Watercolor painting is a beautiful and rewarding art form, but in order to produce the best results, it’s important to properly stretch your watercolor paper. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:
Preparation before stretching
Gather all necessary materials before stretching:
- watercolor paper
- a sheet of glass or plexiglass
- masking tape
- a sponge or wet brush
- and a flat surface to work on.
Step 1: Soaking the paper
- Start by submerging your watercolor paper in a basin of water for about 5 minutes. This will help the paper expand and become more pliable.
- Carefully remove the paper from the water and lay it out on a flat surface, making sure to smooth out any wrinkles or bubbles.
Step 2: Applying adhesive
- Place the sheet of glass or plexiglass on top of the watercolor paper.
- Using a sponge or wet brush, apply a thin layer of adhesive (such as gum arabic) to the back of the paper, making sure to cover the entire surface.
Step 3: Stretching the paper
- Carefully lift the paper and glass/plexiglass assembly, and place it on your flat working surface.
- Smooth out the paper to remove any wrinkles or bubbles, making sure to apply equal tension to the entire surface.
- Use masking tape to secure the edges of the paper to the working surface, making sure to keep the paper taut.
Step 4: Drying
- Let the paper dry completely. This may take several hours, or even overnight.
- Once the paper is dry, it will be stretched and ready for use.
For those looking to expand their support options, stretching watercolor paper on plexiglass is another popular technique of stretching watercolor paper.
Watercolor paper stretching video
Here’s a demonstration of the watercolor paper stretching technique step-by-step:
Things to avoid when stretching watercolor paper
When stretching watercolor paper, there are a few things to avoid to ensure that the paper is stretched properly and does not warp or tear. Some things to avoid include:
- Over-stretching the paper – over-stretching the paper can cause it to tear or warp, so it is important to stretch the paper just enough to remove any wrinkles or bubbles.
- Using too much water – when stretching the paper, it is important to use just enough water to dampen the paper and make it pliable, but not so much that it becomes saturated and difficult to stretch.
- Stretching the paper unevenly – it is important to stretch the paper evenly across the entire surface to prevent warping or uneven stretching.
- Using too much adhesive – when attaching the paper to the board, it is important to use just enough adhesive to hold the paper in place, but not so much that it causes wrinkles or bubbles in the paper.
- Skipping the drying time – after stretching, it is important to let the paper dry completely before painting, or else the paper may warp, shrink or lose its tension.
- Stretching with low quality adhesive tape – some tapes can damage the paper, it’s important to use good quality masking tape or gummed paper tape for stretching.
What’s the alternative to stretching watercolor paper?
An alternative to stretching watercolor paper is to use watercolor blocks. Watercolor blocks are sheets of watercolor paper that are glued together on all four sides, creating a stiff, self-supporting surface that does not need to be stretched. The paper in watercolor blocks is typically more heavyweight than traditional watercolor paper, which can help prevent warping and buckling. They also come in different paper weight and textures.
Another alternative is to use watercolor boards, which are wooden boards or masonite that have been primed with a watercolor ground. These can also be used without stretching, but have to be taped to a surface before starting to paint.
Watercolor paper stretching – FAQ
Masking tape can be used to stretch watercolor paper, but it may not be the best option. Masking tape is not acid-free, which means it can damage the paper over time by yellowing or weakening the fibers. Additionally, the adhesive on masking tape can be difficult to remove from the paper without tearing or leaving residue.
Artist’s tape or gummed paper tape, which are acid-free and have less aggressive adhesive, are better options for stretching watercolor paper. They are designed for art uses and are less likely to damage the paper.
It’s also worth noting that stretched watercolor paper will have a slight “give” when you paint on it, and it will dry flat. If you are looking for a more rigid support, you can stretch your paper on a board, but it won’t have the same “give” as when stretched with tape.
Watercolor paper can be stretched without a board by using a technique called “taping and soaking.”
First, take your watercolor paper and tape it to a flat surface, such as a table or a piece of foam board, using masking or artist’s tape. Make sure the tape is applied to all four edges of the paper. Next, soak the paper in a basin of water for a few minutes, until it becomes pliable.
Carefully remove the paper from the water and lay it flat on your work surface, smoothing out any wrinkles or bubbles. Finally, use additional tape to secure the paper to the surface, making sure it is stretched tightly. Allow the paper to dry before painting on it.
Stretching watercolor paper before painting on it is not strictly necessary, but it can be beneficial for several reasons.
- Warping prevention – stretching the paper helps to prevent warping or curling when the paper gets wet. This can be especially important when working with large sheets of paper or when using a lot of water in your painting.
- Better paint handling – when the paper is stretched, it will be taut and flat, this allows the artist to move the brush more easily, and it will also help the pigments to spread evenly across the surface.
- Smoother surface – stretching the paper will also create a smoother surface for painting, as it will remove any wrinkles or bubbles. This can help to improve the overall appearance of your painting.
- Longevity – a stretched paper will last longer than a paper that isn’t stretched, as it will not warp or buckle with time.
That being said, it is possible to paint on watercolor paper without stretching it first. Many artists prefer to paint on a wet surface, this allows the paper to expand and contract as it dries, which can help to prevent warping.
One of the easiest ways to stretch watercolor paper is to use a pre-stretched watercolor block. A watercolor block is a stack of watercolor paper that has been glued together on all four sides and stretched before it is sold. This means that the paper is ready to use and does not require any additional stretching.
Another easy way is to use a stretching board or a stretching pliers. These tools are specifically designed for stretching watercolor paper and make the process much easier and less time-consuming. They are particularly useful for larger papers and also helps to stretch the paper evenly.
Lastly, you can use watercolor paper that is 300 gsm or heavier, as they are less likely to warp or stretch when wet. This means you can paint on the paper directly without the need for stretching.
It’s important to note that, no matter which method you choose, it’s important to use high-quality watercolor paper to ensure that the paper does not warp or tear during the stretching process.
Properly stretched watercolor paper will help ensure that your paintings are smooth and wrinkle-free, and will help prevent your paint from buckling or warping. Practice this technique and you’ll be able to stretch your watercolor paper in a quick and efficient way.