Fireflies in Watercolor

Firefly Forest Painting by Kathryn Beals

This is a watercolor painting I did from a childhood memory of fireflies in the woods behind my mother's farm in Ontario. I did a post on masking medium and a post on masking tape a little while ago, two of my very favorite techniques. Unlike with acrylic paint, in watercolor you have to leave blank, unpainted spots in the paper to show white areas. This requires a lot more planning.

This was one of my first experiments with masking, and I actually used rubber cement instead. I decided where the fireflies should go, and I painted rubber cement in circles onto the blank paper. When the rubber cement was dry, I painted in the rest of the scene over top, waited for the paint to dry, then peeled off the rubber cement with my fingers.

I was disappointed to see that the circles came out a little jagged, but overall it was certainly a lot easier and more natural-looking than trying to avoid the white areas freehand. Once I got a bit better at applying the mask, I was able to see where I had painted it and make sure I had it in the shape I wanted.

I have found that rubber cement masks just as well as the more expensive masking medium that is designed specifically for watercolor, but is more difficult to apply consistently. If you decide to try masking medium in one of your paintings, I recommend starting with rubber cement to see if you like it. Since rubber cement is not water soluble, use the handle end of your brush to apply it (sharpen it with a pencil sharpener if you want a really fine point) because you'll never get it out of your bristles. The rubber cement technique works particularly well for white sparkles on water. Use the handle tip of your brush to make rows of tiny dots.

I also used a white gel pen to do some of the white backlighting on the trees and got a bit carried away, but overall I liked the effect. I think if I were doing this painting again, I would have tried fixing the edges of the firefly circles with the white pen to make them smoother.