How do I prevent harsh edges?

Masking fluid works very well to preserve white areas on your paper, but these areas can have a hard edge, which give an unnatural look to your finished painting. To prevent this, soften the edges with a stiff damp brush.

Gouache paint can also be used to soften harsh edges.


Masking tape

1. How do I use masking tape?

White masking tape is an interesting method to use to create lines or shapes in a painting. If you require a horizon edge on a lake or sea scene, simply attach a piece of tape gently on the line.

2. How do I remove masking tape?

Paint directly up to the tape then, while the paint is still damp, gently remove the tape to reveal a good straight edge.

If any paint has run under the tape this can be removed easily while the paint is still damp with a flat brush.

Masking tape was torn into shapes in Skiing down into Les Carroz (above) to preserve the light in the snow on many of the chalet roofs.

Top tip

Artists’ masking tape does need to be used with care. To remove some of its tackiness simply apply first onto cloth.


Candle wax

1. How do I use candle wax as a masking technique?

Candle wax can be applied at any stage in a painting to create texture or retain the light to a scene.

To preserve white paper it’s best used at the start of a painting.

2. Can I remove candle wax from my painting?

Candle wax cannot be removed; the paint slides over the top and rests on the surface that isn’t waxed.

3. Ideal places to use candle wax for masking

I find candle wax ideal for adding texture in foliage.

Using all three masking methods

Using all three methods of masking helps to stop jagged edges and unrealistic shapes forming.

I used all three to paint Walking in a Winter Wonderland (below).

The techniques give confidence and helps washes to be more dynamic and creative, allowing the watercolour medium to reveal areas of magic.

I applied masking fluid with a palette knife to achieve the light on tree branches.

Masking tape was also torn into shapes for the path and candle wax used to create sparkle in the foliage and snow shadows in the foreground.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland, watercolour, ( 33x48.5cm)

Demonstration: Turquoise Waters, Annecy

Step 1

  1. I sketched the outline first onto Arches 140lbs NOT paper using a 2B pencil.
  2. The masking tape was shaped into small pieces and stuck gently down on the boat, jetty and on the buoy.
  3. Masking fluid was then applied using the applicator to suggest ripples in the lake.
  4. A very thin line was also applied on the rope attaching the buoy and boat.
Step 2

  1. Watery mixes of Winsor violet, Winsor blue and Naples yellow were painted quickly. If the paint began to dry, a soft spray of water helped the colours to merge together.
  2. While the paint was damp, stronger tones of the same colours were used to add more depth into the lake.
  3. This was left to dry before some of the tape was removed on the boat and the masking fluid in the lake was rubbed off gently. More ripples were painted in darker tones, especially under the boat.
Step 3 - the finished painting

Turquoise Waters, Annecy, watercolour, (28x28cm)
  1. The tape on the boat, buoy and jetty was removed and the painting re-sketched and finished. The yellow buoy was painted with a mix of cadmium yellow. This was left to dry and a stronger tone was added on the right-hand side along with a few ripples in the lake.
  2. For the jetty, Naples yellow with a hint of cadmium yellow was painted with dry horizontal brushstrokes to suggest wooden planks. The post was also painted in the same colour.
  3. A strong tonal shadow of Winsor violet with Naples yellow was painted in between the wooden planks and down the side of the post. This colour was also used for the chain on the boat, the rope and on the top of the buoy.
  4. To finish the painting a touch of white gouache was used to show light on the rope and chain.

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Jane Ward

Jane runs watercolour courses in the Lake District and an online watercolour course for beginners and improvers. For more information visit