When painting with watercolour, it's not usually possible to regain the white of the page once the paint has been laid down. In most cases, the smartest way to achieve white on the page is to leave that area blank and paint the colours around it.

If the area you're painting around is small and intricate, you can cover it with masking fluid, so it stays white. An alternative to masking fluid in those small areas is white gouache added afterwards.

Let's compare the two approaches by following a Live Demo by Alena Seva, in which she compares the same painting done twice, once with each method.

Step 1: Apply the Masking Fluid

Masking fluid comes in either white or blue, and most people prefer the blue since it shows up on the page much more quickly. You can buy masking fluid in bottles or a felt tip marker.

I have the felt tip marker version, so I don’t have to get a brush dirty for it. However, this does make it a bit more challenging to get a fine line with it.

Begin this painting by drawing cracks in ice using the masking fluid. Make sure to lay it on thick enough to rub off later easily. If you’re able to with the applicator you have, try to have some line variation to make the perspective and texture believable.

Step 2: Paint the Ice

You will do this for both paintings. Wet the page, then make a gradient starting with a cold blue, then moving from light turquoise to a deep and rich blue. Pretend the masking fluid isn’t even there when you do this to the masking fluid side.

Step 3: Gouache 

Take a fine brush and apply streaks of white gouache to the second painting once the blue is dry. Vary up your brushstrokes to create a realistic splintering effect on the ice. The cracks should be thicker towards the front of the picture to show linear perspective.

Think about how ice cracks in actual puddles you’ve seen before, and try to replicate that look. Also, remember that snow can catch on the edges, so you can make some lines thicker to represent that.

You can then add faint streaks of diluted white beneath some of the lines to represent the light reflecting on the edges under the surface. Doing this will create the look of natural ice rather than just lines.

Step 4: Remove the Masking Fluid

Rub away the masking fluid using either your finger or the end of a paintbrush handle. In this picture, you can see that I had to remove some of the paint with it, and that’s because I didn’t make my layer of masking fluid thick enough to stick to itself and come off the paper without too much of a fight.

Comparing the Results

The masking fluid painting looks messy for the reason I mentioned above, and it would not be so messy if I had applied thicker layers of masking fluid. Also, the lines are imprecise because the marker-style dispenser is a bit imprecise as an applicator. A good thing about this result is how brightly the white areas contrast with the rest of the picture.

I’m sure if I experimented with the way I applied masking fluid, I would like both results equally, but in this case, I think the best result is the painting I did with gouache. Aside from the line weight looking nicer, there’s also more variety in the tonal value with gouache, and the colour transitions are more subtle than they are in real life.

Whichever technique you choose here will depend on your personal preference and the tools at your disposal! Depending on what you’re painting, you might want to use masking fluid for some highlights and white gouache for others.

I like to use masking fluid whenever the sudden edges are necessary, and I don’t have a ton of intricate work. I will add the tiny and intricate highlights with gouache in those same paintings.

If you got value from this lesson, I highly recommend diving into the topic further with Alena Seva’s 90-minute art class! She will go further in-depth about painting frozen lakes.

Also, if you subscribe to our email newsletter, you’ll receive updates about all the new Etchr Studio lessons! Happy painting!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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