Watercolour Paper 4 – How to stretch it.

Summer's End
Summer’s End

If you work with watercolours and pour your colours or paint very wet-in-wet you may find it easier to ‘stretch’ your paper.

This is a process of soaking your paper thoroughly and then fixing it to a strong board with tape or staples or both. Some people merely run their paper under the tap or dip it into a tray of water. I soak mine in a bath for 5 to 10 mins for 140lb paper, longer for heavier weight paper and for shorter periods if the paper is lighter.

After the paper is thoroughly wet it is lifted from the water, the excess water is encouraged to run off and it is placed on the board. The edges of the paper can then be stapled to your board. If you choose to tape it (which makes removal easier) you should use brown paper gum strip (not masking tape), and I would suggest you run a damp sponge along the edges of the paper first in order to further remove any excess water.

Fix your paper securely on all four sides and lay your board in a horizontal position and allow the paper to dry naturally.

When you soak the paper originally it will expand and as it dries it will attempt to shrink back to its original size. The staples and/or tape will prevent it from doing so and the paper will ‘stretch’. This provides a beautifully taut surface on which to paint, which will not wrinkle or buckle however wet you work.

If you paint on unstretched paper it may wrinkle or buckle as you do so. This does not bother some artists. When you apply a ‘hairdryer’ to unstretched paper you may find it curls. Apply heat to the back of the paper and it will usually straighten out.

If a completed painting is badly buckled you can soak the back with a wet sponge and then place it on a smooth surface between two sheets of clean paper (blotting paper is ideal). Place something weighty on top of this to keep the paper flat and leave it to dry.

Stretching paper is a time-consuming business. I do it much less than I used to, but when I do, I stagger the soaking of between 10 and 30 various sized sheets and fix each to appropriately sized pieces of mdf board.

The accompanying painting, ‘Summer’s End’, was completed in 2005. The task was made easier because stretched paper was used. Each of the background colours was poured on to the paper – first the yellow, then the red and finally the blue – which you can see in the sky. More colours were then poured on for the foreground. As each colour was poured the board was tipped to direct and control the paint and then allowed to dry before the next pouring. Only at the end was a brush used to paint some calligraphic marks in the foreground and to paint the hedgerow, gate and trees – and even then much of the foliage was done by ‘splattering’ the paint on using a stencil brush.