Stretched watercolour sketches

After last weeks post, and some work in progress images of some seriously cockled paper, most of the comments focussed on the pros and cons of stretching paper. Stretching my paper isn’t something I usually do. When I say usually, I mean ever!  The last time I did stretch paper was quite a few years ago, when I was tried out and reviewed Ken Bromley’s Perfect Paper Stretcher. While I recall enjoying painting on stretched paper, I also recalled it being a bit of a faff!

Some of the comments after last week did strike a chord and, despite being a slightly stuck in my ways old curmudgeon, I decided to seek out my paper stretcher, dust it off, and give it another chance. The stretcher that I have is for quarter imperial sized paper. I used my usual 300gsm Saunders Waterford Rough High White paper, which I soaked in the bath for 10 or so minutes before stretching. The principles of the stretcher are great, very simple and super effective. Once the paper has dried, it really is a taught as the proverbial drum skin!

The next hurdle was more of a psychological one than anything practical. Having invested the extra minutes into stretching my paper, and now having a wonderful surface to paint on – surely whatever I paint needs to be absolutely brilliant! This naturally led to a tremendous amount of procrastination while I tried to find a suitable subject matter. Ultimately, my search for the perfect subject matter for a brilliant painting on beautifully stretched paper proved too big an ask. I eventually managed to talk myself round to just painting something and to try to see it as a sketch or experiment. My only criteria now was to choose a subject that I knew would require the paper being very wet.

I came across a photo from our visit to Porto earlier this year – which was, unfortunately, the definition of wet! – which I thought I could perhaps do something with. Here’s how it looked after it was finished and I’d removed it from the stretcher.

And here’s a cropped version:

Rainy day, Porto

Leaving the merits of the sketch aside for the moment. Painting on the stretched paper was a joy from start to finish. Although not as wet as I often work, had this been taped using masking tape in my usual fashion, the paper would definitely have cockled some. The stretched paper, however, remained flat as you could imagine throughout. It really was a delight to paint on.

The most frustrating part was when I came to remove the paper from the stretcher. It really does become very attached to the board – especially this weight of paper which I think is the maximum weight of paper recommended for use with the stretcher. In my impatience, I did manage to rip the paper ‘into’ the image which was really frustrating and resulted in a little bit of cussing!

Despite this frustration, I stretched up another sheet and left it to dry while I sought out another image. After my first dark monochromatic sketch, I was keen to focus on something altogether more sunny in outlook.  I found an image from a holiday in Normandy from almost a decade ago now which I thought might be another good test for the stretched paper. Again, no work in progress shots of this one because it all came together pretty quickly and straightforwardly and because I was just focussing on the joy of working on consistently flat paper!

Here’s the sketch still on the paper stretcher

And here’s the cropped version.

And the final cropped sketch

So am I now a convert to stretched paper?

Well yes, sort of!  I can’t deny that the experience of painting on stretched paper is much better than painting on unstretched paper. I’d also be lying if I said that I didn’t already have another sheet stretched dried and ready to paint on. I’m trying to come to terms with the excess of paper that I feel is wasted – which I’d say is more than twice as much as when I use masking tape (which for paper miser like myself feels like a lot!), and at some point I may also have to rethink the size of mounts that I cut. None of this, however, is sufficient reason not to stretch paper. In fact I think I’ve already talked myself into buying the half imperial sized perfect paper stretcher!

I’d welcome any thoughts on this subject. Is anyone stretching using the traditional gummed tape method? (if I do order the larger paper stretcher, I think I’ll also order some brown gummed tape too to experiment with!). Does anyone else use the Ken Bromley stretcher? Is anyone else using one of the many other stretchers on the market? I’ve seen a range called the artmate paper stretcher from Swedish brand Keba that look interesting, but I’ve got some reservations about them (aside from just the price!)

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the paintings! I like bits of both of them! I only used the Porto one to head up this post because I thought the title of the post would show up better against it rather than it being a preference. I do like the monochromatic colour scheme of the first one, but on balance, I think the second one is the more successful overall of these two ‘stretched’ sketches.

Thoughts on Stretched watercolour sketches

18 thoughts on “Stretched watercolour sketches”

  1. You sound like on the paper saving front. I’m also not really a fan of painting gadgets so I only use the gummed tape method. The advantages are that it wastes the same amount of paper as masking tape and, providing your board is big enough, you can stretch any size you want even those little bits left over.
    It definately provides a better surface for flat washes.
    Cheers for sharing.

    1. Hi Warren and thanks for this! very timely as I’ve just tried to stretch a sheet of Arches 140lb using the gummed tape method. It hasn’t proven entirely successful, as the paper does have the odd minor ‘undulation’ to it, plus there are some gaps where the tape hasn’t adhered. I think that the paper may have been left to soak for too long, and that the tape was too wet too. Any tips that you have for ensuring I do it better next time would be much appreciated! Also, I’d been keen to learn the best way of removing the old tape once I’ve removed the painting – any tips would be gratefully received! Fingers crossed I can crack this because, so far (and I know it’s only early days!) I’ve really enjoyed painting on stretched paper! Thanks so much Warren.

  2. Hi John, I can’t comment on the paper stretching, not being a painter, but I like both photos. For me the boat is my favorite. Maybe as fall approaches, that warm sunshine just feels good. And maybe I just love boats. But the stretched paper does seem to produce a beautiful look. Very smooth and what color vibrance. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Hi Tim and many thanks for this. I think with autumn and it’s darker mornings and evenings settling in I’m going to be drawn to some brighter views over the months ahead if only to cheer myself up! So pleased you like that particular painting and really appreciate the comments.

      1. You are welcome, John. I actually love the fall, and especially when the rains come and bring out those richer vibrant colors. I love being in the Pacific Northwest this time of year. But I think as I missed my ocean view this year due to work, your painting made me reminisce about the coast, especially with that beautiful boat.

        Your work always makes me feel at ease and happy. Keep on posting as I love your work.

        1. Hi Tim – like you I do love the autumn, especially the cold crisp mornings and the rich palette of the autumnal landscape. This week however I’ve been getting drenched every day so I’m feeling more fed up with it than inspired by it! Really appreciate your kind words about the paintings Tim, a wonderful compliment to receive! All the best.

  3. I have used Ken Bromley stretchers for many yea
    Years. I have several A4 and an A3. Having
    several means I can stretch several sheets
    at one session. I only soak the paper for two
    or three minutes which is enough.
    I find the more expensive papers Arches
    or Saunders Waterford can be
    more of a problem to release. Just takes
    Bockingford is easier.

    I would definitely recommend the KB

    1. Hi Michael and many thanks for this, nice to have such a ringing endorsement for the Ken Bromley stretchers. I got my smaller one on ebay a long time ago but think I’m going to have to get my half imperial sheet one direct – second hand ones don’t seem to come up that often! I’m also still tempted to give the old gummed tape method a go, if only just to say I’ve done it! I’ll let you know how I get on. Thanks again Michael – much appreciated

  4. Hi John,

    I’ve had to smile at your ‘fun and games’ with the paper stretcher, and I must say I also like your boat painting very much. I do prefer your non grey paintings by a mile.

    I have the Ken Bromley and the Keba ones, but have to admit to not actually using them very much myself! I do paint fairly small though. I feel the stress of perfect paper, requiring a perfect painting, rather overwhelmed me (as you felt!) so I don’t often stretch it now though I frequently stretch it AFTER! I dampen the back with a tea towel with then place it down on a board with all my heaviest books on top and leave it overnight. I rather nervously ‘peep’ at it the next day to find it completely flat though sometimes still a little damp but it soon air dries and remains flat.

    The Keba one I felt wastes even more paper and prefer the Ken Bromley one..I use the back of a teaspoon handle to encourage the paper gently out of the grooves which seems to be effective.

    Having said all this I think you should carry on using it as the results speak for themselves.

    Sorry this is so long,
    Happy painting,

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this. So pleased that I’m not alone in feeling an overwhelming sense of expectation when faced with a stretched piece of paper! I was really interested to hear of your experiences with the Keba. I imagined that there would be less wastage with the Keba, but my main fear was the raised bits of the stretcher at the paper’s edge. I felt that this would inhibit my more vigorous brushstrokes – not being able to paint off the edge of the paper. I like your tip of using the back of teaspoon handle – I’ll definitely be trying this one out (did you also see Rob’s tip of brushing in a little vaseline into the grooves? – might also be worth a try). Pleased that you like the non-grey paintings over the colourful. This has come across quite strongly in other comments too which I find really interesting. Definitely food for thought for when I consider my next subject! All the best Carole – thanks so much for your comments.

  5. Hello John!
    Last week I flew to Detroit Michigan to visit my son Mark, and his wife Jane, who live on a little farm west of that big city. I had’nt visited them in way too long but what a fun time I had this visit! They even had a big party for me which included a melting pot of people! Three old friends from college days whom I had gotten to know well. They all had then worked as engineers at Ford and are all ‘car nuts’. Mark and I ended up visiting one of the ‘nuts’ so we could see his collection of Motel T Fords and got for over an hour’s ride in one of them. Thrill!
    I had taken a carefully collected selection of painting equippment which never left my suitcase! I DID take a lot of photos though. I came home though with a bad cold and am still seriously coughing. I DID finally get to paint yesterday; trying to paint from memory, his prairie. I was sure I’d taken a photo but did not. We rode out to it in a new Ranger, a 4 wheel macho vehicle that could withstand the rugged terrain.
    Enough chatter! My last year in college/art school (1952) i finally got to take a water color class. Huge disappointment! 1st day we learned to stretch paper on a board with brown paper gummed tape. Never again! That @$&? Tape does NOT come off and spoils those beautiful deckled edges and my lovely wooden drawing board!
    after demonstrating how to stretch, the professor retired to her studio and that was the last we saw of her for the entire year! Each of us struggled on our own!
    I agree with you that I hate to waste that expensive paper but it was a lovely surface!
    Of course, I don’t like your latest ‘city-scape’ for the obvious reasons and including the poor perspective! The building is twisted, the streetlight and people out of scale…and it’s the usual dreary ‘shades of grey’. Now the cheerful, sunny, colorful beach scene with well done sailboats is wonderful! Cheers!

    1. haha, thanks for this Margery – I can’t deny that you were on my mind as I did that ‘grey sketch’ (if it helps – which I seriously doubt – the greys were mainly made up of ultramarine blue, cad red and cad yellow). Your trip to Michigan sounds like a blast – so pleased you had a good time. I’m very familiar with travelling with full kit only for it to sit in my bag – but we have to do it anyway, just in case! I loved your art college story – wrong in so many ways but so imaginable! I also liked your salient experience of paper stretching. It’s funny because based on my recent experiences, it is on my mind to try the old brown gummed tape approach. I figure it’s worth a go for the sake of a few sheets of paper (and perhaps a whole heap of frustration!)
      Really pleased you liked the more sunny and colourful scene!

  6. I hope you watched the tastefully dated video of the Perfect Paper Stretcher ( even though it does go on a bit. Key numbers are only 70 to 140 lb. paper and only soak for 2 to 5 minutes. Your 10 minutes makes it more liable to tear under tension. (I don’t work for KB by the way). I’ve got 2 of the quarter-imperials and 2 of the half and I do sympathise with you about the difficulty of actually starting to paint. Once it’s all set up, I can agonise for days over what to paint on it! It’s much more akin to putting brush to canvas than it is brush to paper. In fact I don’t know how you can paint “sketches” on it. By the way, if you have difficulty getting the paper off after painting, try putting a smear of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) into the grooves – I normally use an old toothbrush – and then wipe the painting side very clean with a paper towel so that it doesn’t get on to the paper. And another piece of useless information: I have on occasion removed a half-finished painting from a board and then put it back on (when I’d finished the more urgent work that it was required for) if you follow. It still seems to work though I probably wouldn’t be soaking it in the latter stages of painting. Your boat painting is very accomplished, by the way.

    1. Ah, thanks so much for these top stretching tips! Wish I’d had them before I left my last piece of paper soaking for about half an hour (fortunately it still didn’t tear but I take your point!). I haven’t watched the demonstration video for a very long time (I think once was enough!) – I’m quite surprised that they haven’t done a new one. As for my ‘sketches’ – I think I’m forcing myself to think of what I paint on this stretched paper as sketches just to help me get over the potential paralysis of it all becoming too precious! (Whatever it takes – even if it is just playing mind games with ourselves!)
      Delighted by your comment about the boat painting – thank you!

  7. Gee, John. At first the web site indicated that I needed to log in, etc. etc. So then it threw another blank comment space at me, so I rewrote it best I could remember. And, then! Three versions! Uff da!

    1. haha, sorry for making you jump through so many hoops/comments! I did get all three but I see every comment before publishing them, it’s just my way of trying to make sure that I respond to every comment. Thanks so much for persevering!

    1. Hi Carol and thanks so much for this! I like that you think my cheerful persona comes across (I like to think I’m much more glass half full than glass half empty in my outlook but even so I do have the odd down day!)
      I’ve never really thought about how this translates into my subject matter or how I paint them so your comment is really interesting and thought provoking! Thank you so much!

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