How to Mount Watercolor Paper (and When You Don’t Need To)

Published Jan. 14th 2014


In my last article on watercolor supplies I forgot to include a mounting surface in the supply list. It’s important because before you can begin painting you need to make sure your paper won’t buckle, or ripple, when you add water and paint to it.

Buckling paper makes controlling your watercolor very difficult, and for new watercolor artists it can happen all too easily. The reason why is simple: watercolor paper is usually cotton, and we all know what happens when you get a cotton garment wet! The fibers relax and expand, and as it dries it shrinks. To minimize this, you want to securely mount your sheet of paper to a support.

NOTE: In some cases you don’t need to mount your paper to your support. Some artists who work fairly dry just use clips at the corners of their paper. (They also have enough experience to know when to stop adding water so their paper won’t ripple.)

The type of paper you use also makes a difference. 300# paper is heavy enough to hold a lot of water and does not need to be mounted. Most beginners use 90# or 140# paper, however, so I always recommend mounting your paper if you’re just starting out.

Watercolor mounting supplies

You will need a large board (or some other type of support) as well as regular old masking tape.

The main consideration for your board is that it’s waterproof and sturdy. I’ve mounted paper to foam core board and had the board buckle when the paper shrank – don’t make the mistake I did!

A Masonite (hardboard) drawing board or corrugated plastic board will work well. I use gator board, available at the art supply store, but that’s a little pricey.

Mounts

Now, if you have a watercolor block that you’re painting on, mounting is unnecessary! A block already has the edges of its paper glued, so it won’t buckle. However, if I want to start another painting and the painting on the block is still wet when I take it off, it will curl. Remember to let them dry completely before removing them.

Tearing or cutting your paper to size

If you have large 22×30 single sheets of watercolor paper then you most likely will need to tear or cut them into smaller pieces before you mount the paper to your board. I like to fold a large sheet into quarters (I use my palette knife and run it along the fold to get a good crease on both sides) and then I tear it along the fold. I like the look of a torn edge, but cutting the paper is fine also.

When you work with the paper, have clean hands and handle the surface as little as possible. While it may seem unimportant, oils and dirt from your hands can get on the paper and affect how the paper accepts paint.

Mounting the paper

Once your paper is the correct size, mounting it just takes 4 pieces of masking tape.

mount3

Get your paper lined up straight on your board, and tape each side. (If it helps, you can use a few small pieces of tape to hold the paper in place as you tape your first edge.) That’s it!

At this point we’ve covered supplies, paper, paints, and a few other basics of watercolor painting!

Now you’re ready to follow along with some exercises that will teach you the basic skills of watercolor painting. Stay tuned for my next article!

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