Friday, April 17

What Is Frisket?

Sometimes the topics for the Orbisplanis Art Blog are about artists that I admire or whose work I have seen in museums or art centers. Sometimes the topic is drawing or painting tips (or even a lesson) that I’d like to share. Sometimes the topic is an art book that I’ve read or bought on an artist or technique.

Sometimes the topic is a bit mundane such as My Twitter Experience . Today's topic, however, is on frisket. If you don’t know what I’m talking about—read on.

Why would I pick a topic such as frisket about which to blog? Well, I recently have been taking watercolor lessons at what I like to call Watercolor School, and we have to use frisket. Although most all watercolor artists are probably familiar with it, it was new to me. So I decided to blog about it.

Just what is this frisket that I refer to? The plastic bottle that I have actually calls it liquid frisket, which I found out was only one of the forms it comes in. It also says, “For All Your Masking Needs.” A little marketing never hurts, right?

When you Google “frisket,” you find there is a lot more information on it than you ever imagined. There are 107,000 hits on frisket—imagine!

Turns out, the term frisket refers to several things, all having to do with separating one thing from another or covering up one thing so it won’t get mixed up or in with another thing.

In Wikipedia there are several descriptions. One is about the old letterpress printing methodology where an oiled sheet—the frisket—is used to keep the ink from touching certain areas of the page to be printed. Another description is about air-brush, which is a spray painting technique in which a plastic sheet—the frisket—is used to mask off certain areas to keep the paint from covering that area. It also mentions using friskets like a template that you use to cut out areas to be painted.

But none of the above descriptions have much to do with the frisket I used for watercolor. For watercolor what you want to do is to apply the frisket, liquid frisket to be exact, on the areas of the painting where you don’t want the watercolor to cover or even touch. If you don’t use frisket, the paint will mix instantly no matter how carefully you try to keep this from happening.

So what exactly is frisket? Without getting into the actual chemical composition, it’s basically natural latex and ammonia. The label on my bottle says do not take internally and avoid contact with the eyes. Based on the odor—strong, with a whiff of ammonia—I will heed the warning.

Natural latex, as I found out with some more Googling, comes from—exudes was the word they used—the Hevea Brasiliensis tree, which, I assume, grows in Brazil. It’s flexible and has "unique molding abilities."

You can apply frisket with a paint brush (not one of your good sable ones, though, as it ruins them) or a nib. A nib is a handy little thing, sort of like a pencil but with plastic rather than lead. Anyway, you can apply frisket with it, too; maybe I’ll blog about it someday.

So, I’ve used frisket on a couple of paintings and it works just as advertised and keeps the watercolor from going where you don’t want it to go. When you’re done, you just peel it off in rubbery strings, and whatever you covered up with the frisket is ready to be painted or left alone.

What will they think of next?



  1. Great article. But boy, I've used frisket a bunch and it is a very difficult tool. Sometimes it behaves well and goes on moderately easily and comes off easily, but other times it's nothing but trouble. No matter how you pre treat your brush (soap-wax- I even used barrier cream) it is a brush killer. Best thing is to buy cheap kiddie brushes and cut them down to nibs. There was some tool I bought- just for frisket, a sponge thing which worked great for about half an hour and then got so gummy I had to clean it and the cleaning destroyed it. I also use a squeeze bottle with the nipple trimmed to the size line you need. But it dries so fast and gummy it clogs and glops constantly. It's really a troublesome thing to use, at least for me. I have done lots of other things to avoid it, like using acrylic gouache and then blotting off other layers,
    also wax medium on top of the colors you want to keep clear. But boy, I use frisket only as the last of last resorts. Also the smell is just lethal.

    Anyhow just had to toss in my two bits when I saw your notes. You blog is terrific, keep up the good work!


    Jeff Scher

  2. You can also use a "paint eraser" which is a tool that looks like a regular paintbrush, but has a rubbery angled tip that makes it easy to apply frisket and do so with precision. Not to mention, there's no worry of damaging the brush cause the frisket should just peel right off.

  3. Hi.
    I just want to thank you for your recommendations. I just discovered liquid frisket... after all these years! I experimented this weekend with adding color to the frisket in
    order to contrast it with the underlying white watercolor paper.
    And, it worked. Thought I'd just mention this as it seemed to be something that could be useful to a lot of people. Also, never posted a comment before!