Stretching Watercolor Paper Revisited

You guys have requested more tutorials, especially those for Copic markers and for watercolors, and there's nothing more basic for many watercolor artists than stretching the paper they're going to paint on.  A couple years ago, I made a post that detailed how I stretched watercolor paper for comics.  I've since changed my methods to something that works much better, and I thought I'd go ahead and write about it here.  I've mentioned my new method in year before last's Mechacon Introduction to Watercolor panel, but I know some readers aren't able to easily view videos, or prefer text posts.  However, for completion, I'm going to go ahead and include that here.  If there's anything that's unclear in the images, I recommend double checking the video.

Introduction to Watercolor- Mechacon 2014

The All New Stretching  Watercolor Post~!

The page used in this demonstration is the first page from Knight School, my watercolor comic for the upcoming 1001 Lady Knights anthology.  I'll let you guys know when the Kickstarter campaign is up, so you can order your copies!

The Materials

Plastic Gatorboard
Blue Painter's Tape (I recommend 1.5", 3M's blue painter's tape is my favorite)
Binder clips
Bulldog Clips
Viva paper towels
Wash brush
Cup of clean water

The Process

Before you get started, you're going to want everything assembled and within easy reach, because when you start stretching your page, you can't take a break.

I start by turning my pencilled image over, and spraying the back with water.

I use a mop brush to spread the water evenly across the paper.

And use my paper towels to blot off the excess water.

I flip the page over.  As you can see, the bluelines are still on the page.

I spray this side as well.

As you can see, spraying it and mopping it down cause the bluelines to run.  By the time we're finished stretching this paper, they will be gone, so its important that you pencil or ink your image BEFORE stretching it.  This technique also only works with ink jet printers, as laser jet toner is waterproof.

We're going to blot our paper down, and then apply ANOTHER wash of water to ensure the blue is gone.

I like to use 3m's blue drafting tape over watercolor tape (watercolor tape is awful).  I find the blue painter's tape tends to stick better than white masking/drafting tape, and I don't like using illustration tape at all, not even for my perspective grids (masking tape all the way, baby!).  To help prevent paper tearing when we remove the tape (after our watercolor is all done and dry, days later), I adhere it to the underside of my arm, because (let's be real here) the dead skin cells will stick to the tape and make it a little less tacky.  If you are not a cat-herder like I am, you can also stick it to your pants leg, and the lint will do the same.  I am constantly covered in a fine layer of cat hair, so this method does not work for me.  While it's on my arm, I give it a quick swipe from my wet mop brush.

You're going to place the tape along the edges of your image- for me, I can just follow the borders of my panels.  I don't have photos for this part, because SPEED IS KEY.  As soon as you get your tape down, you're going to use your paper towel (one of the ones you've already used is fine, so long as it isn't sopping) to press the tape against your paper, and to blot off excess water.  It is key that you wet your tape down, it'll help it adhere to the wet paper better.  As I go, I use bulldog or binder clips to help hold the tape against my paper, and I usually leave those clips on until the final stages of my painting.  You're going to tape down all four sides, and use clips where you can.

And that's how I currently stretch watercolor paper!  If you aren't a fan of stretching your watercolor paper, you can buy it in pre-gummed blocks, but you can't run those through your inkjet printer.  I use both pad bound and blocks in my studio, and I think both have their uses.  You can buy both pad bound and gum bound watercolor paper as either cotton rag or wood pulp based paper, and a little experimenting will help you find the right paper for your projects.

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