Pressing Needs

In college, I was taught to “stretch” watercolor paper. You would dunk a sheet in the bathtub, then place it on a large board. It would be taped down with brown “postal” tape. Sometimes, you would reenforce this with thumb tacks.

The paper would dry tight as a drum, but the force of it tightening, would sometimes rip it in the corners.

This was great until you removed the paper after the work was done and it could (and usually would) ripple or buckle a bit in the frame after hanging. And yes, there were watercolor “blocks” where the paper was glued into a block and you would cut off the finished work – if it didn’t buckle and tear itself off of first.

I don’t remember that we even had 300lb watercolor paper then. Yes, watercolor paper comes in different thicknesses/weights. 300lb is the heaviest I have seen and once I tried it, I was hooked.

No more need to stretch and mount. I have used it ever since. Yes, it is not cheap but in the whole overall scheme of things, I would rather have good paper than a night out at the bar, for instance. Or maybe both but if I can only afford one – the good paper for the win!

However, I do tend to work with a lot of water and even with 300lb paper, there can be a buckle or a ripple after the painting is done.

Herewith is my easy, low tech fix.

Years ago, I bought a large pad of cheap watercolor paper. My thought was perhaps to use it for practice but I really didn’t like it. However, it has proved its worth for maybe the past decade in another role. Any paper can be used for this, I just like using my Strathmore pad.

Here is a painting I just finished – notice the warp?

Warped watercolor paper

I want this flat, flat, flat. Maybe it is just the way I am.

And here is the famous Strathmore pad.

Watercolor pad

Our next ingredient is a plain old spray bottle with clean water.

Spray bottle

Placing the finished watercolor on a sheet in the pad, painted side down, you give it a light but thorough spray. The idea is to get the artwork evenly damp.

Watercolor dampened

I usually do 3-4 paintings at a time with a blank watercolor sheet in between each dampened painting.

Then close the pad up and put a nice even weight on top. I used to use this trunk I have as a coffee table. Now, I take the black archival art boxes that I use to store finished paintings in. One or more boxes stacked on top of the pad – even overall weight – is all you need. In a day or two or so, you will have perfect, flat paintings.

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