When discussing watercolor supplies – everyone seems to talk about the paper, paints, brushes, etc. And I totally understand why – these are the showy and cool supplies that make watercolor so fun. But one supply few people talk about – that is super important is a stretching board – also known as a board to stretch your paper on.
When it comes to painting with watercolor – unless you are working with extremely heavy (and might I add pricey) watercolor paper – you will need to stretch your paper to prevent buckling and warping due to water damage. There are two ways to do this – either buy purchasing already pre-stretched watercolor paper – known as watercolor blocks. Or by stretching the paper yourself on a wooden board – as I will be discussing today.
Well, there are actually three reasons why using a paper stretching board is super helpful to a watercolorist…
The first is that it prevents your paper from warping while you are painting on it. This means a flatter surface to work on and less of those puddles of paint settling in those dips on your page.
The second reason is that it makes your work flow easier – i.e. you can easily move or tilt your paper to help in your painting process. Sometimes – it is essential to tilt or even rotate your painting to help paint flow smoother or just to help you get a better angle to paint at.
And finally – your paper can take quite a bit more water abuse when stretch to a flat board. So how does this work? Well, think of your paper like the top of a drum – taunt and smooth. As you add water – your paper will expand slightly hence creating some ripples and warping. But as the paper dries it once again shrinks to its original form – taunt and smooth once again. Since the board is helping create a resist to your paper – it will allow you to use more water without warping to an unmanageable place as quickly. Now – don’t misunderstand – you will still have warping while painting on your board – but it will be much less when compared to not stretching your paper or stretching it on a thin sheet of cardboard.