Do Shit Right I: Paper stretching

January 21, 2013 § 5 Comments

When I started working with ink and water it was on drumskins first, then paper. Hence I didn’t really need to worry about the surface of the drumskins (which are coated plastic) warping or rippling what with all the liquid I was throwing on there. When I drew or painted on watercolour paper it was usually for an illustration, meaning I could scan it and remove any shadows caused by ripples in Photoshop. That’s probably why I got into trouble when I tried to frame some large pieces on watercolour paper last summer…


I knew you were “supposed” to stretch watercolour paper before using it, so that the surface becomes perfectly flat when it dries. But I hadn’t done this since high school. A curator wanted a couple of these ink and coffee pieces of horses for a drawing show. But when I tried to frame them the mattes pushed the edges of the paper back, accentuating deep ripples caused by not having stretched the paper. When I created these pieces they were just playful experiments. I didn’t think anyone would see them let alone want them for a show. Famous last words.


Sadly we ran out of time to reframe them before show. All that work for nothin! As a self-taught I learn by making mistakes. The lesson: Why make your life harder by making art that’s tough or expensive to frame? Why not just do shit right?

I’m currently working on several new pieces for a show, and I decided it was time to learn how to stretch watercolour paper properly. This Dick Blick tutorial explained things simply and effectively. I got some kraft tape, wet my paper in a bucket, and used the surface of my drafting table to stretch three pieces at once. There is something special about putting intention into your canvas before starting a piece. I like the random spontaneity of the sketchbook, but I also appreciate being forced to take my time.


Here I’m experimenting with some textures that involve lots of water, and the paper stood up great and dried very flat. My only tip is to make sure you leave a border around the work (not the case above) because you really need to cut the paper out when the piece is done. Otherwise the soaking it takes to get the tape off  wets and warps the paper all over again!


In my quest for flat paper I also tested an actual paper stretcher, as well as a few sheets of Terraskin, this crazy “paper” made from stone. Yes, stone. I’ll be reviewing those experiments in a coming post. Now back to work ☺.


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