Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Stretching Paper: Some Mumbling, Digressional Advice.

Stretching paper can be a bit of a faff and frustrating, but there's nothing quite like using ink and washes on a taut, flat, white piece of good cartridge paper. Quite apart from anything else, if you're going to be doing wet work on anything thinner than a piece of hardboard then it's going to warp (or 'cockle'), and that leads to all sorts of problems, both aesthetic and practical. So, how do you stretch a piece of paper?

Things you will need:

  • Paper (in this case two A4 sheets 220gsm Daler Rowney cartridge paper)
  • Brown gum tape.
  • A clean sponge.
  • A drawing board.

Things you will also need that aren't in the photo but I used anyway:
  • Pair of scissors.
  • A clean towel.

The Yes, Yes, Just Get On With It Version:
  • Cut the gum tape to fit the edges of the paper with about a 1" - 2" overlap at each end.
  • Soak the paper flat in a clean sink.
  • Hold it up by the corner to drain.
  • 'Roll out' onto the drawing board.
  • Damp the gum tape and stick down the edges of the paper.
  • Sponge out excess water and air bubbles.
  • Lay board flat to dry.

Pull up a chair for the longer version:

1. Actually, a word on the drawing board first. Mine is simply MDF, which I got from Homebase in a large sheet and had cut in half. It comfortably takes A3 paper. It's important though that if you're using an MDF board you seal it first. I used satin finish varnish.

2. Cut the gum tape to size.

Do this before you get near the sink! If you've got even faintly damp fingers then the roll will gum itself together and that will give you no end of hassle trying to get clean lengths of tape out when you next come to use it. And don't keep it in the bathroom, either...

3. Place in the water.

3a. The sink. If you're stretching A4 then there's enough room in a standard sink to lay it flat in the water. Flat is important. Equally important is that you wash out the sink first. Traces of any sort of detergent (including soap) can transfer themselves to the paper, spoil the surface, and be intrusively obvious when you come to work as they take the pigment differently. For the same reasons, try not to touch the paper anywhere other than round the edges as fingerprints can have the same effect.

3b. The water itself. You'll find different opinions about the temperature of the water. Hottish water can spoil the surface of the paper, stripping off any sizing. Cold water takes a long time to penetrate the paper. I follow the Derek Smallsian route between the poles of fire and ice, and use lukewarm water.

3c. Time: the time the paper is in the water is crucial. You don't want something with the consistency of a newspaper fished out of a pond, nor do you want just a wet sheet of paper. The internet says:
  • 90lb (163 gsm) for 3 minutes, 140lb (307 gsm) for 8 minutes.
Sounds about right. With the 220gsm I'm stretching I'm immersing it for four to five minutes.

3d. Slide the paper under the water end first. If you lay the paper flat on the water and then try to push it under, you can dent the paper, and the little crease you get then will take in more water and spoil the surface. If you slide it in end-on it protects the surface and wets the paper evenly.

5. While you're waiting for the sheet to soak, dust off your stretching board, making sure there aren't any specks or bits of dirt that will form irritating, sharp little peaks in your pristine flat white paper. You want to do this now, not while you've got a wet sheet of paper in your other hand and nowhere to put it down.

6. When time is up, remove the sheet from the water by holding one corner.

Let it dangle for about a minute, so that the surface water drains off the opposite corner.

7. Lay the paper on the board. Again, start from one end. If you 'roll' it onto the board it should go down evenly and without getting any air bubbles trapped underneath.

8. Taping it.

Gum tape ensures a nice even grip all round the paper as it dries out and stretches. If it doesn't grip, it won't stretch. It's important that the gum tape isn't sopping wet when you apply it. I tend to paddle on a bit of water with my fingers so that it's wet enough to get the gum activated, rather than dunk the tape in the sink. Then apply the tape to the paper. As a rule of thumb, I have about a third of the tape's width over the edge of the paper. This means you get a good grip and don't encroach too much onto the painting space. Once you've taped all four corners, rub the tape with your fingers to ensure it's flat to the board and any excess water is expelled. You can sponge it down at this point, dabbing to remove the water.

If you've got any air bubbles, you can gently ease them towards the edge of the paper with the sponge and squeeze them out under the tape. Most air bubbles will disappear during the drying/stretching process anyway. Don't rub too vigorously here - yet again, you can damage the surface of the paper. Dab as if tending the grazed knee of an infant to whom you are related.

Too much water at this point can start to spread the gum around, getting it onto the painting surface, reducing the tape's effectiveness, and - worst of all - sticking your paper to the board. If you keep the paper taped to the board while you work and don't discover that the paper is glued down until you're finished, then at the very least be prepared for a tense few minutes tentatively sliding a metal edge under your painting to try and prise it gently free. At worst you'll tear and ruin what you've just spent hours working on. This will drive you up the bloody wall.

I tend to use the clean towel at this point, laying it over the board and using the flat of my hand, gently pressing to get any remaining water off the paper. When you finish it should be mildly damp, like a mid-autumn afternoon.

9. Lay it somewhere flat and out of the way to dry.

In a normally heated room it should dry quite quickly - certainly overnight, ready to work on the next day. You can accelerate the process by using a hair dryer, as I remember from last minute student panics, but if it pulls free from the tape and you have to start again don't say you weren't warned.

I've arranged these two sheets in opposite corners so that I can work on one and then turn the board around to work on the other 'upside down', without getting too much elbow and forearm all over the other piece.

There will be other advice for stretching paper. This is just how I do it.

It usually works.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails