March 2021: Painting with Masking Tape

aisling drennan abstract painter pulling masking tape off a painting

One of the consistent tools in my painting practice is masking tape.

I have been painting with masking tape since I began my fine art studies in 2007 which seems like a very long time ago now! Not only is it an essential prop for what I do but it’s also part of my painting process. 

In the above video, I’ve taped down the linear shape I want and then applied paint over it. Pulling back the tape is one of the most satisfying things! Firstly because I’m one of those people who love to pick and pull like you know when you get a new smartphone and you pull the protective film that sits on the screen off- that’s what pulling masking tape off my painting surface feels like to me! Secondly, because it completely alters the painting which continually surprises me!

I apply layers of paint to each painting. In between these layers, I mask down motifs and shapes. Once the tape is removed (and that’s the fun part!) it reveals the over and under painted layers leaving the painting in a state of flux. It’s a method of finding and losing the painting at the same time; a contradictory relationship of conceal / reveal which I still get a kick out of. I reckon I’ve gone through more rolls of masking tape than I have worn out paintbrushes!

Artist Aisling Drennan painting with masking tape in her London, UK studio
Painting with masking tape in my studio.

Why masking tape?

I first became interested in masking tape because I wanted something that allowed me to protect areas of a painting while I work around them. There are two types of masking available- tape form and fluid form. Masking fluid is a latex material that is ‘runny’ while masking tape is a roll that allows for cleaner lines plus you can easily cut into it. I find tape much more suitable to what I do because a) I am a fan of the linear and b) I’m far too messy to work with a fluid!

If you are thinking about using masking tape in your work, here’s a  few points to consider before you begin:

  • If you are using masking tape on paper, even a strong paper like fabriano, do be careful pulling it off as it can tear.
  • Masking tape actually has an expiry date! The way to tell if it’s ‘off’ is if its stickiness is not tacking properly to your surface. I buy all my masking tape from leylands hardware store and pull back a corner before purchasing just to make sure it’s good to use.
  • If your masking tape has seen better days it will, unfortunately, seep paint and not protect areas of your painting that you have masked. I have on occasion found this to be useful as you get an imperfect, blurred line which I find can work well like a happy accident!
  • Have a sharp blade to hand because tearing the tape will not always go to plan and again if the tape is weakened, your paint will seep through
  • Make sure your surface is fully dry before applying tape to it or it will not stick

I hope sharing what I’ve learned about painting with masking tape will help you in your work- any questions, let me know!

Many thanks, Aisling  x

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Aisling Drennan is an award-winning abstract artist with a London, UK-based art studio.

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