Large Paper Stretching How To

Instructions for stretching and handling large sheets of wet paper.


When you paint on paper it gets wet, expands and then buckles and warps. The solution is to make the paper wet before hand, and to tape the wet paper with paper gum strip to a flat surface. As it dries it shrinks and flattens. Large sheets of wet paper are supremely unmanagable however.

The Problem

A large sheet of wet paper is very easy to crease and tear. You need to keep movement and handling to a minimum. You need to be able to make both sides wet while it is as close as possible to where it will be when taped to the wall.

The Solution

[img:Profile of roll on rod and arm]

Fig.1 - The Rough Idea

The solution utilises a roll of paper for holding the 'sheet' in position. The roll is attached horizontally to the wall above where you shall work. The paper is unwound and hangs over an arm away from the wall. It is then possible to get behind the paper and dampen the rear side. The arm is released and lowered, and the paper moves back against the wall into position.

Fig.1 is for illustrative purposes only.


Ideally you need a studio for this. If you don't have a studio you'll need a space which you can customise for the job. I have large sheets of board fixed to the wall to work on. They provide a smooth surface, are easy to attach canvases to, and there's no harm in scraping and painting, or cutting paper on them. You need to cut on them to get the painting down.

How wide is your roll of paper? How wide is it likely to be? The wall space needs to accommodate it with room to spare.

Before you begin, this is not something that needs to be built with any sort of precision. The measurements are just guides to give you space. If the measurements were tighter it would only make use of the thing more difficult.

Fixings - Paper Roll Rod

First you need a new roll of paper, 1.5m wide is good. Next find yourself a solid steel rod. The rod should be atleast 30cm longer than the width of the roll of paper, and must be able to fit through the middle of the roll.

You don't want the roll to slide off the rod. Drill a 1 inch hole into both ends of the rod, and cut a thread in both (ask a friendly mechanic/metal worker if you don't know how) so you can turn a bolt both in and out. Each bolt holds a washer large enough to stop the roll of paper sliding off either end of the rod, and is removable so you can get the roll on and off.

Fixings - Rod Brackets

[img:Bracket for holding paper roll]

Fig.2 - Paper Roll Bracket

You need two brackets to support the rod and paper, see Fig.2. I built them with offcuts of wood. You might be able to customise shelf brackets or something.

If you make the brackets, cut them roughly as shown. Put the back plate flat and place the other parts onto it. Mark the positions of the two supporting pieces either side of the center piece. Remove the center piece and move the two supporting pieces inwards by a half millimeter before gluing and nailing them to the back plate. The center plate will now need a few hits of the hammer to get in place. Drill two strategically placed holes through the back plate and then screw in a couple of screws through them right into the center plate. Drill a hole in each corner of the back plate for fixing to the wall/board.

Fix the brackets to the wall so when the steel rod rests upon them it overhangs by two inches each end, to give room for the arm (below) to rest upon. The gap between the two back plates of the brackets should also be wider than the roll of paper.

Fixings - Paper Hanging Arm

view of arm]

Fig.3 Plan View of Arm

The last part of the fixings is to create an arm, the top-down view is shown in Fig.3. The arm supports the paper so it hangs away from the wall. The arms of the arm, length ab in Fig.3, hook onto the steel rod at points a and must be long enough to allow your personal movement between the wall and the paper hanging over length bb. Length bb should be long enough so that points aa sit on the rod either side of the two brackets.

side view]

Fig.4 Side View of Arm

Fig.4 shows a cut-away side view of the arm. The top shows the profile of length bb in Fig.3, which the paper hangs over. The angle of the piece, and it's beveled edges allow the paper to move easily over it without creasing. Use a rough rasp and then sandpaper to get the smooth curved edges. You could also tape around it with plastic tape. Note the use of a single screw for fixing the arm to it's arms. This gives it play, which you'll appreciate later.

[img:arm movement]

Fig.5 Arm Movement

The screw in hook shown in Fig.4, hooks onto a piece of wire hanging from the ceiling to support the arm at the horizontal position for when paper hangs over it.

The bottom of Fig.4 shows the end which hooks onto the rod. The shape of the hole allows it to be easily unhooked when it comes to taping the paper to the wall. The arm should move up and down freely when unhooked from the wires as shown in Fig.5.

One Last Thing

One last item you'll need, aside from water and paper gum strip, is a device for catching the water that drips from the paper. I was looking for a bit of guttering but found instead an old unused piece of tin used for the apex of a tin roof. This was far better than the guttering because it has a greater area. Someone with lots of old sheds might be able to help you there. Cut a shape into a four litre ice cream tub to rest one end in, and rest the other end on something higher.

The other last thing is a sprayer to spray the water onto the paper. This prevents contact with the paper and avoids damage which can occur from using a cloth or sponge. It just makes your hands ache a bit. If you're using an old sprayer which contained detergent, clean it out thoroughly.

The Final Last Thing

The key to sucess with this is speed and efficiency. Everything should be to hand. After you have wetted the paper, hang your roll of gum strip close by, you then won't need to pick it up and consequently get it wet and stuck together. Situate near to the wet paper, a cloth, a source of water, and an old plate. These are used for wetting the gum strip quickly. And also make sure you've got the sharpest scalpel blade you can find for cutting the wet paper as it hangs.

Making the Paper Wet

Place the rod and roll of paper onto the brackets, orientating the roll so when paper is unwound it is closest to the wall. Unwind the roll so it hangs down against the wall. Figure out the rough height you want and mark it on the paper. Trim the width up to this height if you require. If you need exact measurements, always make it larger because exactitude is impossible at this stage.

side of paper made wet]

Fig.6 First side wet

Wind the roll of paper all the way back up again. Hook the arm onto the rod and then raise it to the horizontal so as to hook it to the wires dangling from the ceiling. Now you can unwind the paper and pull it over the arm. The mark for the height of the paper should be a foot below the arm.

Get your spray gun and start spraying. Don't stop just because your hands ache. The sheet shown in Fig.6 took roughly a litre of water. Start spraying one side first, begin just beneath the paper hanging arm, well above the mark. Work across and then down. Do the other side the same. You might want to give the first side a quick refreshment afterwards. The paper will be soaking now. Gently brush off any droplets of water on both sides with your hands. Give it a couple of moments for the excess to dry.

Positioning and Sticking

Wedge the roll to prevent it unwinding. Unhook the arm from the ceiling. When unhooking the second wire, don't let the arm bang against the wall. Unhook one end of the arm from the rod and carefully lower it down to the floor and unhook the other end and, lower, remove, and stow.

piece of tape]

Fig.7 First Cut and Tape

Initially we want to get the paper stuck to the wall as fast as possible. Use small strips of gum strip and then fill in the gaps. Don't make the gum strip too wet else it gets too slippery. Also, don't worry about how loose the paper seems when sticking. Don't pull it tight but do try to stick it as flat as possible. It will shrink and flatten and be very tight when fully dry.

[img:top taped]

Fig.8 Top Taped

Wind the paper up to the position you're comfortable with. Get your super sharp scalpel and make an incision around half a metre wide in the middle of the top of the sheet of paper to be. Wet a 40cm width of gum strip and stick the paper to the wall in the middle of the cut. Increase the cut out towards but not up to, one corner of the paper so it's still supported. Stick more gum strip 3/4 of the way along. Do the same for the other side before finally cutting the paper free from the roll, sticking the top corners, and filling in the gaps.


Fig.9 Bottom Edge Taped

Once the top edge is taped, get something hard with a rounded end and rub all the way along the gum strip. This will help it stay stuck to the paper and the wall. Do this for each edge once fully taped. Now begin taping the bottom edge, again a small strip in the middle to start. This time go straight to the corners and then fill the gaps. You can use longer lengths of gum strip for the sides, starting in the middle.

[img:fully taped]

Fig.10 Fully Taped (Wet)

That's it you're done, you can only hope and wait for it to dry now. It should look something like Fig.10. It's not possible to tell from the image how loose the paper is.


[img:unstuck and redampened]

Fig.11 Unstuck and Re-dampened

Fig.10 appears ok. Unfortunately the next morning the entire bottom edge had come unstuck from the gum strip. I pulled the unstuck gum strip off and cut the section of the paper away which the gum strip had not stuck to - it's likely to not stick again. Avoiding the gum strip which had stuck, the entire sheet was sprayed with water, Fig.11.

[img:a buckle in the paper]

Fig.12 Buckle

Brush the excess water off carefully with your hands, especially around where the gum strip is going to be applied. Start taping from the middle, don't pull it tight. You'll find the paper has expanded so you cannot stick it down straight, see Fig.12, don't crease it and it should disappear when dry. Don't forget to burnish the gum strip again, anything can be used such as the edge of a disaposable lighter.

Removing A Painting and Starting Again

Your painting turned out to be a master piece after all and you should have used a canvas. Hell, you can't afford it. Use a sharp knife blade and cut along the edges of the gum strip. Any gum strip left on the paper will buckle. Don't use a ruler - it's too much hassle for something not straight anyway. Over cut the corners. The paper will suddenly shrink and pop as you cut an edge. Cut the top edge last!

Pull off the gum strip stuck to the wall. Spray what remains with water and scrape off. You absolutely must then clean the area where gum strip was, with hot soapy water otherwise the next sheet of paper will stick and tear when cut down. You could alternatively make your next painting slightly smaller.


"Large Paper Stretching How To"

A technique for stretching large sheets of paper.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions and attitudes of James W. Morris as expressed here in the past may or may not accurately reflect the opinions and attitudes of James W. Morris at present, moreover, they may never have.


this page last updated:29th April 2013 (C) 2003 - 2017 James W. Morris

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