So far my blog has been in a sense a tutorial virgin but as its been a long week of paper stretching I thought I’d write my first one. For all those who hate when their watercolour paper buckles and warps read on.
Stretching paper before painting
What you need: These are the essential “ingredients” you need to stretch watercolour paper. Watercolour paper, a tub halfway filled with water (make sure the tub is bigger than the paper), ruler, drawing board which is bigger than the paper (I use MDF), paper towel, gummed paper tape, sponge, lead pencil and stopwatch.
Step one: Cut four pieces of gummed brown tape which will be used stick down paper later on. Each piece should be a couple of inches longer than each side of the paper. Make sure your hands are not wet when handling the tape as the gum can come off as this tape is water activated.
Step two: Rule a 1 – 1.5 cm border around your watercolour paper. This will help guide you later on with the tape.
Step three: Now with your stop watch ready, lower your watercolour paper into the water making sure it is completely immersed and making sure there are no air bubbles. As for the amount of time you soak the paper, this is dependent on the weight of the paper. I am using 185gsm (90lbs) arches watercolour paper and I have found 7-9 mintutes to be adequate. If you are using 300gsm (140lbs) paper I usually time it for 15-17 minutes. If you are worried about timing, I would suggest doing a couple of tests with your paper the night before. Cut smaller pieces and stretch them at different times. It is probably the hardest step and can take a few tries. Another tip to see if its done is if you take the paper out of the water and hold it vertically then bend a corner away from you. If the corner springs back it needs longer in the water, if it stays put or comes back slowly it is ready. However if it flops over, you have unfortunately over saturated it. While the paper is drying, with a damp sponge wipe over your flat board.
Step four: Once the paper is done, take it out of the water by one corner, hold it up vertically and let the excess water drip off. Afterwards, put the paper flat onto your board. Using a sponge or paper towel, wipe the paper over to make sure the paper is completely flat on the board with no air bubbles and removing a little more excess water. Make sure you do not over dry it though. Excuse my purple hand from the very cold water.
Step five: There are two ways I’ve found to activate the gummed paper tape. The first as seen above is to use a damp sponge and wipe it from one end to the other twice. The second way is to quickly draw the tape through water once and run it through two fingers to remove the excess water. Whichever one you decide, you’ll want to make sure the gum side is completely wet but not soaked otherwise the gum will wash off. It did take me a little practice so don’t fret if you find it frustrating.
Step six: Now you must stick down the tape on all four sides of the paper using the pencil guides you ruled. In between sticking each piece, use a sponge to smooth out paper to prevent air bubbles. In this step you must make sure you are careful and neat. Make sure the tape is stuck all the way along, no air bubbles and has no dry or wrinkled bits. This will minimise the risk of the tape lifting as it dries or peeling off.
Step seven: You may now let the paper dry flat. Make sure it is not in direct sunlight and do not speed it up with heating, hair dryers or anything like that. I like to leave mine for around 12-18 hours to ensure it’s done but you don’t have to leave it that long. When it is dry you can begin painting. You must paint it on the taped board to prevent warping. When you are finished painting it and it is dry, use a scalpel to cut around tape and remove it from the board or very very carefully wet the tape with a sponge (make sure not to wet your painting) and gently remove the tape. It can be tricky stuff to get off so be careful and patient. Et Voila! You are finished.
Today, I have just started my Chanel piece as seen above with some black gouache which feels great after so much stretching this week. If you have any questions about the process please feel free to ask me and hopefully I can help. Keep an eye out for another tutorial about how to fix warped/buckled paintings and flatten them after you have finished the painting.