Masking With Gel Medium

Q. The strong smell of masking fluid bothers me. Is there anything else I can use to save my whites?

A. Sometimes I use acrylic gel medium. It’s a very different process than using masking fluid, but it can yield some interesting results.

First, plan where you want your whites. Mix up a little gel medium (gloss or matte finish will do) and thin it down with a little water?use just enough to make it pliable with a brush. Too much water can make it runny.

On dry paper, very carefully paint on a thin layer of gel medium wherever you want your whites. Do not apply it haphazardly. In my painting Only Yesterday (above, watercolor and acrylic on paper), for example, I applied gel medium to the entire body of each of the cows, not just the areas that ended up being white. Be aware that gel medium dries clear, not white. When you’re finished applying it, pick up your paper and look at it from a side angle to make sure you haven’t missed any spots. If you see missed spots, apply more gel medium to those areas. Wait until the gel medium has dried completely before you begin painting.

After I had coated the areas I wanted to save as white in Only Yesterday, I began laying in my washes and then working on the foreground and background of my painting. When I finished this, I was ready to work on my cows.

You say it sounds a lot like painting with masking fluid so far? Well, things are going to get different from here on out! For one, you don’t peel gel medium off like mask. Instead, you take a cotton swab or a paint brush, dip it into rubbing alcohol and gently wipe off any pigment that may be sitting on the saved areas. (Not much watercolor will adhere to the gel medium.) If you can’t get back to your white areas, then you’ve scrubbed too hard during the painting process and taken off all of the gel medium, or you didn’t apply enough in the first place. If this happens, wait until your painting is dry and apply more gel medium.

If you want to paint over any of the areas you saved with gel medium, you must use acrylics?watercolors won’t stick. (You can use watercolors in the rest of the painting, however.) In Only Yesterday, I applied black acrylic paint with my round synthetic sable brush to create the shapes I wanted in the black-and-white cows, leaving the white shapes. Now here’s where using gel medium gets fun: You can do all kinds of things to soften the saved white areas. In Only Yesterday, I softened the edges of my black shapes by dipping my brush into rubbing alcohol and going over the white areas, dragging the brush along the edges of the blacks. Another softening technique is to paint over the white with a little yellow ochre. If you put on too much color, simply lift off the excess paint using a brush dipped in rubbing alcohol. As long as you don’t overwork the area, your white will come back. Every once in a while, lift the paper up and look at it from an angle to make sure there is still a sufficient amount of gel medium on the paper. If it looks like it?s wearing away, then let your paper dry and apply more gel medium. When you’re satisfied with your results, apply a thin layer of gel medium over your acrylics to seal them.

Patrick Seslar is a longtime contributing editor for The Artist?s Magazine.

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