Introduction: Making a Paper Canvas!

Hi! I'm Allison Currie, a post-minimalist artist and potential art teacher in Houston, TX that works with a lot of pen and ink, as well as washes and painting with Golden Acrylic Fluid. I don't use watercolor paper because the texture is wrong for my work, so I use Stonehenge. I find that Stonehenge often dries with wrinkles in my paper that take a long time to press away, so I wanted to find a solution to making my work without the paper wrinkling. I contacted fellow artist Heather Gordy to ask about how she makes her small paper-on-wooden-plaque drawings and followed her directions to make this large paper "canvas" in 48x60 inches. Maybe this will help you too!

Step 1: Choose/build Your Wooden Panel.

This Instructable assumes you already know how to build canvas frames. There are already numerous instructions on how to build framing for canvas stretching, and all you're doing here is skipping the application of quarter round or any other beveling step and laying down a sheet of ply wood. I don't recommend cheap particle ply wood like you use for building walls. Look for the nicer oak or birch so you won't have the resin of the ply wood risk seeping through your paper and staining your work one day. Go thin, or it will be very heavy.

I have already built the wooden frame and attached a 3/16th oak panel to the front that I had the store cut from an 4x8 foot sheet. The structure of my frame is simple, using 1x2 inch pine pieces with 45 degree angles to set up the rectangular frame, two long-wise supports, metal L brackets to reinforce all joints (rather than triangles), and then gluing/clamping it down. This creates the form of a gallery-wrap style canvas. I used a power-sander to even out my sides and smooth my panel a bit.

Again, I did not use any beveling or quarter-round like I would to set up canvas stretching with fabric.

Also, you do not HAVE to build the frame this way, you can use smaller panels from the craft store if you are not working as large as I am. Small ready-to-go wooden plaques and squares are easy to find and require no prep work unless they need a light sanding. Lowes and Home Depot carry ply sheets in 2x4foot pieces as well, so you can work smaller from that and they usually have a service to cut them into smaller chunks if you wanted to quarter that. There's a variety of items you can go to, just keep weight in mind - you want this to hang on a wall later! If you want an alternative to wood, go for it. Just make sure the material can handle the heat of an iron on a high setting.

Step 2: Put Down Gloss Soft Gel.

Having obtained whatever size wooden panel and paper you want to use, lay the panel down on the BACKSIDE of your paper and trace its outline to use as a bleed guide. Make sure your paper is 4-6 inches bigger in each dimension than your panel. So for my 48x60 panel, I had a sheet of paper from a by-the-yard roll at Texas Art Supply for 54x66 inches.

Paint either a single coat of Golden Gloss Soft Gel or two coats of Liquitex Gloss Gel on the paper and go outside the bleed. (This means paint past the line you just drew by an inch or so.) Your paper will look wrinkly, don't panic. It's ok. Use a thin coat that coats completely. You will want to move the brush over it several times to even it out and prevent thick spots. I used a large brush that I had bought for painting an acrylic mural once, rather than a clunky wall-painting brush.

Also paint your panel from edge to edge.

Do not just outline, paint the ENTIRE surface!

Allow both to dry completely before going onto the next step. I waited for an episode of Mad Men before going on. You're painting on absorbent materials, so I would be surprised if it took more than an hour. If it takes THAT long you might have used too much.

If you are using Golden you only need one coat. If you are using Liquitex go for two, even three, letting it dry completely between coats.

This should work with nearly any kind of sturdy paper, so do some experiments on a small scale and see which of your favorite papers work for you! :) I don't use watercolor paper because of the texture, but I see no reason you couldn't mount the paper this way to work in watercolors. The Stonehenge (I forget its weight) is a sort of print maker's/drawing paper.

Step 3: IRON, MAN!

Cheesy, I know...

So you've let your gel dry COMPLETELY right??? RIGHT? Ok... because now we're going to join your materials with heat. The heat activates the gel and fuses the two layers permanently. I'm told its a real pain to remove paper from a panel if you screw it up, so read the directions I'm about to give you carefully and take your time.

Lay out your panel and lay your paper on it gel-side-down. Try to align your panel with the bleed you drew earlier. Your gels are touching (oh my!).

Use another piece of paper (I used some newspaper drawing paper) as a buffer sheet to protect your good paper from heat damage. Heat an iron to its high setting (or cotton setting). Next time I plan to use two sheets of buffer paper rather than one, because I still got some shiny spots on my paper.

START IN THE MIDDLE. Place the buffer paper where you are going to iron and try not to go past it. Then from where you just ironed, iron to the left, then go back to the middle and iron to the right. Move from top to bottom, and if you are working large you will need to move your buffer paper as you go in stages. I included an image to suggest how I worked over my large panel. Smooth the paper out before you iron starting from areas you already fused, so that you can try to prevent air bubbles. It's hard. Press firmly as you iron.

Take your time, and stick to your movement pattern. Changing the pattern can cause the paper to set wrong and trap air or a wrinkle in it. On second stages (like middle, bottom in chart) I moved in a downward left or right rather than straight out to keep pushing paper/air out away from where I had worked. This is why we have extra paper, just let it smooth out as needed.

If you're working smaller than my insanity-size, you will just start at the top center then smooth outward from there, and will probably have an easier time than I did. :)

Just make sure to keep the buffer paper(s) under the iron! You may not scorch it but you can create shiny streaks from the heat that are oh so subtly annoying as hell.

I know in the picture it looks like I'm ironing my paper to the rug. I promise I did not. :) The paper is just bigger than the panel.

Step 4: The Edges

I chose to take advantage of my bleed glue and iron down the sides of my paper gallery-wrap style. You can also turn over your paper and trim it with an X-Acto blade if you want to end it at the edge. I want to reduce the risk of my paper turning back up from the edges and corners over time, so I am leaving it folded and glued. If you need to add more gel for this section, make sure it dries all the way like before.

I intend to attach framing/trim directly onto the panel later, which will pin down my paper further, so for now its just the bleed gel. The side pictured happened to be all flush and pretty, but I had to trim my other sides along the bottom with a x-acto and just pull off the extra paper.

For the corners, I just folded them along one side down and away from the upper part of the paper. You can slip a little gel beneath them and press them tightly for a bit to glue them down, OR you could cut off those bits carefully. Another alternative would be to just make a slice along the corner fold, cut off one half, and glue down the other wrapping around the corner laying along the side. (L shape, don't coil it, as that would be weird.)

Step 5: MAKE ART!

Now you've got a fused paper "canvas" that is ready for you to make drawings on and work with wet media on! Obviously you don't want to soak your paper, as that would just ruin it, but you should be able to do washes with ink with no problem or paint with some watercolor on it. Remember to match your paper to the type of medium you want to work in. Watercolor paper will handle more water than drawing paper can. They even make papers especially for oil paint/sticks.

Heather Gordy is the Houston artist that told me how to do this when I went to her for advice, and you can see her work with markers on small panels papered this way at her website!

If you would like to view what art I make on this panel, keep at eye on my site or follow me on Facebook for images to come. I hope to complete this piece by mid to late June! :) Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about this Instructable! :) I would love to see what you make!!