Stretching Watercolour Paper

How To Stretch Watercolour Paper

 Friday 17 May 2019  -   Sandra M

Read our tips on how and why you should stretch Watercolour Paper

Stretching Watercolour Paper is easy. Just follow our simple guide.

Why Do I Need To Stretch Watercolour Paper?

You need to Stretch Watercolour Paper if you are using a 140lbs / 300gsm Watercolour Paper or lighter or if you are applying a heavy watercolour wash to your paper. By Stretching your Watercolour Paper first, it prevents the paper from buckling.

After all, you wouldn’t want to paint an amazing piece of watercolour art for it then to be ruined because your paper has cockled and will never go flat again! But do not fear, the process of stretching watercolour paper is very easy!

Once you have stretched your Watercolour Paper, it will remain flat regardless of the amount of water used or the length of time that it is worked on.

If you don’t want to Stretch Watercolour Paper, use thicker Watercolour Sheets to paint on.

You Will Need The Following To Stretch Watercolour Paper:

Gumstrip Sealing Tape.

– 140lbs / 300gsm or lighter Watercolour Paper (you can stretch all types of watercolour papers, whether it’s Cold Pressed / NOT, Hot Pressed or Rough).

– A Wooden Board – Use a board that is at least 12mm thick (1/2”). Thinner boards tend to warp. If you intend to Stretch Watercolour Paper that is bigger than A1 in size use a thicker wooden board.

– A Sponge.

– A Sharp Scalpel / Craft Knife.

– A Metal Ruler With A Cutting Edge.

Stretching Watercolour Paper Supplies

How To Stretch Watercolour Paper:

Paper expands when it is soaked in water. By sticking down all four paper edges with Gumstrip, it restrains the paper in its expanded state. This keeps the paper stretched so that it will not cockle when painted on or when further water is added.

Stretching Watercolour Paper is quite simple and takes about 15 – 30 minutes to do (plus drying time). Follow the simple instructions below to Stretch Watercolour Paper:

STEP 1: Immerse the Watercolour Paper under water in a clean sink or bath for 5 minutes*. Avoid touching the area that is to be painted as finger prints may show up on the surface.

*If you are using a heavier weight paper e.g. 300lbs, then soak it for about 25 – 30 minutes. Some artists’ like to stretch heavyweight Watercolour Paper if they are going to paint heavily on it or apply several heavy Watercolour washes.

Alternatively, you can wet the Paper with a Sponge. Using a wet clean Sponge, gently dab the Watercolour Paper repeatedly for about 15 – 25 minutes, ensuring that the paper is wet all over. Do this on both sides of the paper. Do not be too rough with the sponge or it will damage the paper surface.

STEP 2: Once the Watercolour Paper is soaked, drain off the excess water. You can do this by gently sponging off the excess or if the paper is strong enough and not too big, you can hold the paper vertically over the sink.

STEP 3: Now you can attach the paper to the board. Lay the wet Watercolour Paper on top of the board (the paper may not be flat at this point). Using Gumstrip, tape down all four edges of the paper. Cut 4 pieces of Gumstrip off the roll to the required length. Wet the Gumstrip with a moist sponge so that it feels sticky (do not wet it too much).

STEP 4: Stick the paper to the board with half of the Gumstrip covering the paper edge and the other half covering the wooden board. Press the tape down firmly, being careful not to touch or rub the wet paper as this could damage it. Make sure that all four edges are completely sealed. If there is still an excess of water this will need to be dabbed away with a clean sponge or absorbant paper towel.

STEP 5: Leave the paper to dry flat on the board. It will dry naturally in about 4 – 12 hours depending on the thickness of the paper. Once the paper is fully dry, it is ready to paint. Keep the Watercolour Paper attached to the board whilst you paint on it. Once you have finished your Watercolour Painting you can remove it from the board.

Use this method to Stretch Watercolour Paper and it will give you a lovely flat watercolour painting!

Watch the Video below by Daler Rowney to see how to Stretch Watercolour Paper:

You can Stretch Watercolour Paper that is from any size up to approximately 150 x 250cm (59″ x 98″). The tension built up in paper bigger than this tends to split the paper.

If you want to use Watercolour Paints on wet paper, follow the step by step instructions to Stretch Watercolour Paper first. Let the paper dry fully to ensure that it has stretched. You can then re-wet the paper with a sponge to paint on it with a ‘Wet-On-Wet’ Watercolour Technique. This way the paper will not buckle.

How Do I Remove My Finished Watercolour Painting From The Board?

As seen in the video demonstration above, it is quite easy to remove your finshed painting from the board. Simply lay a metal ruler over the painting and use a sharp scalpel / craft knife to cut it off (by placing the ruler over the artwork, it will avoid you slipping and cutting into your painting).

If the painting is going to be framed, just run a sharp scalpel along the edge of the paper, over the Gumstrip, leaving some of the Gumstrip still on the paper (as in the video). This way you won’t loose any of the image when it is framed.

Removing Stretched Watercolour Paper From The Board

How Do I Clean My Wooden Board After Stretching The Paper?

Using a Sponge, soak the remaining Gumstrip on the board in water for about 20 minutes (longer for heavier watercolour paper). It will then lift off easily with a paint scraper or metal palette knife. Rinse over the board with a clean sponge to remove any residue. It is then ready to use again!

What NOT To Do When Stretching Watercolour Paper:

1. Do NOT over-soak the Watercolour Paper with water. If the paper has been over soaked, the gelatine (a binder used to keep the paper strong and workable with watercolor paint) may have been washed away, leaving the paper weak and prone to damage.

2. Do NOT use Masking Tape instead of Gumstrip or Drawing Pins to Stretch Watercolour Paper. This won’t work!

3. Do NOT use too little water to soak your Watercolour Paper. If too little water is used, it won’t stretch the paper sufficiently and won’t keep the paper flat when you paint on it.

4. Do NOT use the same sponge to wet your Gumstrip and then wet your Watercolour Paper because it will leave a sticky residue on the paper which will be seen when it is painted on.

5. If you are using surface sized paper, do NOT use warm water. Only soak the paper in cold water and do NOT over-soak it or the glue / size could dissolve.

6. Do NOT over-soak the Gumstrip as this removes all the sticky from it and will result in unstretched Watercolour Paper.

7. Do NOT leave the board at an angle for the paper to dry. Leaving it to dry vertically means it will dry quicker at the top creating less tension in the paper.

Do I Have To Stretch Watercolour Paper?

If you don’t want to Stretch Watercolour Paper, you don’t have too. It is usually only necessary to Stretch Watercolour Paper that is 140lbs / 300gsm or less. The heavier the paper, the less likely it is to buckle.

If you are short of time or do not want to stretch your own watercolour paper, then use a paper that is at least 200lbs / 425gsm in weight or 640lbs / 300gsm if you are going to be applying a lot of heavy Watercolour washes. Try using the heavier weight Bockingford Watercolour Sheets or Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper.

Alternatively, you could use a Watercolour Block. These are particularly useful for Watercolour Artists’ on the go. A Watercolour Block contains several sheets of paper gummed together around all four sides to form a block of paper. The gummed sides keeps the paper stretched tightly so that the paper doesn’t buckle. There is a small gap in the block that is left unglued so that you can easily peel the top sheet off using a scalpel once the painting is complete.

The downside of a Watercolour Block is that you can only paint one picture at a time because you have to wait for the top sheet to fully dry before removing it. Also, Watercolour Blocks are quite costly. They're not really suitable if you are intending to do very heavy watercolour washes as the paper in the block can cockle slightly.

For best results, if you don’t want to Stretch Watercolour Paper, use a Watercolour Board. A Watercolour Board will not warp. It consists of a piece of rag Watercolour Paper that has been glued on to a thin piece of board. Watercolour Boards also make framing a little easier, but are quite expensive in comparison to Watercolour Paper, especially if you are just experimenting!

How do you Stretch Watercolour Paper? Share your top tips for Stretching Watercolour Paper with us!

Daler Rowney Watercolour Boards

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