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Tips and Tricks

Masking Tape


A roll of masking tape is not the most exciting piece of painting equipment. In fact it is probably down towards the bottom of the list compared to the myriad of colored tubes and pans, exotic brushes, fancy palettes and easels. In this article we will explore just what can be done with a simple roll of masking tape.  

Roll of Masking Tape
Creating hard edged whites


One of the handiest assets of masking tape is that it allows you to regain crisp, hard edged areas of lost white.

In this example I am using a piece of “Paint Erase” rejuvenating sponge, but as you will see later, gesso can also be used to reinstate lost whites.

I wanted more contrast in the focal area of this painting so decided the dinghy on the cabin of the main boat should be made lighter.

Carefully applying masking tape around the perimeter of the dinghy allowed me to scrub back the pigment with the damp sponge.

Peeling the tape off reveals a hard edged almost white shape. A little shadow with a cool gray and repainting where the marker flags cross the dinghy gives more impact to the focal area due to the increased contrast..

Painting of boats before adjustment
Masking Tape and magic eraser
painting of boats after adjustment with Masking Tape and magic eraser
Background Continuity 


This painting of birch trees needs a continuous background that appears to flow behind the trees. It is possible to paint this and simply avoid the trees but a more convincing and dynamic background can be made by masking out the main trees with masking tape. This allows some vigorous brush strokes to be scrubbed in behind the trees.

Watercolor Painting of Birch Trees

The tape is cut to take away the ruler straight edge and to get some variation into the width of the trees.

cutting masking tape with a craft knife

Once the strips of tape are applied the background can be vigorously washed in and allowed to dry.

Watercolor painting over strips of masking tape

After the background has dried and the tape removed the painting can be worked over with ink, rigger lines and some tinted Ultramarine gouache to bring out the character of the trunks

Adding ink lines to a watercolor painting


This painting was built up in layers, gradually getting darker and darker. The background leaves and twigs were made by cutting into the layer below with progressively darker layers. The final uppermost leaves were made using masking tape and gesso. This produced a stark, hard edged shape that, once thoroughly dry, was adjusted with washes of watercolor to build up shadows and depth.

painting gesso over masking tape on a watercolor painting
Watercolor and gesso painting of sticks and leaves
Texture Control


This painting had a number of smooth, flat and graded washes. To add variety I decided to  splatter some texture into the left hand bank of the river.

Watercolor landscape with river

The bank was carefully surrounded with masking tape and paper towels. This left just the bank exposed. By gripping a loaded ½ inch bristle brush right down near the end of the bristles it is possible to spray fine splatters over the surface.

splattering watercolor over masking tape

Before the splatters dry the tape and paper towels are removed and the intensity of the splatters are adjusted with a clean damp brush

splattered watercolor


Painting tiny bricks is fiddly and time consuming. To speed up the process masking tape can be used to cover the ends of a section of bricks. This saves having to paint tiny half bricks at the end of each row.

Painting bricks between masking tape

White Borders

There is great satisfaction peeling masking tape from around the border of a painting once it is finished. Suddenly everything looks clean, tidy and finalized. Not really necessary, but gratifying after all that work.

Peeling masking tape from around the edge of a watercolor painting

Masking tape varies in quality - some is just not sticky enough and some wants to tear your paper when you remove it. Experiment first - if the tape is too sticky, tear off the length you need and stick it to your clothing before you use it. This reduces the tackiness while still allowing it to do its job.

When you find a brand that is just right, write the name down so you will know which one to get next time.

Author: John Lovett

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