Saturday, August 27

Stretch---Your Watercolor Paper

Copyright Jeffrey Smith
I like to think of myself as someone who listens to reason and will take, or at least consider, the advice of others more knowledgeable than I. Then why have I not been stretching my watercolor paper before I begin painting?

I don’t have a good answer. I would read about the need to stretch the paper or see it on a video on one of those web sites for art and artists.

But did I listen or do it or even think about doing it? No.

Maybe it’s because I was mainly using 300-lb. watercolor paper, which is actually pretty thick. It seems to take quite a lot of water before it begins to buckle. But it does bend and buckle at some point. When that happens, I think, well, I’ll have to flatten the paper out when I’m finished with the painting.

Ironically, you flatten it by using even more water on the backside along with something heavy, like coffee table books. Then you let it dry for a day.

What I could or should have been doing was stretch my paper first to avoid all that. It would also avoid the aggravation of having the paint pool in the wells  that naturally occur.

What changed my mind?

Well, I started looking around for more economical watercolor paper. That is, rather than buying $10-per-full sheet, 300 lb. paper, I thought there must be an alternative. (And $10 per sheet is actually a good price for 300-lb. paper—sometimes it’s as much as $18 per sheet.) I decided to try a 200-lb. paper that was only $3 per sheet (cold press). To my surprise, it worked almost as well.

But what got me to finally learn about stretching? I was working on my painting on the 200-lb. paper when I decided I was not happy with my painting. It was not the paper, but displeasure with my rendering--the paint was beginning to look muddy. Rather than waste time with a container of water and a foam brush to remove the paint, I decided to speed up the job by running water all over it in the bath tub. One-two-three, and the paint washed away in a jiffy (non-staining watercolor also helped).

Of course, the paper buckled, but not as much as I was expecting. I then spent a few minutes with a portable hair dryer, drying it somewhat, and then laid it down flat on a board and taped the edges with masking tape.

The next day it was flat as a pancake. And what really sold me on stretching was that as I painted again on the paper it did not buckle, bend, or even ripple one bit as I applied copius amounts of water.

So, let this be a lesson—listen to the experts, at least some of the time. Now, get ready--one, two , three--all stretch.
Happy Painting!

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