Dividing your Paper for smaller Paintings

When I went to school, we had to paint on full sheets of paper – bigger was better. Personally, I think we wasted a lot of paper. Most of the projects in this book are set on small paper sizes. It lets you get a lot of mileage out of a full sheet, and you don’t have to invest a lot of time either.

To reduce handmade paper, follow these steps (and put gloves on first or otherwise protect the paper from the oils in your hands):

  1. Fold the paper in half and crease the edge.
  2. Fold it back the other way to weaken the fold.
  3. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 a few times.
  4. Dip a finger in water and run your damp finger along the fold.
  5. Place the paper fold on the edge of a table and gently tear along the fold.

By dividing paper in this manner, you get the deckle edge on your new smaller sizes. You can divide a half-sheet in half to make a quarter sheet and keep dividing for miniature pictures. Do you have to divide the paper evenly in halves? of course not. You may want a thin vertical painting or a long horizontal painting, or you may want a shape other than a rectangle. Anything goes in art. Many of the exercises in this book look nice on a 1⁄16-sheet (or 5-x-71⁄2- inch) size.

Stretching your paper

Water on paper makes the paper buckle. The more water you apply to paper, the more wrinkles and buckles you make. To get rid of wrinkles and buckles, you can stretch the paper flat either before or after you paint on it.

The bigger the sheet of paper, the more important it is to stretch it. A bigger sheet of paper has more room to expand and contract; therefore, it gets more wrinkles when it gets wet. The wrinkles get in the way of watercolor washes being able to flow, so stretching minimizes the wrinkles. As the stretched paper dries, it goes back to flat. The stretching is subtle, so the painting doesn’t get distorted when you stretch paper that’s already been painted on.

Stretching before you paint

If you think wrinkles will bother you while painting, stretch your paper before you paint. You can stretch paper a gazillion ways, but this method is my favorite, and it works great:

1. Thoroughly soak the paper.

You can mist it with your spray bottle or soak it in the tub for five minutes. Just make sure it’s completely wet.

2. Place the paper on a piece of 1⁄2-inch thick Gatorfoam board that’s an inch or two larger than the paper on all four sides.

Gatorfoam board is thicker and sturdier than foam core board, which will bend if you use it to stretch paper. You can use the same Gator board many times on both sides to flatten paper.

Most art supply stores carry Gator board. If your local store doesn’t, ask a frame shop to order some for you. Gator board comes in 4-x-8-foot sheets. I cut it in my frame shop to accommodate full sheets, half sheets, and quarter sheets. Watercolorists love it.

3. Staple the paper to the foam board while the paper is wet.

The staples should be about 1⁄8 inch from the outside edge.

a. Staple one edge in the middle.

b. Go to the opposite side and staple in the middle near the edge. Before you staple each side, lift and pull the paper gently to ensure that it’s wrinkle-free. When paper is wet, it’s fragile, so do this with caution.

c. Staple the other sides in the middle at the edge.

d. Staple the corner edges down.

e. Staple the rest of the edges about every inch

4. Lay the Gator board flat, paper side up, so the paper can dry.

If the board is placed on its edge to dry, the paper will tear as it dries.

Wet paper expands. As the paper dries, it shrinks and pulls against the staples and stretches, becoming super-flat.

You now can paint on the paper while it’s still on the board. The board gives the paper rigidity, keeps it from wrinkling, and is lightweight for easy portability. After you’re finished painting, you can remove the staples.

Stretching after you paint

You can stretch paper after it’s painted as well:

  1. Turn the painting over onto a clean surface.
  2. Dampen the back side of the paper with a damp sponge.

Don’t make any puddles that may run over the edge and accidentally ruin the painting.

  1. Cover the painting with a piece of glass and place some weights – books are good – on top of the glass.
  2. Leave overnight or until dry.

Your painting is now flattened.

A framer can flatten your watercolors before framing them, too.

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