2 Methods To Stretch Watercolor Paper!

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If you’re new to the painting game, there are loads of tips to make your artistic life easier and more productive.

One thing that a beginning water media artist needs to know is how to prepare paper for painting.

Unless you’re using extremely heavy and expensive watercolor paper like Arches 400 pound, your paper will buckle when wetting and applying paint.

Even heavy paper will benefit from stretching, and you’ll find it far easier to work with stretched paper than a wobbly sheet that shifts and bulges when wet.

Method 1 – Taping

What You’ll Need:

  • Watercolor Paper
  • Rigid Drawing Board
  • Water
  • Gummed Brown Tape
  • Sponges

Here’s how you do it…

1. Soak a piece of watercolor paper in cool water for a few minutes. This allows the paper to expand in size and become uniformly saturated.

Don’t use hot water to soak the paper nor leave it for an extended period in the water. Soaking the paper too long or using hot water will remove the sizing that is applied to reduce the paper’s absorbency.

2. Measure the dimensions of your paper and cut four pieces of tape slightly longer than the dimensions of the paper.

3. Remove the paper from its bath and center it on the drawing board. You’ll want to work on a flat surface so the paper will dry evenly. If the board rests on an angle, the water will accumulate in the lower corners and the paper won’t dry uniformly.

4. Use a clean, damp sponge to smooth out the paper. Make it as smooth as possible, but don’t rub the paper too vigorously.

5. Use a second clean, wet sponge to moisten a strip of the gummed paper. Apply one third of the tape on the paper and two-thirds on the board. Continue to apply the tape to all sides of the paper. Use your fingers and the sponge to ensure there is good contact between the paper, tape and board, as the paper will shrink as it dries.

6. Allow the paper to dry away from direct heat. The paper will shrink as it dries and will become taut and firm on the board. Remember to keep the board on a flat surface.

7. Now your paper is ready for your masterful strokes. When you’re painting is complete, carefully remove the tape by gently pulling in a downward motion away from the edge. If the paper wants to tear, you can cut the tape away from the edge with scissors.

Handy Hint

Use different colored sponges so you don’t confuse the sponge you use on your paper from the one you use to moisten the tape. You don’t want to spread the wet glue on your paper, as it will interfere with paint application. Believe me, it really makes a blotchy mess!

Method 2 – Stapling

This method is less messy, but if you don’t have the strength required to use a staple gun on wood successfully, this method may not be as easy as you think it is.

What You’ll Need:

  • Watercolor Paper
  • Sealed 3/8” Plywood, Homesote or Gatorboard
  • Water
  • Staple Gun
  • Sponge

Here’s how you do it…

1. Use the techniques found above for soaking the paper, positioning it on your board and smoothing it out. Blot off any standing water.

2. Begin stapling in the center of the top edge of the paper. Position the staples 1/2” from the edge and space them approximately 1-1/2” apart.

3. Making sure the paper is smooth, staple the centers of the remaining three sides. Then, working from the centers out, staple the edges until all four sides are secured to the board.

4. Allow the board to lie flat and away from direct heat until the paper is dry.

5. When your painting is complete, use a staple pulling tool to remove the staples without damaging the paper.

Ready for Action!

If you regularly paint on several different sizes of paper, it’s nice to have a variety of different size drawing boards. I have half a dozen boards and prepare several sheets of paper at a time, so I’m always ready for action.

Waiting for paper to dry is annoying. Be prepared with stretched sheets of watercolor paper, so you won’t lose momentum when your muse visits with another inspiration.

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