Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Finding a better way...

Removing finished painting from the stretcher board

I don't have any affiliation with the folks who make this product, but I've found it so useful that I wanted to share my experience with it.

When I got back into watercolor, I painted on watercolor blocks at first. I eventually started using 140 lb. paper, stretching it by stapling it to hardwood-faced plywood that I bought at the lumberyard, cut to size, and finished with polyurethane to prevent the wood from staining the paper. Those boards provided a solid working surface, if a bit heavy. However, removing the staples at the end was a considerable effort, not to mention high risk -- more than once, the little screwdriver I used to pry up the staples slipped and skidded toward my finished painting. And there was the sickening experience of actually having the screwdriver skid *across* one of my paintings, gouging up bits of the image. But the advantages to using stretched paper were enough that I continued using the boards.

This past winter, I bought an Incredible Art Board to take to a workshop and, as a result, will be switching to them for all of my painting. The boards aren't cheap, but they're worth every penny in my opinion. They're lightweight and sturdy and hold the staples firmly in place. More important -- it's SO easy to remove the finished painting. What you see above is an inexpensive plastic palette knife that I use to remove the paper from the board. By simply sliding the knife under the edge of the paper and lifting it up, I am able to free the painting with almost no effort and no worries that I'm going to damage it. The staples lift out with the paper and are easy to remove.

The boards are available in both a full-sheet size and a half-sheet size (both are slightly oversized), but can be cut down with a utility knife -- if you work on quarter sheets for plein air painting, for example. Even if you don't stretch your paper, the boards make a great, lightweight support.


  1. Just started using this and also love it, so much easier to stretch the paper with this board and quick and easy to remove staples.

  2. I have previously tried everything you said but believe I have a better solution that doesn't use staples at all. (1) Use laminated ply for the art board - your local timber shop will cut it to your preferred size (2) Use Rubber Cement to glue the edges of your paper to the art board - easy to apply with the brush which is fitted to the inside of the lid of the glue jar. (3) Peel off the paper when you finish painting. (4) Use a rubber cement eraser to remove every last trace of glue from the paper.

  3. Thanks, Maria -- glad to hear you've had a good experience too.

    Anonymous -- rubber cement has some serious drawbacks. First, let's talk about the toxicity -- the solvents are quite potent and can cause headaches and other physical problems.

    Second, it can cause the paper to discolor over time, even if you've removed it.

    Third, you take the chance of tearing your paper when you try to pull it away from the board.

    I'll stick with staples, thank you.

    You don't mention sealing your boards with polyurethane. If you don't, you are transferring a lot of acid from the wood into the paper as you wet and rewet the paper during the painting process -- it may not show up at first, but it will cause yellowing over time.

    If I'm going to put 60-80 hours into a painting, I want it to be unaffected by solvents and acids that could damage the paper.

    And just out of curiosity, why don't you give your name?

  4. Hi Chris, I bought a lot of w/c blocks because they are so easy and no pre-planning needed; I could start a painting on a whim. I still have several blocks but have recently started using the lightweight 3/4" thick gator boards, too. They're great. So much easier to carry around than a heavy wooden board.

  5. I'm with you on both counts, Michelle -- the watercolor blocks are great for small paintings and the weight difference of the lightweight alternatives to wood just can't be beat!!

  6. Good advice, Chris. I don't staple or tape down my paintings, preferring to have them loose - but when I have used the staples, I use Gator Board because it's lightweight and the staples pull out with just a palette knife, too. Thanks for sharing - I know this will be something many will try now. (I hate to think of you spending 50+ hours on a painting and then scratch it when removing the staples from the wood!)

  7. Chris, where do you get the board? and what kind of stapler do you use? i have tried all that, and hate it. i tape mine down, and hardly ever have any problems with buckling.
    thanks for the info!

  8. Hi Rhonda and Suzy -- Gatorboard and Incredible board are similar -- sizes and pricing are variable depending on where you buy. I've found Incredible Art Board online at Daniel Smith and Dick Blick. Gatorboard is available at Dick Blick and Cheap Joes. A friend also recommends a product called Ultraboard available through Oregon Laminates, but it is only sold in bulk.

    I use a lightweight staple gun with 1/4" staples, which is the same depth as a typical office-use staple, although these may be a bit heavier wire.

    Paper choice makes a difference too -- I've noticed that Arches often shrinks so much that it rips away from the staples, but Winsor-Newton's paper does not. I've soaked both for the same amount of time -- about 3-4 minutes.

  9. I need to add one more note on this. I often do multiple washes that really soak the paper, so working on unstretched paper isn't the best for me. But if you paint with less water, it's often possible to work without stretching the paper.

  10. And there is something fun about using a staple gun and shooting those staples in (maybe I have unresolved issues??!). ha ha

  11. Thanks for posting your experience with paper stretching. I too stretch my paper and really enjoy reading artists posted comments on their thoughts and ideas which work for them.

  12. Rhonda, I'm laughing -- in total agreement!!

    Thanks, Kittie -- my friends think I'm a little crazy for stretching my paper, but it's what works for me. Glad to hear I'm not the only one doing this!!

  13. Chris, I intended to add this too..have been busy..I had a full sheet flag stapled down, written on and finished, and was taking the staples out, (Luan board) and the paper tore, and i had to crop it.
    I was sick. that is when i stopped using the staples. BUT..for a full sheet, it does much better.
    i sealed my boards too!learned years ago that the acid in the boards is what makes the rusty/brown spots on old quilts.
    thanks again for good advice!

  14. Oh, Suzy -- I know that sinking feeling when something goes wrong at the very end of a painting!

    The issue of acid damage is now on people's minds. It wasn't for a long time. I have a wonderful drawing that I did many years ago when there were no acid-free framing supplies. I was shocked when I rematted it a few years ago to see how yellowed the paper had become.

  15. I don't staple, but will tape down 140# to a lightweight plastic board (bought from either Jerry's or AWS). I paint more frequently on 300# and find I don't need to tape that down. However, thanks for sharing your info - always better to have too much info than too little.
    Also - love that you will be featuring more artists - thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  16. Thanks, Deb!! I don't stretch 300# -- although I might tape it to keep a border. Years back I read a report by another artist who'd stretched some 300# paper and was awakened in the middle of the night by what sounded like an gunshot. It was the board splitting due to the force of the paper contracting!!

    I also have some masonite boards that have a shiny white coating on one side that I can use when I'm just taping the paper down. They're relatively light and the coating protects the paper from acids.

    And now that I'm thinking even more about this, I have friends who staple their paper to those super lightweight drawing boards. Because they have a nearly hollow core, they give out after a while, but my friends get quite a bit of use out of them before that happens.

  17. Chris, I am using the same boards and love them too, lightweight and easy to remove the staples. Bit pricey but sturdy enough to last a long time I think. Time will tell.

  18. Glad to hear another positive review of these boards, Christina!! Yes, pricey, but as you say, very sturdy!

  19. You have convinced me to try gator board. You are right there is always a moment of terror when having to take a completed painting off of the board. I have gotten into the practice of leaving enough of a border that I can use a straight edge and x-acto knife to cut the paper off. This has a risk of slippage also but I work with extreme caution. I have to cut the stapled edge off because I get my works scanned at an through a large scanner at my copy shop and they won't but the staple rippled edges through, it has to be completely flat so that nothing will damage the glass of the scanner. Great post, I love reading about your process:) I bought one of your paintings and it was mounted to the foam core, do you still use that product?

  20. Carrie, I think you'll like the light-weight board. I haven't tried Gator board, but I think it's quite similar to Incredible Art Board.

    The piece you bought through the Japanese Earthquake Relief auction was on a board made by Signature Canvas -- I bought an introductory package of assorted smaller size wc boards (Arches bonded to a thin, rigid foamcore board) but haven't done any more paintings on them at this point.

  21. Thanks Chris for your tip about the polyurethane! I've just completed my first painting on Incredible Art board and the stretching process worked very well. I used heavy weight staples that are 1/2 inch. They do puncture the back of the board a little but they do hold the Arches 140# cold press paper. I do still have a few wooden boards but have not tried the polyurethane. By the way, I also have nearly gouged my paintings so I make it a practice to face the screw driver toward the outside so that if it slips it gouges the board, not the painting. Anyway, using the Art board seems like a better idea and I love your tip about just lifting with pallet knife.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lori -- glad my suggestions were of use.


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