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Two alternatives to stretching watercolor paper

If you’re coming here to learn about stretching watercolor paper, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m way too lazy to do that.

“But you work 10 hour days, Roman.”

Yeah, that still doesn’t mean not I’m lazy. And, I wouldn’t call art working. It’s something I love doing. Remember how Brett Favre used to play football? He never called it work. He loved the game.

That’s exactly how I see art. It’s not working. Or another example – that 80s song Money for Nothing. “That ain’t working. That’s the way to do it.”

But stretching watercolor paper? That’s work. That’s something I’d rather not do. Rather, I’ll give you two alternatives to stretching watercolor paper.

Painting on a watercolor block

If you’re like me, you’d rather do something other than damping watercolor paper and leaving it over night with some clamps or what not. Geez, to be honest, I don’t even know how to do it. I don’t care either. I’d rather spend my time painting.

Luckily, most watercolor paper companies also give you the alternative of watercolor blocks. Arches is your standard brand for archival quality watercolor paper and they offer various sizes up to 18″x24″. I personally prefer hot press watercolor paper since my style mainly involves fantasy pinups. Hot press is easier for me to draw on.

painting on a watercolor block is an alternative to stretching watercolor paper
Allie as Marilyn was painted on a watercolor block

Watercolor blocks are super easy to use. You just do your thing, wait for the paint to dry, then whip out a knife.

No, not a Crocodile Dundee knife. A butter knife. Or a letter opener. (Do people still own those?)

Watercolor blocks don’t need to be stretched. The glue holds them down. I do some pretty heavy work with water too. Seven layers of wet on wet to get my skin tones looking good. I really abuse that paper, yet it still holds up and won’t buckle.

Taping it down with masking tape

Or, if you don’t want to use a watercolor block, you can tape it down with masking tape. Another fine alternative to stretching watercolor paper.

Note that when you tape it down, you’re pretty much going to lose the part that you tape. Which is great if you’re either chopping a little off when you mount it on wood or if you’re losing a little bit under the framing.

Just keep that in mind though. You’re going to lose the part that you’re taping. See example below.

using masking tape is another alternative to stretching watercolor paper
For Mermaid in Love, I used masking tape instead of stretching the watercolor paper

Taping it down is easy. My wife owns a pretty nice wooden artist board that I use rather than an easel. I’m weird. I literally paint on the floor. I’m more comfortable doing that than an easel.

Anyways, you tape down the watercolor paper with masking tape. Note that this will actually damage crappy watercolor paper. I’ve never had a problem with Arches archival quality paper though. The masking tape comes right off without ripping it.

Let’s discuss losing that part you taped in more detail

You don’t actually lose it. Since it’s covered with masking tape, you cannot paint on it. If you have something in your painting that “goes off the painting,” then it’s going to look bad. For instance in the painting above, her mermaid tail is mostly off the painting.

However, this is a complete non-issue in this case. I mounted this painting on wood which requires me to cut off about an inch of margins on all sides in order to fit the wood. I had that planned in advance so it was a complete non-issue.

You need to keep this stuff in mind when you’re planning in case you’re actually going to do something with your watercolor art. If you’re just keeping it for yourself, then it doesn’t matter. But if you plan to give it to your best friend or put it up for sale, then you need to plan accordingly.

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