Thursday, October 1, 2015

Watercolor Landscape & Sky: Scotch Tape and Magic Eraser

Easy Watercolor Techniques For Landscapes

Have you been itching to try watercolor painting yourself?  Are you just a little excited to get your hands on a brush?  Today, I'm going to show two techniques that anyone can use.  

When painting a landscape that has more complex details, keeping the sky color separate from the land portion is a challenge.  It's easy for watercolor to spread over where you don't want it to be.  Keeping a paper towel ready makes a quick blot possible.  Sometimes, we just need a few fluffy white clouds in the sky so we'll add those, too.


Watercolor paper
Scotch tape
Box knife or razor blade
1" flat brush, synthetic is durable for watercolors
Watercolor pigment in blue hue of your choice
(ultramarine or cobalt, add a little cerulean for variety)
Eraser cleaning pad
Container of water

Scotch Tape with Watercolor

1.  Here, I've drawn a few basic lines to imitate the planes of a landscape.  The top line separates land from sky.  This is where we have possibility of paint spreading from sky area.  With this simple line, I would just turn the painting around with sky area closest to me.  This trick is key for landscapes with more varied or complicated shapes.  If the paper is clipped to a support board, then it can be tipped at an angle so paint runs toward the highest point of sky.  You can rest the board on a roll of masking tape to keep the back edge higher.

2.  Run a piece of Scotch tape the length of that upper line.   Try to have the tape equal distance on either side of the line.  This tape has a frosted surface and removes easily.  If you are going to go for a generic tape, I suggest sticking with a frosted surface.  I fear the clear shiny tape may not remove cleanly.  I do know that clear packing tape works well also but there's still chance of paper damage.  Test it on a small scrap of watercolor paper to be safe.

3.  Let's get that tape pressed down firmly.  With your finger, smooth from left to ride side of tape.  It's important to press at the line we've covered as well as below.  This is going to serve as a dam to keep the blue wash of color above this line.

4.  With the box knife, slowly cut on the upper line.  Apply light to moderate pressure.  We only want to cut through the tape surface.  The paper will end up with some amount of cuts in the line.  Take your time and stay on the line as best you can.  Pigment will sink in and stain darker where lines are cut into the paper.  It's not totally preventable but knowing the results, you can anticipate the effect.

5.  It's time to remove the tape above the line.  I needed to use the tip of the box knife blade to start it.  I pressed that tape so well it really stayed put at the end.  It may tear as you are pulling.  Hold the paper to the light to see that all tape is removed.  It blends well enough that small bits of tape may remain in the sky area.

The tape is removed from the sky area and we're almost ready to paint!

6.  Let's be sure the paint cannot run under the edge of the tape.  Run your thumb along the cut edge of the tape.  You can see I am applying pressure lower at the same time.

7.  Time to paint!  You can wet the paper with clear water first helps prevent hard edges drying while you work.  Do this by dipping a clean, flat paintbrush into clean water; brush the water onto the paper.  It should be shiny but not have puddles of water.  Your paper will begin to buckle if not secured to a board with masking tape, freezer tape, staples, or binder clips.  It's okay for it to buckle, but it may be harder to work on.  Now, as you can see, I've begun to paint the length of the sky with a watery blue pigment wash.  Move the brush in wide strokes to have an even coverage of color.

Note:  blue skies are lighter at the horizon and become darker in color above our heads.  I didn't really apply that on this little painting demo.

I am blotting away paint that is remaining on the tape surface.  This is the best way to be sure it can't be smudged to the land portion of the composition.

Let the sky portion of the painting dry.  Now it's time to remove the tape from the land portion.  If you are continuing on with the foam cleaning eraser, I suggest leaving the tape on the paper until afterward.  If not, the next step could smudge blue color below.

The sky is complete if it's a clear blue sky we're wanting.  What if we want to have some soft, billowy clouds instead?  We could have blotted with a twisted piece of paper towel.  We could have lifted out with a barely damp round brush.  Here's another method to try...

Magic Eraser with Watercolor

I have done quite a bit of reading online about the cleaning erasers.  They are melamine foam.  They were initially used in construction for low smoke and flame tendencies.  Check if the package specifically lists added cleaners added on the packaging.  As long as it is plain, with no added cleansers, it's safe to use for this purpose.  In my research, I found that John Salminen has a video explaining his use of the cleaning eraser.  Click to see his YouTube video, Lifting Watercolor with a Magic Eraser.

I don't use this technique often.  It's my back up plan when I've tried everything else and I'm still not satisfied with the results.  There are tools and tricks I only use when I'm determined not to give up on a painting.

1.  Taking a pair of scissors, I cut the eraser into small cubes.  The sponge breaks down quickly so I do this to use only the amount I need.  This box of two erasers was a dollar.  

2.  I first dip the sponge in water.  I squeeze out the water so it is just damp.  As I lightly brush the sponge along the blue sky, it lifts color.  

3.  Frequently rinse and squeeze the sponge.  Continue lifting color with a medium amount of pressure, use a sweeping motion.  Rinsing  the sponge prevents reapplying color on the paper.  Small pieces of the sponge will break off, like a pencil eraser does.  Because the sponge is white, do not panic.  It's not the paper breaking down.  Carefully brush the small bits of sponge away.  Keep in mind the type of cloud you are seeking to describe.  My clouds are elongated and wispy.  I tried to have them tapered at each end.

I hope you'll take a walk on the wild side and try some watercolor painting for yourself.  It takes very little in the way of art supplies to get started.  My current painting in progress has me trying my skills with a palette knife.  It's a fun way to add fine sketch-like details but not easy to control the results.  Plenty of paper towel blotting going on here!  Let me know if you try out these techniques.  I'll tell you another day how I came to be gutsy enough to try the cleaning eraser.  When you've got nothing to lose...

Have a great week and I'll catch up with you next Thursday.
Of course, I may post short bits of news in the meantime.


...because she must make art.


  1. FYI, magic erasers change the ph of the paper and will have an effect to how the paper takes's often not profound, but changes it none the less. Also, remember the pigment/water combination will remain on the paper (flat) where the paper is wet or has water for it to flow. Learn to use this simple physics principle for control.

    1. You have some great points to add! Thank you! I think of this as a back up plan when I'm just not satisfied with my efforts and want to venture for another try. I appreciate your comment.

  2. Great idea. thanks for sharing. I use magic eraser to lift out unwanted stuff. Some times it works better than other times. It depends on the and how staining it is. I teach beginners, so I am always looking for new ideas to share
    Again, Thanks, Margo

    1. You're so right, Margo! It is a bit risky without sure results. I reserve this for my last-resort-nothing-to-lose moments. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Use the eraser, blot as you go and then allow it to dry. Rewet the areas with water and allow to redry and this lifts the paper fibres and works better. Great easy tutorial for learners.
    I always tell the students water is your transportation and the paint wont go beyond where the water ridges unless your too hasty.

    1. Great pointers, Ruth! Thank you! There's plenty of need for restraint and control in watercolors, right? It's so hard to not be hasty. This medium teaches us to slow down, relax, take our time. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Use the eraser, blot as you go and then allow it to dry. Rewet the areas with water and allow to redry and this lifts the paper fibres and works better. Great easy tutorial for learners.
    I always tell the students water is your transportation and the paint wont go beyond where the water ridges unless your too hasty.
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