Adventures in paper stretching III.

February 7, 2013 § 9 Comments

As mentioned in my previous “Do Shit Right” post, I tried a third and final method in my quest to keep watercolour paper flat. I wanted to write about it because I think it’s the one I like the best, especially as my most recent attempt at stretching sheets the old fashioned way caused me to almost ruin a piece when I accidentally glued it to the table…

I wouldn’t have bought myself a watercolour paper stretcher because they look complicated, and I’m cheap. But it just so happens that my lovely aunt had one she wasn’t using. And this particular stretcher is pretty cool. The guy who makes them (yes, it’s a guy, not Walmart) is an artist named John Weins. He used to live in Victoria and is now based in Portland.


They come in several sizes. This one fits a half sheet of watercolour paper (15″ x 22″). I ripped one of my sheets in half and gave it a soak. You remove the aluminum rims that run along the edges, slap the paper on there, and secure the rims back in place. This pushes the paper tight against the wooden base to dry. The coolest part is that these rims actually press the edges of the paper lower than in the inner  platform, which creates this awesome relief. While the instructions on John’s website suggest to cut the edges off, I think they actually add a lot of value to the final piece.


When I framed this piece I sized the matte (a nice thick one, maybe I’m not that cheap) so that the raised part of the paper fits inside. The frame is 18″ x 24″, a standard size that should be easy to find pre-made at good art supply shops. I love the results and I’m now considering getting two more sizes of stretchers so that all of my works on paper can have this same relief. They don’t cost too much either. Read all about it on John’s website

[*Update: March 22 2013 – John was nice enough to let me know that although similar, this stretcher was made by someone else. Please see his note in the comments section. If you happen to know who manufactured this stretcher let me know 🙂]


This piece, called Broken Feather, and three other pieces of mine are in an ink & watercolour exhibition that opens at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s Massey Gallery this Saturday (2pm).

Adventures in paper stretching II.

January 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Here is the second instalment of my adventures in watercolour paper stretching. Along with the traditional soaking and taping described in my first post, I tried two other alternatives. Today I do some ink tests on a new product called Terraskin, that is “paper” made out of stone.


Terraskin is made from calcium carbonate mixed with a non toxic resin and formed into sheets of “paper” that are water and tear resistant. It is tree-free, degradable, and has less of a toxic output in their production process than regular paper. All very good things. Because it doesn’t absorbe water it stays perfectly flat no matter what you throw on it. The ink, paint or watercolour dries by evaporation, creating a different effect that painting on paper, but one that I am familiar with from working on drumskins.


The surface is bright white and slightly textured. It lacks the warmth and tooth of watercolour paper, but reacts similarly to certain techniques like adding salt. The colours really pop off the page, and scan super easily because there is no warping and therefore no shadows to erase after scanning. Once one layer dries (it doesn’t take too long) you can add others on top without the risk of the pigments bleeding into the surface as can sometimes be the case with paper that has been over saturated. You also get the gorgeous rippled textures from the liquid evaporating (click above image to enlarge).


All in all I think this is a great paper to experiment on. It runs around $3.60 for a 17 x 25″ sheet that is easily cut into smaller pieces. You can also use both sides. I will definitely continue to use cold pressed watercolour paper for most of my fine art work because Terraskin does not replace the texture and feel of real quality paper. But for everyday illustration, backgrounds, animation and other stuff that requires bright inky imagery, I’ll be using stone paper all the way.

My next post will be on the third (and coolest) paper flattening tool I’ve found so far…

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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