How To Keep Watercolor Paper From Warping

Michael Daly
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What Is The Composition Of Your Next Piece?

You can create watercolor paintings with many different subjects. Whatever subject you choose depends on your artistic vision, your choice of subject, and sometimes your willingness to spend a lot of time doing meticulous research. Generally, it’s a good idea to find out as much as you can about whatever subject you choose to paint.

A painting of any one of the following subjects can make a good basis for a good painting:

  • Flowers
  • Plants
  • Landscapes
  • Types of Objects
  • Specific Objects
  • Places
  • National Landmarks

Be aware of the limitations of your painting. The frame makes a difference in the size of your painting. If your painting is going to consist of important landmarks you pretty much have to draw them to scale. Can you alter that to fit your frame? It is always better to paint a little smaller than the frame.

Learn the rules and techniques of light and shadow in your new subject. You will find that light and shadow give shape to whatever is in front of it. Go over the edges in your painting with a white crayon, but not on the highlights. They should stand out.

Because many watercolor paintings are small and stored neatly away, it is a good idea to mount them behind a sheet of clear plexiglass.

Both Plexiglas and Glass are erasable and convenient.

Proper Weight and Texture of Watercolor Paper You Should Be Using

This is the number one question I get asked in every one of my art workshops.

But what makes a good watercolor paper?

You can get a lot of different watercolor paper on the market. It is better to use the more expensive, rag watercolor paper in contrast to the news print. The rag paper is heavier and more durable. That’s why it also costs a lot more than the newsprint paper. Another key thing to look for in watercolor paper is its texture. People often confuse texture with weight or thickness. Rough and textured paper tends to hold water longer (as in moister) than smooth papers. Rough papers also have more tooth which allows the paint to move more freely in the surface before it sinks. All these things makes rough paper a better choice for beginner watercolor artists.

When you decide to buy watercolor paper, the next big question that usually pops into your mind is that what size of paper should you buy? If you are just starting out, get a small size just to play around with. It is better to start with a small piece of paper that you can paint on than to buy a large one and to find yourself stuck using it due to the fear of wasting a whole sheet.

How To Stretch Watercolor Paper For Best Results

The short answer for stretching watercolor paper to prevent warping is: “you should”.

Watercolor paper warping is a common issue among watercolor artists and it is something that you should prevent at all cost.

However, knowing what to do to prevent warping is often times not enough. You might not know what equipment that is necessary, nor will you know how to use it.

In this article I am going to walk you through the entire process from what paper I recommend, to how you can stretch it using a variety of methods, and what equipment you will need to prevent watercolor paper warping.

How To Prevent Warping

Preventing warping is relatively easy when you know the facts. It goes without saying that you should not use the following:

Plain newsprint, sketch paper, magazine pages, kitchen roll etc.

Watercolor paper is made of high quality cotton and is already thin and delicate. Adding a heavy layer of newspaper or toilet roll will warp the paper because it will not be able to support the weight.

Drying Your Watercolor Painting Properly

Properly drying your watercolor paintings is one of the most important rules of watercolor painting. Watercolors are composed of pigments suspended in a water-soluble adhesive, gum arabic, which acts as a binder. When painting is finished, the artist must provide the means for the adhesive to remove excess water, otherwise the water will cause the painting to run or warp. Watercolor paintings are not usually framed, so the painting must dry without deforming the surface.

To properly dry your painting, first lay a clean sheet of paper on top of your painting, then place something heavy and flat on top of that. Next, leave the painting for 12 to 24 hours, until the entire painting is dry. After the painting is dry, you can remove the sheet of paper, and the painting will be ready to be framed. Proper drying leaves a flat painting ready for framing.

Ways To Flatten Existing Watercolor Paintings (Proceed With Caution)

If your painting has curled slightly on you, here's a way to flatten it without completely caving in the paper:

First, place a weight (such as a book) on the top of the curled area.

Next, place a weight over the entire painting.

Leave it this way for four to five days.

Iron Method

You’re working on a big watercolor painting, and every 30-40 minutes, you�re getting up, going to the ironing board, and then flipping your paper over to iron out the wrinkles in the paper.

Well, I have good news for you.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There is a way to get rid of the wrinkles without ever having to flip your paper over!

It’s called ironing and it will add years of life to your paper.

Here are two really simple paper ironing tips to try out:

{1}. Take a clean, smoothly woven, natural fiber towel or a cotton washcloth and moisten it with a water and a small amount of detergent.
{2}. Rub the draped paper with the moiséed cloth until it is completely dry.

Mattress Method

One reason artists use Mat board, also known as Gator Board is that it is durable, waterproof and easier to paint on than canvas.

Watercolor Paper warping occurs when it gets wet and then the paper expands when it dries. The problem is you usually want to paint your paper while it’s flat, like when you’re painting landscapes.

The quick fix is to place a flat, rigid object on the back of each sheet. Something like a textbook will work. Let it dry for 24 hours then place a protective layer of mat board over your work.

Another method is to put a picture frame on the back of your watercolor paper. The glass in the frame provides a flat surface and prevents the paper from curling up at the edges.

The glass in the picture frame also helps to prevent water from warping the paper.

When working with watercolor paper try to keep it flat so you can paint folds and wrinkles. If that isn’t possible, make sure to stretch the paper slightly before use.

Long Term Solution To Stretching Watercolor Pieces

To prevent warping of watercolor pieces for a long time, applying a coat of varnish will be great. You will need some plastic foundation to protect your watercolor painting from dust. Then prepare your varnish by using some turpentine, linseed oil and sizing. Mix all these ingredients properly so that you get the perfect consistency of solution. Drip this solution on your prepared foundation and then place the painting on top of it. Press it carefully so that your painting will absorb the solution well. Leave it covered overnight. After 12 hours you will notice that it has stiffened up. Take away the plastic foundation and then let your painting dry in a big flat box for a couple of days.

The other option is to make your painting in a photo friendly format: contact paper as backing. Contact paper is a great acrylic film that will help your painting from warping and will ensure that it stays flat. It’s available in tons of sizes and can be easily applied to any watercolor piece.

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