To stretch or not to stretch! Should you stretch watercolour paper or not? What does it even mean – “to stretch watercolor paper”? And why would you even want to stretch paper? Well, have you ever dropped some water on paper? What happened? Did it wrinkle and no longer remain flat and even? When you add water to paper, the paper changes shape and creates hills and valleys which as you can imagine, will cause some problems if you want to paint on it. To avoid this problem, we can “stretch” the paper beforehand and this will help the paper to remain relatively flat during the painting process. By “stretching” I mean wetting the paper entirely on both sides and then attaching it to a board. The paper then dries flat and you can start painting.
So, how do you stretch paper? And how to you attach it to the board? Well, the choice is up to you. Some artists use tape, and some use staples. Some artists just use masking tape. And others don’t tape their paper down at all. I have tried various methods and for me, the best method is to wet the paper and tape it down with gummed tape, which is tape specifically made for stretching of paper. It has a smooth and a shiny side and when the shiny side is wet, it becomes sticky enough to tape the watercolour paper to the board. I stretch any watercolor paper that is 300 gsm or less. 640 gsm is firm enough to not bother with stretching. Following are some steps on how I do it. Note too, that once the paper has been stretched, you can also add another border of masking tape – half on the paper and half on the board/gummed tape which will give you a neat white border on the paper once you’ve finished painting.