Watch Me Paint a Mural!

You know what they say about watching paint dry…well, this is like that, only with masking fluid:

I use a toothpick to lay down my Windsor Newton masking fluid because it’s very viscous and I can’t handle it with a paint brush. In this illustration, I am protecting my foreground subject (mailboxes — I love mailboxes) with the masking fluid:

I can get into tight corners better with a toothpick than with a paint brush, which is important considering the small scale of my work:

You have to make sure the masking fluid is bone dry before you go to the next step. Notice that all I have here are a few lines drawn in pencil to guide me in this illustration. In other words, things can go very, very wrong at any point in this operation:


As I paint in the background (using my chalky Grumbacher paints with a lot of water for a light, pastel effect) the masking fluid protects my mailboxes so I can be loose with the watercolors:




I’ll be using a lot of green/blues in this picture, and a lot of yellow/reds. I use my fancy Windsor Newton paints for all the yellows and greens I need, and the Grumbacher for orange…and I’m also using two different cups of water for the cool (green and blue) colors and the warm (yellow/red/brown/orange) ones and I change the water frequently to keep the paint colors crisp:


You can see that I’m working on an Autumn scene and unfortunately  I’ll have to paint fallen leaves. I have no idea how to do this, so I’m winging it here:


Now time for background detail:


See how the yellow wash is peeking through the dark foliage? And the masking fluid is giving me a lot of freedom to slap on paint without worrying about my mailboxes:


This picture as a steep perspective, so here I have to “go big” in the foreground:


And now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid and get to the mailboxes:


Cool, right?


And then, mailbox No. 2 looked wonky to me, so I re-did my drawing:


I left the foreground without detail because I will be dropping in some text down there:


(I think I’ll have to go back and fix that black mailbox. I think I made it worse with the re-drawing of it.)

This is an actual road on the north shore of Long Island that leads to the wonderful Autumn garden of the 19th-century poet/journalist William Cullen Bryant. When I first started painting, all I could manage was a Triscuit (see left, below). Well, look at me now! I’m painting Super-Size!


Just shows you what a lot of practice can do for a Bear of Very Little Talent.

And now, an announcement:

Le Road Trip is being published in CHINA!

Le Road Trip cover jpg

You know what they say about China. “You take an author with a small cult following in the USA  and translate those numbers to the billion people in China and you have an author with a small cult following in The Middle Kingdom.”

Question of the day: Does this post leave you with a craving for Triscuits?

19 Comments, RSS

  1. janet bellusci

    another great lesson! thanks so much. i’d never heard of masking fluid, and it’s great.
    those mommas and babies are great, too.

  2. I will drag out my masking fluid too..
    I love this painting.. You have perspective down pat..I sure don’t ..I think the mailboxes look great and I love the toothpick tip..My brushes always looked warped after..
    Thank you.

  3. Deborah

    This makes me want to go out and buy some masking fluid . . . and I don’t even paint! It also makes me want a kitten, but 3 cat-hating dogs & a husband allergic to cats makes that a forbidden love.

  4. Susie

    THANK YOU! Yes, I’m shouting, this is wonderful!
    After pouring over WWCTR to figure out how you painted those white snowflakes, (opaque paint over the background?) you amaze me with masking fluid! I gotta get some.
    And, seeing how you combine the 2 types of paint is excellent, too. I gotta get a set of those Grumbacher opaque pans. Maybe I can learn to make magic with them, too.

    Give me Cats. I’m allergic to wheat and cats, cats are worth the trouble. I have 11, but no kittens, now I want one……or two or three. ha ha ha

    Thank you for all the time you put in to showing us your life.

    And congrats on being published farther afield.

  5. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never used masking fluid. I’ve bought plenty of jars of it but didn’t have the patience to figure it out.
    Amazing step-by-step process.
    I do change the water frequently though…
    It’s the only thing that gets me out of my chair !

  6. patty

    I would choose “Kit Kat”s” anyday over triscuts! Thanks for the tip on using a toothpic to apply the masking fluid, hadn’t thought of that.

  7. Jen

    Hi Vivian,

    Even though you show this step-by-step, it still looks like magic to me! I agree with you that the black mailbox looks more wonky after your re-drawing of it. The darkness of the color also makes might be making it more distracting in the overall composition than you mean it to be, but maybe you want to draw that kind of attention to it, I don’t know.

    I definitely want to play with kittens while eating triscuits, now. In my head I like to pronounce “triscuit” to rhyme with how the French pronounce biscuit.

    Looking at your paintings always makes me feel good. Thank you for sharing them with us. And congrats on taking over China!

  8. Jen

    Oh! I just realized that in China all your special lettering will be replaced by Chinese characters, right? That’s kind of fascinating. Will you get a chance to see what it looks like?


  9. Joan

    I love your tutorial using masking fluid. A word of caution: if you use this stuff with a brush, make sure to rinse it out carefully as soon as finished or your brush will be ruined. I prefer to use a toothpick or a palette knife to apply it.

    I think the redrawing of the mailbox is too dark…maybe lifting the paint will make it more grey instead of black? I love the leaves, road, and the comparison with the “triscuit” sized example used in WWCTR.

  10. I have heard of masking fluid, but like carol no patience..But it looks like a good idea to try. Can’t wait for this book to come out its looking good. Congrats on the China connection. oh and now I think I need a cat named Triscuit. 🙂 Those are adorable photos.

  11. so fun to learn the tricks of your trade, i didn’t understand the masking part until you peeled it off, that was a surprise to a non artiste~ love your country road, you really are brilliant at your craft.

    adore the cats shots, that first one i could eat right up. i am craving for my cats to serve me triscuits… with a nice cocktail on the side

  12. Laura

    Test the peelabilty of your masking fluid on your intended paper BEFORE you commit it to your masterpiece. Different papers can react differently.

  13. Jeannie

    Triscuit with some Cougar gold cheese, please. My lap cat will curl up and beg a few nibbles. I love the painting. I think what is throwing you is that the mailboxes are in different planes (think geometry). I viewed them as the one in the foreground being on an older post and the black one’s post had been replaced. (Yes, I even make up stories when I view paintings.) I played with masking fluid and frisket this summer. What a life saver! I can slop paint on, as I usually do, and then go back in. Have a fantastic week!

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