Stretching paper is a useful technique to learn, and relatively simple too! It really comes in handy when you’re wanting to create an artwork using very wet media or lots of water. Most people only stretch paper when they are working in a watercolour medium but it can work well for other media too – even oil paint! The wonderful thing about stretched paper is that when it dries, it dries flat and tight – no warped paper here! Paper can easily buckle when it gets too wet, and stretching paper combats this side effect. It works by using gum tape to keep the paper at the same size as its original size. Water and moisture makes the fibres of the paper swell and buckle, which deforms the shape of the paper. However, if paper is stretched it dries and shrinks back to its original size in a uniform manner. The general rule is that paper 300 gsm and thicker shouldn’t need to be stretched for watercolour painting. Anything thinner than that is much more likely to warp, but it really just depends on how much water you will be using in your artwork!
To stretch paper you will need your paper (here is a link to the pad I used), gum tape, a stiff board such as plywood, melamine or SupaWood (must be bigger than your paper to allow for the gum tape), water, a sponge and scissors. You can use any other watercolour paper you prefer – you can see our range of watercolour pads here and our range of watercolour papers here.
Step 1: Lay out your paper on the board on a flat surface such as the floor, or a desk.
Step 2: Cut four strips of gum tape, one for each side of your paper, making sure they are a bit longer than your paper.
Step 3: Using the sponge and water, wet the shiny side of the gum tape (this will make it sticky). Do one piece of gum tape at a time. Once you have wet the gum tape, paste it down to secure your paper to the board to create a border around your paper – see photo above.
Step 4: Using the sponge, wet your paper evenly but not too much – you don’t want to have pools of water! Just wet the paper enough for it to be damp.
Step 5: Leave it to dry and then it should be flat, smooth and ready to use.
There are many different ways to stretch paper, but this is an easy method to get you started. You can also dip your paper in a shallow water bath before stretching, as you can see in this helpful video here.