Ask Our Expert

SAA PA Steve Williams is a mine of useful information about art techniques and products, and here he suggests some solutions to your artistic dilemmas

Q I have tried many different ways of stretching 300gsm full imperial paper, but find that when the drying paper shrinks it pulls the tape away from the backing board. I

have tried a quick once-over wetting of the paper, and even a full soak, but every time the drying and subsequent shrinkage causes the paper to break free from any restraint that I apply. I’d like to upgrade to 535gsm but would imagine that will be even more powerful. What am I doing wrong?


Andrew Gowans

AYou've certainly gone around the houses with this one, but full marks for being persistent! Watercolour paper, unless it is a very heavyweight one, has to be stretched to prevent it from ‘cockling’ when a wash is painted on it.

When a full imperial watercolour paper is soaked, it can stretch up to two centimetres each way, so we stretch and tape it to hold the tautness. You could try using 300gsm watercolour board, which is 300gsm watercolour paper laminated onto a 2mm board backing, to keep it stiff. Another option is to invest in a paper stretcher:

I use a Half Imperial stretcher and it works like a dream (I wish I'd invented it!).

A final, and probably the cheapest, option is to buy a piece of 14mm MDF, cut to about two inches smaller, all round, than Full Imperial, so about 20 x 28 inches. Soak the paper, fold it over the edges and use gummed tape to fix it down. As the paper is bent over the board, it’s more likely to stay fixed as it shrinks and becomes taut. Finally, you may find that if you moved onto 535gsm, there would be no need to stretch the paper as it is so heavy.

Q On a pastel manufacturer’s website they suggest wearing gloves and a mask when using their products. Is this just being over-cautious, or are there problems when using pastels, especially if working in an ordinary room at home?
Derek Price

A This is a very good question, and one which highlights the potential dust hazards of using soft pastels. Advice from reputable pastel manufacturers is sound, but it can be a little daunting. However, many of my students wear latex gloves as a matter of course when using pastels, and also use rubber blenders rather than their fingers. But let’s get down to the practicalities of pastel painting, and restate some good housekeeping advice which is offered in the market. Firstly, ensure that plenty of ventilation is available. Don't work too closely to the paper; use your pastels at arm’s length, and don't wear woolly clothes, which will trap pastel dust. Also, never blow dust off a pastel painting.

Put a large sheet of paper under your easel so that you can catch falling dust and dispose of it safely. When you’ve finished your session always spray the painting with a light coat of fixative spray in a well ventilated space, and ensure that you don’t eat when you're using pastels.

Having said all that, the manufacturers’ safety guidelines are more relevant to professional pastel painters who are using the products constantly while working as full time artists. So I think the best advice is to be careful, and be aware of the dust hazard while enjoying using this wonderful and highly expressive medium.

If you have a question for Steve, please email expert@saa.co.uk or write to Head Office marking your envelope ‘Ask our Expert’


Ask Our Expert

SAA PA Steve Williams is a mine of useful information about art techniques and products, and here he suggests some solutions to your artistic dilemmas

Q I have tried many different ways of stretching 300gsm full imperial paper, but find that when the drying paper shrinks it pulls the tape away from the backing board. I

have tried a quick once-over wetting of the paper, and even a full soak, but every time the drying and subsequent shrinkage causes the paper to break free from any restraint that I apply. I’d like to upgrade to 535gsm but would imagine that will be even more powerful. What am I doing wrong?
Andrew Gowans

AYou've certainly gone around the houses with this one, but full marks for being persistent! Watercolour paper, unless it is a very heavyweight one, has to be stretched to prevent it from ‘cockling’ when a wash is painted on it.

When a full imperial watercolour paper is soaked, it can stretch up to two centimetres each way, so we stretch and tape it to hold the tautness. You could try using 300gsm watercolour board, which is 300gsm watercolour paper laminated onto a 2mm board backing, to keep it stiff. Another option is to invest in a paper stretcher:

I use a Half Imperial stretcher and it works like a dream (I wish I'd invented it!).

A final, and probably the cheapest, option is to buy a piece of 14mm MDF, cut to about two inches smaller, all round, than Full Imperial, so about 20 x 28 inches. Soak the paper, fold it over the edges and use gummed tape to fix it down. As the paper is bent over the board, it’s more likely to stay fixed as it shrinks and becomes taut. Finally, you may find that if you moved onto 535gsm, there would be no need to stretch the paper as it is so heavy.

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