Preparing watercolor paper is very important. There are different ways of doing it. Some are better than others, but this is a very simple, easy way that works every time. Regardless of where your watercolor efforts take you, you will need to accomplish paper preparation before much else can happen. The old expression "Practice Makes Prefect," was never so true. As an instructor, one look at a student's prepared paper gives me a good idea of their experence, and how long and actively they have painted,
DON'T WORRY. THERE WILL BE A CONDENSED VERSION AT THE END OF ALL THIS. PLEASE READ THROUGH IT BEFORE ACTUALLY DOING ANYTHING.
This is an easy part of watercolor painting. I know there are people in my classes who do not understand how to do this so here is an easy explanation. All of this should be done in a clean, dry workspace, under normal room temperatures.
Watercolor paper can be purchased at many outlets. I have included links here that you can click on to take you to a company that sells what we will be using. In the mean time, DickBlick, ArtistSupplyWarehouse, Jerry's Artorama, etc will carry many different types of paper.
We always use Arches 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper. It comes in 22"X30" single sheets. Other types and brands of paper will work, however, it will be easier for you to start out with the same product as the rest of the class. Different papers have different properties. By using what the rest of us are using, you should get the same results.
You will need some stretching boards. These can be just about any type of plywood, chipped board, masonite, etc. Keep in mind that you may require several of these boards and weight is important. I like 1/4' plywood, however I use many different things. One of my favorite stretching boards is made out of pegboard!
The boards should measure 16"X24". This is the standard size for a 1X2 sheet of watercolor paper. It is also possible to divide a 4' X8' sheet of plywood into even sized pieces so there is no waste. A full sheet of plywood should make 12 16"X24" stretching boards. We seldom use paper that is larger then that in this class. The paper can easily be divided by applying masking tape to the paper to make smaller paintings. (More on that later!) Keep your boards clean and make several. It is always nice to have different paintings to work on if we need a change, Its also neccessary to shelf some paintings and come back to work on them later. So have plenty of stretching boards on hand. In time, you may require 8 or 10 or more stretching boards! If you do not have the equipment, or if you are not comfortable using a saw, go to the hardware store or lumberyard and ask them to cut the plywood for you. They usually agree to cut the plywood for you. But remember, everything costs money, so if you are on a bugdet, do it yourself or ask a friend.
Lets talk about brown carton tape. Most people get confused on this issue. Brown carton tape is a type of tape that was used to tape packages (cartons) for shipping. It is 2 inches wide and comes in big rolls. It is absolutely not sticky until water has been applied to the glue side. In more recent times, other type of tapes have taken the place of brown carton tape, but they will not work for stretching watercolor paper. In order to stretch paper the way that is required in this class, you must have brown carton tape. Substitutes will not do! It can be found at places that sell shipping supplies and it can be ordered through some art supply companies. Don't be misled though. It must be waterbased and wide.
OK. You may ask yourself why watercolor paper has to be stretched. Take an ordinary piece of paper and lay it on a flat surface and apply some water to the center of it and watch what happens. It will srink, warp, buckle and become contorted. In short, the surface of the paper will not be flat. If you try to paint on an uneven surface, water will puddle up in some areas and drain off others. Since the watercolor pigment follows the water, some areas of your painting will get more paint, some less. We need our paper to remain perfectly flat when we are painting on it. Stretching the paper makes it tight. It stays flat. And here is how it is done!
Get a measuring tape or yardstick, some sharp siccors, and a sheet of 300 lb cold pressed, Arches watercolor paper and lay them out on a clean, flat, surface. Now measure and mark the paper at 15 1/8 inches on both edges of the long side of the paper. (In other words, you are preparing to cut the paper so that you end up with two pieces that measure 15 1/8 X 22 inches)
Use a straight edge and put it between your marks and make a line across the paper that you can follow with the siccors. Now cut the paper along this line and you should have two pieces that measure 15 1/8 X 22 inches. You have just made two half sheets of watercolor paper. This is the size we will use the most.
Now run a couple of inches of water in the bathtub. I prefer lukewarm water because I've heard that hot water will shrink the paper too much, and cold water is miserable to work with. Place your paper into the water, one sheet at a time. MAKE SURE IT GETS COMPLETELY WET. Submerse it. Move it around with your hands and be sure it is soaked. Put in as many pieces as you are comfortable doing at one time., but be sure you have as many boards as you have pieces of paper. I like to do several pieces at one time, that way I end up with lots of watercolor paper all stretched and ready to paint on. Sometimes it seems like I almost look for an excuse not to paint. Having paper all ready to go is one way of eliminating excuses and over a long period of time, I complete more paintings if I keep prepared paper well stocked.
Look at your watch and make a note of what time it is. Leave the paper in the water in the bathtub exactly 20 minutes. (I'm not joking either! This is a failproof system but it has to be followed precisely!) Now take it out one piece at a time and lay it on one of the stretching boards and center it on the board just perfectly. Take an ordinary clean bathtowel and lay it flat on the paper. (Try to picture this in your mind. The board is laying on a clean, flat surface, the watercolor paper is laying on the board, and a clean towel is laying on top of all of that.) Smooth the towel with your hands until the towel is making direct contact with the paper. The towel should cover the paper and the board at this point. Keep flattening the towel against the paper with your hands. Leave the towel on the paper exactly 20 minutes. Don't sit the board near a heat source, don't tip the board, leave it flat. Don't remove the towel from the paper and board either for 20 minutes. It is best to just not mess with it for that amount of time.
The paper is drying under the towel. While it is doing that, you have time to cut the brown carton tape into the right sized pieces. Make 2 strips 23 inches long, and 2 strips 14 inches long. Get a small container of water, and some paper towels, and have them laid on a clean workspace.
20 MINUTES LATER!
Take the towel off of one of the boards with the paper on it. Choose one long edge. Wet one of the paper towels and squuze the excess water out of it. Flip one of the 24 inches pieces of brown carton tape over to expose the glue side and wet it with the paper towel. The amount of water you use is very important. I like to use my thumb and finger and run the tape through them to remove any excess water. At the same time, I can feel any dry spots. If there are dry spots, I simply re-wet that area and go on. It doesn't take long before you can tell if you have the right amount of water on the tape. If it feels sticky to the touch, its probably about right for the paper.
Now apply the tape to the long edge of the paper. It doesn't really matter which edge you start on. Look for the aprox. center of the 2 inch tape. Lay the tape on the paper so that 1/2 the tape is on the watercolor paper, and 1/2 is on the board. You may have to wrap the tape around the edge of the board and part of the tape may end up stuck to the back of the board. That is all OK.
Get the next long piece of carton tape and do the other long edge. Wrap and fold the tape across the edge, around on the back, etc, and use your fingers to make a good tight fit. There should be enough water on the tape to make it easy to manipulate. Do the same to the short edges and GO AROUND THE TAPE AND LOOK FOR LIFTING AREAS! Press any lifted areas back down and iron them out with you hands. Inspect your work. When you are satisfied, lay the board down flat and walk away. Do not lay in direct sunshine or in front of a heat source. Don't prop it up on one side, just let it lay flat for a few hours. Some people leave it for 24 hours, but I just leave it until it is completely dry and then I can start painting on it.
The following day is a good time to inspect the paper again to see if any edges have lifted. Use ELMER's glue on any lifted areas. Go around the entire outside edge of the paper with masking tape. Be sure to lap 1/4 inch onto the watercolor paper with your masking tape. Water has a difficult time getting under the masking tape. So when you wet the paper up to the masking tape, it stops there and does not get underneath to the brown carton tape and loosen its adhesive, (So basically, the masking tape serves as a water barrier. It also allows you to square up your finished painting area and make it neat.
(Whew!) Holly Mackerel, What a long winded old Geezer!
IN A NUTSHELL!
1. Cut the paper.
2. Soak the paper for 20 minutes.
3. Lay paper on board and dry under towel for 20 minutes.
4. Wet brown carton tape and tape paper down.
5. Let sit until totally dry.
6. Apply masking tape.