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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Pugh

Sketchbook practice – Masking lines.

I am trying to use my sketchbook to inform my art practice. How often is it that we create something great but can't remember how we went about creating it. I have been looking at ways of creating lines by masking for use with my watercolours. I have made a series of explorations in my sketchbook, complete with notes for the future.

To begin with I decided to use masking tape, but wanted a more organic edge to the line, so I ripped the tape. I burnished the edges so that the paint would not seep under, as I like working with wet washes. What I found was that the tape had a tendency to rip the surface of the paper on removal. This was despite the fact that I had removed some of the tack first (by laying the tape on fabric and then removing it). Then I put it onto my page. This worked well and I did like the lovely organic look of the edges.

Having found that I loved the effect but that it damaged the paper, I next tried some "Frog Tape". This is the yellow variety for a delicate surface and is low tack. I loved this, however if you get the page really wet the tape does ooze a substance which can mean that your straight edges are not so straight. This did not affect the surface of the paper once dry. I also decided to tint the white paper where the tape had been . I loved this.

My third sketch was using Pebeo drawing gum marker and a SAA Masking fine liner. The drawing gum marker gave a very even line with perfect edges. This was a great contrast to other methods of masking. Removal was not as easy as with some masking fluids, as it was a very thin layer. It did however come off easily with an eraser. For the finer lines I used the fineliner applicator which I love. This works well if you want a quick flowing line but it takes a bit of practice to use. If you pause or squeeze the bottle you get a slight blob, but with experience I found it great for script. If you don't want a blob at the begining of your line it is best to start off the page or on a piece of spare paper.

Each time I did a sketch, I thought that the white lines looked like they needed toning down, so I decided to do the next experiment on a toned background of tea stain. Having already added water to the surface of the paper I decided to use the "Frog Tape" and my SAA fineliner. I loved the effect, but as you can clearly see , the "frog tape" does not give a straight edge with wet washes.

Next I thought I would try some quilters tape to give a hard edged regular line. I tried this on a tinted surface, so I took extra care to take some of the tack off by pressing the tape against my clothing before applying. As you can see if you look closely, this was not completely successful but I loved the lines. I will try this again.

Having just bought a copy of Nancy Reyner's "Acrylic Innovation" I was thumbing through when what should I come across but a featured technique "Elegant curved edges". This I had to try with my quilters tape! Being extra, careful this time to make the tape less tacky, I pulled it into curved shapes and stuck it down. The curves can't be too tight, otherwise the tape folds. I then wanted some thinner lines so tried to think of a way that I had not already explored. I tried using high flow acrylic in white as a resist.

I'm trying to use the great store of supplies that I have already bought, so looked around and I found some clear tar gel by Golden. I wondered what sort of line this would give, and if it would be any different to a masking fluid line in appearance. I was in for a big suprise. I found the tar gel difficult to get to flow evenly and it often makes a shaky line. Sometimes I got a big blob of unwanted gel, so I scraped these off the paper with a palette knife. Waiting for it to dry was the hardest thing, as it took a couple of hours even on a hot day. Once dry it is amost impossible to see. The paint just glides over it revealing the marks. I found the tar gel wonderful but not greatly controllable. The areas where tar gel had been scraped off gave lovely blotchy effect.

I felt that I was coming to the end of my sketchbook exploration of masking lines, but thought I would revisit a few old ones. The first, masking with oil pastel (Make sure that they are a good make as cheap oil pastels can give poor results). I love the feel of oil pastel on the page and line can be made thicker by smooching two lines together.

And finally I masked with a white crayon. This gives a rough hit and miss line which is very organic. Great for waves, flower stalks etc.

Now it's off to have a go at creating some abstract compositions with these lines!

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