I needed a little DIY project to keep me busy during the pre-spring blizzard last week and decided to do some watercolour painting. Now, as you guys might know, properly stretching your watercolour paper before painting is very important, to prevent curling and buckling when you wet it.
Traditionally, there a few different methods you can use: you can use butcher's tape, which is a sticky-when-wet tape that fixes the paper onto a flat board, and you cut it off after. You also can wet one side of the paper so that it grips itself onto a flat board, but this method is time-sensitive and not always successful. Lastly, you can use a stretching frame, which is an adjustable flat frame that clamps and holds your paper until your painting is complete. This method is almost foul-proof, but a good frame can be expensive and bulky.
After doing some more research on different stretching methods, I stumbled across this innovative way to stretch watercolour paper over a wooden frame, creating a ready-to-hang paper canvas. I knew immediately that I had to try it! I'll insert the original YouTube video at the end of this post, because watching it is very helpful as you go along. This DIY is definitely a little bit easier if you already have experience stretching traditional canvases, but with a bit of practise, can be mastered by any painter!
HERE'S WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
- 4 STRETCHER BARS: these can be purchased in a variety of sizes from almost any art store. I chose to create an 18"x18" canvas, which was the largest I could create based on the size of the paper. You can also ask about special ordering paper with larger width to create larger canvases.
- 140lbs PRESS WATERCOLOUR PAPER: make sure your paper is large enough to cover your canvas with about 2 inches extra on every side
- WOOD GLUE
- LIGHT-DUTY STAPLE GUN
- HAMMER: to tap in any loose staples
- CLEAN SPONGE OR PAPER TOWER
- CAT: optional
Join your stretcher bars with just a little bit of wood glue. They should slot together easily, and can be secured with a few staples in each corner. If your stretcher bars have a raised edge, make sure all of your pieces are facing the same way (I only say that because I made that silly mistake- oops!). When it's finished, it should look something like this:
Cut your watercolour paper to size, making sure to leave about 2 extra inches on every side. Then, place your frame in the centre of the paper and trace around it. Make sure you trace on the BACK side of the paper, so that you can still paint on the proper side. Using a utility knife, cut a 45 degree line from each traced corner, to the outer corner of your paper.
Soak your paper. Ideally, you should soak your paper in a clean bathtub for about 3 minutes. My bathtub is still blue from my last DIY, so I soaked it in the shower for 5 minutes instead. Afterwards, lay your wet paper on a CLEAN (I mean, super clean) table or board. If your area is not clean, your wet paper will pick up any dirt or debris that is on your work space.
Absorb any excess moisture using the clean sponge or paper towel.
*You'll want to work relatively quickly for these next few steps as your paper becomes more difficult to stretch nicely once it begins to dry
Beginning from the centre of one side, add a staple. Then, pull tightly on the opposite side (literally stretching the paper over the frame) and staple. Continue to do this, going back and forth from side to side as you work your way around the canvas. At this point, the paper becomes almost like a cloth, and you can pull relatively tightly without worrying about ripping the paper. If you have never stretched a canvas before, reading this tutorial will be very helpful for this step!
You'll need some room to fold your corners, so make sure to stop stapling about 2-3 inches from every corner.
To be honest, this part is really tough to explain in words and pictures! The goal is to create seamless corners, that lay as flat as possible. If you look closely at my final photos, you can see I folded each corner a different way, trying to find the best method. Basically, you'll want to pinch, fold, and staple on side of the corner, then pull the other side as tightly as possible.
(Okay, I know that doesn't make any sense. Watch this video instead. The paper will fold a bit differently than canvas, but it will help you get a better idea of what I am talking about):
Find a place where you can let your canvas dry safely, and you're done! Now pour yourself a glass of wine and rejoice in your handywork. You'll know when your canvas is properly dry and ready to use because it will feel a lot like the skin of a drum (in fact, it will sound like one too, if anybody needs a new hobby).
Here's the original tutorial video that inspired this project:
If you have any questions or want to learn more about this method, ask away in the comments below! I am still getting used to writing DIY's, so if there is anything I can clear up for you, I am happy to help.