Introduction: The Easy Way to Stretch Watercolor Paper

About: Retired, doing art work now. Great. Have the time and the money to spend doing what I want to do.

One of my minor hobbies has been watercolor painting.  While not an expert, I have done enough of it to know that stretching paper is a big hastle, and lots of times is not successful. Taping the paper to a solid board is a case in point. Also, stapling is a pain especially when you want to remove the paper. So, I came up with a way to make the process as easy as possible.  Simply wet the paper slightly*, and glue the paper to a frame of your making, and when dry, you are ready to paint.  The finished painting can be framed as is, or cut out and laid flat on a piece of cardboard, or handled in any way you choose.

*Wetting the paper is the key to success with this method. Too much, as in soaking, will distort the paper too much, and may even twist the
frame. Too Little, and the process won't work very well. It just takes a touch with the sponge, as in set the damp sponge down and move it
3 or 4 inches while pressing gently.  Do in two directions, and that's it!

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

Much the same material and tool list I used in my other instructable:

Most of the time, I use 3/4 x 3/4 inch pine pieces, ripped to size on my table saw.
A nail gun, if available, or simply use hammer and nail pieces together. 
Screws are another choice.
Glue: I like to glue each piece as it solidifies the structure and makes the joints tight.
A cut off saw if available, or a miter box can be used as well.
Watercolor paper of your choice.
Other papers, kraft, copy, poster, etc.  See steps to learn uses for these materials.

Step 2: Cut Wood Pieces

Here, I use the table and cut off saws to cut wood pieces. I make them square, or 3/4 x 3/4in. and cut to the length I want...i.e., 8.5 x 11, 5 x 7, 11 x 14, etc. Pieces can be cut to the size needed for butt joints, or mitered corners.

Step 3: Layout Pieces and Check for Sizing

Paper can be pre-trimmed so that you have the exact size you want.  Water color paper can be purchased in large sheets and then cut into several separate pieces of the size you want to work with. Or, simply buy the size you want and mount that.

Step 4: Join Four Pieces With Nails and Glue

Hold two pieces together after having put a dab of glue on the facing surfaces.  Be careful if using a nail gun, I always keep my hand at least the length of the nails in use away from the point of impact.  You never know when the nail will follow the grain, for example, and come out the side of the piece and into your finger if in the wrong place!

Step 5: Apply Glue to Frame

I run a trail of glue around the entire frame. How much you use is not too critical, but is enough to do the job.  If you apply too much, it will just take longer to dry. Not enough and the paper won't stick properly.  It takes a few tries, perhaps, to get the right amount.

Step 6: Wet Paper and Apply to Glued Frame Pieces

This is another step that is difficult to explain exactly as so much depends on the type and weight of the paper, humidity perhaps, and other factors as well. I wanted to avoid the step recommended by most artists, and that is to soak entire sheet of paper. I always had a hard time doing that as the paper was too big, it made a big mess, I used too much water, etc.  My solution is to use a moderately damp sponge and simply apply a small amount of water. Again, experience here will determine the best amount to use.  My feeling is the least amount is the best way to go, and that usually means just applying the wet sponge to a small area in the center of the paper. You don't have to wet the whole thing.

Step 7: Press Paper Into Glue, and Stretch With Fingers As Much As Possible

The dampened paper is laid on the glued frame and pressed into the glue.  Then try to "stretch" the paper into place using your fingers on the paper.  There may be ripples or raised places in parts of the paper, but don't sweat them as they will smooth out as the paper dries. The goal being to have a perfectly tightened paper when dry, and then you have your base ready to paint on.

Step 8: Paint Away! Have Fun.

As a novice painter, I found this method almost as easy as just using paper with no stretching.  It does require a few tools, but they make it very easy to stretch as many pieces of paper you want.  Just speeds up the process a little, and gets you into your art a little quicker.

Step 9: Additional Applications of This Method

I think this is a cool way to display various pieces of art work, photos, and any paper that may be of interest. (An example would be menus from favorite restaurants, posters, mat boards, etc.  Shown is some of the ways I have used this stretching method.

Craft Contest

Participated in the
Craft Contest