As my painting to date has been purely for my own indulgence and entertainment, and that I’d mainly classify everything I do as sketches rather than anything ‘finished’, I’ve never really felt the need to concern myself with stretching my paper. I tend to work on 1/4 imperial or smaller sized sheets of Bockingford 140lbs / 300gsm rough which, although pretty robust, does nevertheless cockle under a generous wash. On the whole, the cockling hasn’t bothered me too much, although it is frustrating when trying to drag a brush across the length or breadth of the paper only for the brush to hit the highs and completely miss the lows of the cockled paper. I also remember from many many years ago the frustrations of stretching paper using gummed tape and I think these memories alone have been enough to put me off ever stretching paper again.
Then, on one of my recent trawls around ebay, I came across a Ken Bromley Perfect Paper Stretcher which took my interest. It’s basically a flat board with recessed grooves on all four sides into which fit four lengths of firm but flexible rubber. The principle is simple; thoroughly soak your paper – I left this sheet in the bath for about ten minutes – place your board (which has to be approximately 3/4 of an inch smaller all the way round than your paper) centrally onto the paper, fold the paper over the edges and gently hammer the rubber tensioners into the grooves to trap and stretch the paper. As the stretcher that I’d found on ebay happened to be for 1/4 sized sheets of paper – I took it as a sign that I had to win the auction and try it out. At the back of my mind, I was also thinking that should I ever wish to be a little more ‘public’ with my work, then I might have to get used to stretching the odd piece of paper.
The gallery of pictures below show the paper stretcher and how I got on using it:
I’m delighted to report that my first experience in years of using stretched paper was a joy and the whole process was so simple and straightforward that I’m a complete convert. Stretching the paper was a doddle and being able to apply washes freely with no cockling was a real joy. In fact, the only difficulty I had was removing the paper once I’d finished as it had dried so firmly into the grooves that it was a bit of a fiddle to release it. I think this could also be because 140lbs / 300gsm is the maximum weight of paper recommended to use with the stretcher. Once freed however the paper is left with easy to find straight edges to trim along to leave you with a perfectly flat finished painting.
My next sheet is already stretched and dried, ready and waiting!
Here’s a demonstration of the paper stretcher in action from Ken Bromley’s website:
Ken Bromley’s Perfect Paper Stretcher on Ken Bromley’s website