Painting Tips: Masking a Painting using Cellophane and Paper

Painting Tips: Masking a Painting using Cellophane and Paper

There’s more than one way to mask an area of a painting to protect it from overspray, washes or contact. You can use liquid masking fluid, shelving paper, templates, plain paper and different types of tape. I often need to cover one part of my painting to allow another part to be flooded with very wet paint, which has to sit for some time to dry. In this case, the risk of using tape, paper or even commercially made films is that they may either get lifted off or allow paint to bleed under them. These problems can be sidestepped by using cellophane and rubber cement. I prefer cellophane—like the kind used in supermarkets to wrap bouquets of flowers—over a commercially manufactured product because I can restrict the application of adhesive to the edges. And cellophane cheaper!

1. To begin, I lay a sheet of cellophane over my artwork (see above) and, with a waterproof marker, place a dot at each corner of the area I want to protect. I then turn the cellophane over and run a 1-inch wide coat of rubber cement from dot to dot. On the art itself, I run a similar strip of rubber cement along the edge of the area I want to protect. Once the cement dries, I place a sheet of ordinary bond paper over the cement on the artwork. This sheet of paper will keep the two lines of cement from touching each other until I line them up.

Once I’ve positioned the cellophane where I want it over the artwork, I reach under the cellophane and slowly extract the bond paper, smoothing out the cellophane and pressing it onto the artwork. When the two dried areas of rubber cement touch each other, they form a watertight seal. Next, I take a sharp scalpel and trace along whatever outline I’ve established. With the outline cut, I carefully lift the waste cellophane from the area where I want the paint to be applied.

2. With a rubber cement pickup (a piece of plastic that sticks to rubber cement—see above), or regular masking tape, I touch the excess cement and lift it off.

3. I’m now able to flood the artwork with whatever consistency, amount and color of paint I desire. I can work the paint and not have to concern myself with it running under the mask to the area underneath.

4. When I want to airbrush, I use a paper mask and painter’s tape. The paper could be either kraft or butcher paper, or even newspaper. Notice how I’ve tested my colors on the paper around the areas where I was working.

5. In this painting, I re-masked most of the board with cellophane so I could spray the open area behind the center image. For a different effect, I used a hand-held torn paper mask. I held the paper in one hand while airbrushing with the other, allowing some paint to settle under this loose mask and eliminating a hard edge. To further achieve this soft gradation away from the center, I mixed zinc white with my colors because it’s semitransparent and would allow some of the background to show through.

6. I also used clear plastic squares, taped over the areas where the bird’s wings were located, to protect the areas underneath while I did some brushwork on the main image.

7. Here’s a close-up of some masking being removed (above; top). Under the green painter’s tape there is a second tape (Scotch Magic removable 811)—which is hard to see in a photograph. I use it because it removes easily (has less tack) and leaves a sharp edge. Note the triangular piece of paint still left on the Scotch tape. To avoid tearing off an image’s paint when I remove bits of tape, I first run a scalpel along the edge.

When using Scotch Magic removable tape for masking, I run a fingertip’s worth of gloss medium along the tape before applying paint, to seal the edge and keep any color from running underneath the tape.