SUSIE'S REPLY:Hi Laurel! You've asked some good questions! Let's address them one at a time.
- If my paper is small - or long and thin, and I am using watercolor pencils rather than brush and paint, should I still stretch it?
No, it is not necessary to pre-stretch all papers before you paint on them with watercolor. This is especially true if you will be using watercolor pencils. Anytime you are using paint and a brush with very little water while painting there is no need to stretch the paper. Those speciality papers you mentioned may not respond well to the stretching process either.
- What kind of surface do I stretch it onto?
Artists who religiously stretch their watercolor paper seem to each have their own special supports to recommend. Plywood could be used but there are other options that are lighter in weight and easier to manage. Some artists like to use "gator board" which is like a heavy duty foamcore. What you want is something that is rigid and unyielding to the pressure of the paper as it shrinks and tightens.
[In the stretching process the soaked paper is expanded and secured so that when the paper dries the paper has a taunt surface. This stretched/taunt surface will not buckle or wrinkle when wet paint is applied. The wetter the paint the greater the expansion and possibilities for resulting buckles.]
Some artists like to tape their watercolor paper down to a board without stretching it first -- just to hold it in place while they paint. They get a nice clean edge around the edges when the tape is removed. Taping unstretched paper does not help with buckling.
As for me, I never stretch! Some artists might call me lazy but I don't like to spend the time to stretch my paper. I go through so many pieces of paper each week that if I did stretch my paper I wouldn't have time to paint! I don't stretch my paper and I don't attach it to a support by taping or stapling. If I decide I need to paint with the paper at a slight tilt to achieve a certain effect I might put a couple of thumb tacks in the top corners to keep it from sliding while I work. By not restricting the paper it can expand when it's wet and contract again as it dries without buckles or wrinkles. It will stay relatively flat as it continues to dry.
- Is there a special 'board' to buy, or just a hunk of plywood?
There are some special "stretching" boards an the market. You might check the online art supply store to see what they have to offer.
- Would I be happier with my results if I paint my images, or will the (watercolor) pencils do just as well? That is going to be a question for you to answer! It depends on what you want the end results to be and you own unique painting style. I think you will like to use both methods for different applications and unique situations. And there is nothing wrong with combining the two!
- Do you have any favorites for (watercolor) paint or (watercolor) pencils?
I do have favorites that I find myself returning to again and again. I'll share my favorite watercolor paints and watercolor pencils and brands in another post. What I do recommend is that you use the best you can afford. Professional or artist quality is preferred over student quality. The best doesn't always mean the most expensive either. Start out with a few basic colors and add to them as you have the chance.
- And do you ever travel to Minnesota for a workshop?
I don't have anything planned but would welcome the opportunity to hold a workshop in your area. If you belong to an art group that would be interested in hosting a workshop have them contact me firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be happy to send them a copy of my rates and workshop topics. Thanks for asking!
That's a lot of questions for one post. I hope this answers most of them. Thanks!
Happy painting! SUSIE