Friday, August 31, 2012

Artist Tip #1 - Preparing Watercolor Paper for Painting

There are many methods of preparing watercolor paper prior to beginning to paint, including:

  1. Tape the dry paper to a board and paint.
  2. Soak and then staple the wet paper to a board and let dry, then paint.
  3. Soak and then tape wet paper to a board and let dry, then paint.
  4. Soak on a board, sponge off, and then start to paint on wet paper.
  5. Soak on a board, dry the surface with a sponge and a towel, then paint.

Most watercolor painters prefer a flat, dry surface to work on.  Since the paper expands when wet, and shrinks when dry, method 1 usually results in paper with "waves" once wet watercolor is applied.  Some artists don't mind this, but for those who do, methods 2 - 5 address this problem.

Methods 2 and 3 are called "stretching the paper".  Method 2 is very robust, but requires a sturdy board and lots of heavy-duty staples.  Method 3 is simpler, but I've never been able to get the tape to stick adequately to hold the drying paper taut.  A problem with both these methods is that one must wait quite a long time for the paper to dry, so the paper has to be prepared beforehand.  Method 4 is very simple, but only suitable for people who like to paint very wet-on-wet, and it can take a long time for the paper surface to become dry enough to hold hard edges.

I prefer method 5.  I first put my paper (with the drawing completed) face down on my watercolor board (I prefer Gatorboard, which is light, rigid, and waterproof) and soak it with a sponge.  After a few minutes, I turn it face up and soak it again.  After another few minutes, I sponge off the excess water with a sponge, and then pat the surface dry with a regular bath towel.  This leaves me with the paper wet internally and on the back surface, and sticking to the board with no tape or staples, but with a dry enough painting surface to hold hard edges.  Another advantage of painting on "damp" paper is that I find it easier to get smooth washes without dry areas and blooms.

Before the paper begins to dry and lift from the board, usually after 15 to 30 minutes, I apply 4 bulldog clips to hold the paper flat while I complete the painting.

Choosing a paper-prep method is an individual thing, and not all watercolor artists proceed in the same way, but if you If you have never tried this method, I encourage you to do so.  I'd be happy to answer any questions posted as comments here, or you can contact me at

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