Cleaning between paintings is something I usually do.  It seems as my paintings progress, the area around it digresses into a clutter.  After I have pulled the finished painting off of my board and table I wipe down the area, run some water over my porcelain palettes, add fresh water to all my jars, add some paint, clean the brushes and re-organize the table so I can find my notes, mail and have an area to eat lunch at while I’m working.  After all that I finally get to sit down the next blank sheet of paper and start working.  Before I actually put the first drop of water down on the paper the logistics of stretching paper has to happen.

I figured since there is a handful of people reading my blog, I would explain some of the things I have learned outside of the technical mechanics of my art.  Often I have found myself staring at photos of other artists work areas.  It is almost like a puzzle that tells me a little bit about the artist that isn’t often gleaned from their work or some how to book. Often and artists work area is scantly covered and the photos in books or on their websites leave a lot to be desired.  Alas I digress, back to stretching…

Stretching paper seemed easy enough back when I first started doing it in 2007.  Since then I have gone through several generations of how I do this.  I remember the first time I stretched a big painting, I used this brown packing tape that had glue on one side.  All you needed to do was add water and lay it down.  Well that was a one-time mistake I’ll never make again. Getting it off was impossible and I think I tore a layer or two of paper off in places and left most of the brown tape down in others.  It more or less ruined the picture.  Next time around I used painters blue tape, which worked great but when it got wet it came up and I lost my edge, but I’ll get back to that.  Next I tried masking tape, which had much more tack to it than blue tape but it too would pull up paper if you are not careful removing it.  Better yet, masking tape if left down long enough will leave a residue of glue on the edges of your paper, which made it sticky.  I’ve been told using a heat gun or blow dryer to warm up the tape before pulling it up takes care of the glue residue problem, but I have yet to test that theory.

After much trial and error I have come to a solution of using both 3M blue painters tape & masking tape and it has worked very well so far.  Before I can actually stretch anything it has to be soak and wet.  Spraying your paper down with a water bottle isn’t good enough, especially if your using heavy weight paper.  I take a big Arches 30” x 40” 270LB sheet into the bathroom and lay it down on the floor of the shower and turn cold water on it for about 2-3 minutes then flip it over.  Then I’ll pull the paper out carefully, trying not to put any creases in it and carry it down the hall, dripping wet into my studio.  I lay the wet paper down on one of my boards face up. Face up for this paper means the Arches logo embossed on the corner is readable.  Then I’ll use my hand and just flatten out the paper as best I can from the middle to the edges trying to push out any air pockets.  Inevitably they form and can be problematic if they are large or elongated.  90% of the time these surface bumps and waves flatten out nicely once the paper is dry, so don’t worry if you are seeing them when the paper is still drying.  Next I use a staple gun with ½” staples that have the pointed tips on them and I go around about 1”-1.5” in from the outside edge and drive in staples around the perimeter of the paper every 4”-5” inches.  That is about it for stretching, I don’t bother taping yet since the paper is wet.  The staples are important and it’s their job to hold the paper down until its completely dry.  If the staples are not driven in all the way or are loose the paper will pull up and you will have a ridge or better yet a curling outside edge to your paper, or both.  Trying to tape down curling edges is difficult and it’s a slow battle that 270LB paper usually wins.  Besides, taping off the edges so they are completely flat against the board and covered is a waste of good tape.  Leave the edges of the paper exposed and slightly raised will avoid adding surface tension against the staples and to the inside of the painting, which can cause the middle of the paper to bow up.  All you really need is a nice clean edge to contain your pigment.

So once the paper is dry I take it over to my painting table and lay it down.  Some things I also think about is the actually picture size.  As an artist it is good to make artwork that fits into standard frames: 11” x 14”, 16” x 20”, 24” x 36” etc.  So what you tape off here will be filling the hole of your matting once framed.  If you want to put your picture in a 24” x 36” frame, then one must account for three to four inches of matting and probably a two inch frame on all sides.  If you don’t your matting won’t be equal on all sides which may not matter to some but it does to me.  If I have 24” on the short side of a painting, I will lose or plan on losing a total of ten inches, six for the matting, three inches per side, and two more inches per side for the frame.  So now what I tape off should be 14” wide, not 24”.  This will make a huge difference in cost to you if you don’t do all your own framing.  Custom framing is expensive and I personally can’t afford it.  So my short side is done by taping off 14” (top to bottom).  Next I’ll figure on losing the same distance on the wide horizontal side, so instead of 36” I’m down to 26”.  So now my painting is 14” x 26”.  Seems like a lot of real estate gone but in the end if you mat and frame it up, that picture will be quite large on a wall.

Finally back to the taping part.  So I have my measurements and I begin to lay down some 3M painters blue 1” wide tape to form my outside edge of what I paint.  I ensure it is square and I take a minute to knead it down real good onto the paper.  Next I use a piece or two of masking tape per side and go right over the top of the blue tape all the way to the papers edge leaving about a ¼” of blue tape showing.  This give the blue tape the added strength it needs to stay down yet I don’t have the problem of leaving glue down that masking tape often does.  I also try to ensure that the blue tape is on the inside of all the staples, so it lies perfectly flat.  After I drop down the masking tape I’m ready to go.