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Liquid masking, I have mixed feelings when it comes to liquid masking in watercolor. When it works, I love it, but it doesn’t always work very well. Part of it is controlling the size of masking, a lot of that depends on how patient I am at the moment. Some of it depends on what I am using to place it. I used to use a toothpick, now I use a palette knife more often than not. It takes a long time to dry, if not used properly it can peel away paper when removed. So today I will give you a few tip that I have learned over the years.

This is the liquid masking that I use. There are a number of different brands and colors that it dries in however, so don’t think this is the only option. I have debated on trying a different kind, but I usually run out and need it immediately, so I buy whatever is available at Michael’s at the time. This is what they have at the one I shop at. This one is made by Windsor and Newton. It’s easy to use and easy to clean up. But it does take a bit of practice.

This particular masking dries yellow, so it is easy to see where it has been placed. If you find you don’t like it where it is, let it completely dry and it is really easy to remove. However, if it is at all attached to something you do want, be super careful removing it, as it will peel everything else off with it. I usually hold down on the spot I want it to break with a fingernail or my palette knife, and then gently pull until it breaks. But hold tight, because it can be stubborn sometimes! Also, don’t place this masking too early. If left on the paper for an extended amount of time, it will leave behind a yellow stain. I have left it on my paper for upwards of 1 week and had no problem. But anything longer than a week and I have had it stain my paper. When you want a white paper underneath, the yellow stain is frustrating.

Do NOT dry it with a heat gun or hair dryer. I cannot emphasize this enough, whether you’re wanting to speed up the dry time of the masking or the dry time of the paint, if you have put down liquid masking, just be patient and let it dry on its own. If you do dry it by either of these methods, it will peel off paper when you try to remove the masking. This can be really frustrating at the end of a painting. This also messes up the surface of the paper so if you try to touch-up paint around the area, it will have an obvious difference. Let it dry naturally.

The type of paper that you use makes a huge difference as well. A 100% cotton paper is more durable than pulp type papers. Papers that can be purchased at places like Wal-Mart, Michaels, Fred Meyer, or any other big box store are generally not cotton. They are usually cheaper papers as well, but not enough cheaper that they make a good substitute for good quality cotton paper. If you have the option, don’t ever buy a watercolor paper that isn’t cotton. Cotton papers will say on the front that they are 100% cotton.

This is a little egg that I did using liquid masking. This was part of a fun YouTube tutorial painting project that demonstrates how nicely it works to keep the paper under the masking white. When laid down properly, allowed to dry properly, and then painted and allowing the paint to dry properly, it works wonderfully, peels off nicely, and leaves a nice finish to any project. So, if you decide to try liquid masking, remember these few tips and you will greatly reduce the problems up might have with your masking.

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I recently posted a picture of one of my most popular paintings, particularly near the coast, but it seems to be a popular animal just generally. It is an octopus. When I began painting, I had a friend ask me if I had ever painted an octopus. I hadn’t, so I went looking for reference photos. I found a lot of photos, but they were all brown or grey, not the eye-catching colors I really wanted. At the time I had never gone out on my own with artistic licensure to produce something different that the picture, or at least not making major changes, but I had decided it was time to try it. Here is the resulting painting:

When I shared this painting recently, I had a social media contact ask me if I had ever painted a sea turtle in similar colors, as she loved this painting, but also was looking for other animals that might match. Her suggestion was a sea turtle or a sea horse. I am always up for a challenge and have wanted to paint a sea turtle for a while now, so I decided to go looking for a reference photo. I found several that I liked. I have now come to the point that combining several paintings into one or changing the reference photo to look more pleasing to me anyway, has become a lot easier, so I went to work drawing and deciding how to use similar colors, as the reference photos again, were very muted yellows and browns.

I love the colors. It’s not true to the natural colors of regular sea turtles, but it pops off the page well, and I think it will make a great art print, as well as nice note cards and stickers. I am especially looking forward to making it into fabric. This painting has not been digitized yet, so there will be some adjustments to exposure, brightening of colors and things of that sort, but all in all, I love this turtle. I am grateful for the people who suggest different subjects for paintings. In the summer I get several suggests a week and can’t paint them all. But I do enjoy the challenge, as well as understanding better what the customer is looking for. This was a fun project this week. Now, what to paint next …

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Paint brushes are obviously a very important part of painting. There is a lot of opinions on the best brushes to use, but I have found that most brushes work, it’s mainly what you get used to. I did not start out with very expensive brushes when I began, nor should anyone, as you may not enjoy painting. But as I have gotten better, I have begun to purchase a somewhat more expensive brush, however, not the top of the line either, as I think again, you can paint with about anything, and it’s what you get used to. As you’ll notice from the pictures below, I have a variety of brands of brushes. My current favorite is made by Princeton.

The above picture is a large portion of the brushes I use. There are a few in-between sizes that are not pictured. One thing to make note of is my brushes are short handle brushes. I have some for acrylic painting that have really long handles, but I find that they get in the way for the most part. Most of the watercolor brushes I can buy locally though are short handles, and I think that seems to be the trend now. They are much easier to use, and I feel like give me more control, especially for fine detail.

The brushes pictured above are flat brushes as you can see, and I use these least of all. But I do keep them on hand for a variety of reasons. The big one on the left I use for large washes on large pieces of paper. It works great to lay down a lot of water really quickly and get the color on just as quickly. This is super important when the air is really dry, usually in the winter here in Alaska, and helps keep the background really smooth. The second from the left I rarely use. It is nice for straight lines and removing paint, and I use it on occasion, but definitely not necessary if you’re just beginning. The third brush I use more often, for again, straight lines, but also to scrub out patches of color where I want it lighter, as well as to put down crisp water lines in landscape paintings. While I don’t use it a ton, I like the rounded edges better than the square one next to it, and I would suggest one similar before you get the larger square one. The last brush in the picture is a fan brush. Again, I don’t use this one often, but it works great for grasses in landscapes and fur on animals.

Now on to my workhorse brushes. I love round brushes for watercolor. I use most of these brushes in all of my paintings. Having a variety of round brushes to choose from is essential, but if you are beginning, go with the even numbers, 0, 2, 4, 6, 8. Those I use most often. The largest round that I have is size 12, great for large washes like the large flat brush, but doesn’t cover the area as fast. I usually use the large flat and size 12 round for large washes, wetting the paper with the flat brush and then painting in the background with the large round brush, especially if I have to go around anything, this size 12 brush comes to a great point for precision work. The other brushes are used based upon need and area that I am trying to cover but are used in every painting that I paint. The brush on the far right is a rigor brush. I don’t use it as often as the rest, but for fine lines and details it is essential. The bristles are quite a bit longer, so a little practice might be necessary to make it work like you want, but it’s an important brush to have on hand.

If you are thinking about painting, I would recommend trying brushes from a variety of manufacturers, and like you are doing here, look at different people’s recommendations. Also, look at the different styles of painting from the various sources of brush recommendations. You can see the type of painting I do by looking at my prints on my website, zoom in and look at the details, zoom out and see if that’s the kind of painting you would like to do. If so, maybe try some of the same brushes. The type of paper you use, and the quality of paints used also affect how your painting will turn out. You can check out some of my recommendations for those on some of my previous blog posts as well.

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Aquaboard is an interesting painting surface that I have seen in Blaine’s Art Supply in Anchorage and online catalogs and finally decided to try. Unlike paper it is a hard board similar to press board used in cabinets. It’s fairly thick, about 1/8 inch, and comes in a variety of sizes. It can also be purchased in a “canvas” type board, with 1-inch-wide sides so that it can be hung on the wall as a finished piece rather than having to frame it like paper. The surface is not paper, but clay and minerals that they say have a texture similar to cold pressed watercolor paper. The picture on the left is the back, and the one on the right kind-of shows the thickness of the board.

I found several things interesting about the product. I like the thickness of the board. I didn’t have to tape it down to anything obviously, so there was no prep involved in using it. It’s also not paper, so there was no warping which I dislike. It had an interesting texture to it, I didn’t think it was similar to cold press paper, I thought it was a bit rougher. I think I would almost compare it to sandpaper rather than watercolor paper. Not an aggressive sandpaper, but definitely not as smooth as even a cold press paper feels. Just different.

Those are the things I found interesting and liked. However, the most important part of painting on any surface, is whether you like the surface for painting, not how well it hangs on the wall or keeps from buckling. The clay surface absorbed water weirdly. Some areas seemed to dry quickly while others didn’t. It didn’t hold the watercolor color very well in my opinion. The sky on this painting (I’ll include that picture below) I had to paint several times to get it dark enough. At one point I tried to wipe the paint off and it wouldn’t, so I thought it was dry. It was in some spots but not in others and when I painted again it lifted paint in some spots but not in others making a very mottled looking sky. I also wanted a clean white edge all the way around, so I taped around the edges, as well as a straight line for the horizon and painted the sky. When I removed the tape from the horizon line the paint had bled down into my ocean area. I was able to scrub some of it out, but not all. I think it was because of the sandpaper feel of the board, so the tape just couldn’t get a good seal anywhere.

The finished product turned out ok, and if I were to digitize this one, I would simply remove the boarder that I tried to create. But overall, I would not use this product again, which is unfortunate, because they came in a three pack, so I have two more! If any of you have tried the Aquaboard and have any tips or tricks to using it more effectively, I would love to hear them.