Saturday, January 15, 2011

Keeping My Whites White!

I got inspired by a few comments that I received in regards to yesterday's blog and decided to try a watercolor of trees in winter.

As we live in the country, there's no shortage of material for this type of endeavor.  I also looked at a couple of pictures in some magazines we received and then took out a blank piece of watercolor paper.  No doubt you remember blank spaces from my previous post.

There are two methods for keeping white spaces white when doing a watercolor.

The first is to paint around all of the spaces that you want to remain white (not as easy as it sounds); the second is to apply something called Maskoid to protect the white spaces.  Maskoid is a masking fluid that dries so you can paint over it and not worry about dirtying the white spaces.

On the right here you'll see my white paper with Maskoid applied where I want to save all of the snow highlights I decided that I wanted in my picture.

I didn't do a drawing ahead of time (don't tell anyone).  I sort of drew the places where the highlights would be on the trees and ground with the Maskoid, so I guess you could say I Maskoid-ed a drawing!  It's not's being creative!

I had actually given some thought to stopping right here, framing it and calling it "Winter Study."  Always a good thing to stop before you ruin a good thing, but my friend Guy would say, "Take a chance and make it better."

I've taken many chances in the past and have a stack of rejects to prove that I tried!

Anyway, on to the next step.

For this, I mixed some colors in my little tray that my friend Carol from New Paltz gave me and made a dark wash to lay out where the trees will be.

The nice thing is that you can paint right over the Maskoid after it dries (it's like plastic on a sofa) and the highlights are still there.  Really!  They're under the Maskoid.  You're going to have to trust me on this!

Two things about watercolor.  First, you have to remember to give the Maskoid and subsequent painting steps time to dry before you go on to the next step.

Secondly, the time allowed for drying is just about the right amount of time to make a batch of margaritas or to put together some cheese and crackers and aerate a nice Shiraz!

Here, on the right, I thought I would share what my paint tray looks like at this point.

I generally only use three colors, primaries of course, and love cobalt blue!  Along with that blue, a cadmium red and a cadmium yellow.

The three combined will make just about any color you might need.  I don't use black or white, but have been known to eat half a dozen black and white cookies!  They're the best.

After a glass of wine and some snacks...I mean after the first tree layout has dried, I go back and paint in a few more smaller trees, such as those that would be in the background, and put in some shadowing to represent folds in the snowbanks up front, shadows in front of trees, and start to show some differences between tree types.

Here you'll see Hemlock, Spruce and White Pine, Sassafras, Maple, Ash, Oak, and Elm trees.  

Trust me!  I know trees.

Under the snow, there is grass, acorns by the ton (of course), ferns, moss, trees that fell and are rotting, and many leaves that I didn't bother to rake up this Fall.  I gave up.

Oh, by the way, the third tree on the right, the big one?  There's a squirrel climbing up the backside!  

Can't see it? 

Sorry.  Maybe next time I'll paint facing the other side of the trees.

Now we'll start to add some character to the thing and add some color.  As shown on the right just below here, I do a wash of blue where the sky would be, add a little blue to the trees, for contrast and then some blue in the snow at the bottom where I've dripped paint across by mistake.  Trying to hold a brush and a wine glass at the same time, while mixing paint and thinking about the drawing can be very complicated...but, we always make the best of our mistakes and snow shadows do have a blue tint to them, no?
You can see here that the white spaces are still protected from the paint (and from the wine and the cracker crumbs).

The shiny stuff you see is the Maskoid that's still in place.  You have to imagine what the painting will look like when the Maskoid is taken off.  

Many times, I have to imagine that my painting isn't going to look anything like what I intended.  It hurts less if you're flexible.

You see, there have been times when I've been asked what I was painting and pointing straight ahead at the subject have still had the inquirer say, "I don't see that!"   I keep painting.

The nice thing about nature landscapes is that a they don't have to be exact representations...unless you're painting Mount Rushmore (and if you do, please use exterior paint and check with the park rangers first)...and we're not doing portrait work here, so most will buy the fact that this is titled "Winter Trees" and that there's snow here and there, even if it's not exactly as it is in my backyard.

The next part is the fun part!  I get to take the Maskoid off!  I do it by rubbing my fingers across the dried Maskoid.  There is a removal tool, something akin to a hard sponge, but I like the feel of the stuff peeling away and I get some exercise doing it.  

As a result, I have very, very strong fingertips!  I can tap so that it sounds like thunder!

When you get all of the Maskoid off, as pictured here on the left, you have exposed the white paper (it's not illegal, so don't worry), and can now think about what you're going to do next.  

Usually, a second margarita or a vino refill may come to mind, and that may give you more time to contemplate your next move.

I might mention here that it's important to keep your drink away from the water you use to clean off your brushes.  I only learned this one day working on an oil painting when I found myself reaching for what I thought was my drink and realized, from the smell, that I was about to take a swig of turpentine and my brushes were resting in a gin and tonic!  I can tell you that mixed drinks don't clean brushes well, and there's some sort of lead and other chemical poisoning information on paints in general that are important to heed.

Some people won't eat or drink while they're painting.  I say, why bother painting?

I digress.

Once the Maskoid is off, I paint branches below the white spaces where I want branches to be, put some blueish hues here and there to show shadows on the branches and play in the snow, adding things that I hope will make the painting better.

The next steps are very important.  At least, to me.

When I think I'm close to done, I put the painting away in another room and I don't look at it for 24 hours.  

Sometimes, I'm surprised with what I find.  

Once, I came back to a painting to find out my mother had tipped over the easel and put a hole through the canvas.  

Another time, I had left a watercolor standing up and some of the paint was still wet and it ran down the paper.  Several times I was certain someone had taken my beautiful work and left their reject!

On those wonderful occasions, you see a work that needs one or two things to be "people ready." 

So that's what I'm going to do with this one.  

We'll look at it again tomorrow.

As you can see by my little tray, on the left, I still have a bit of blue left and the darn stuff costs a bundle so I'll see what I can do to get it back in that little tube!  

Actually, it's okay if the colors dry a bit.  They can be re-wet and used again.

Wash your brushes, put the caps back on your paints and be sure your wine glass is empty...if that stuff dries up, all is lost!


  1. First, the painting is make it look so easy damnit! And second, I love that you changed your sidewalk should keep posting all the sidewalks you want to travel...I'd love to see them!

  2. It is easy to do, especially the white spots as they're all ready done for you! Maybe I'll do another and just do one step each day and you can follow along! My friend Melissa initiated the sidewalk pic change, and good though on her part, and based on your feedback I'll search sidewalks I want to walk on and change it up more often...did you start another painting yet?

  3. I started yoga instead of painting! But I'm getting there...the ideas are brewing, I guess I'm just waiting for them to bubble over. Oh, and for some spare time! LOL

  4. Seems to me if you have time for yoga, you have time for painting or drawing...actually, you could put a brush or pencil in one hand, paper or canvas on the floor, and when you bend and stretch, as they do in the banking commercial on TV, you could do both!!! OOOMMM...sketch, OOOMMM, sketch...repeat!!!

  5. Nice painting. I have used masking fluid, fun stuff.

  6. Phil, dare I ask what you used the masking fluid for?