Why you need to learn to stretch watercolour paper – a top tip for preachers

There’s a learnt skill here, which is completely levelling.

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One of these days I’m going to make a video of how to stretch watercolour paper.  Because it’s a really useful skill for a preacher.

And actually, anyone who’s even a teeny bit serious about playing with watercolours gets to do it regularly. And it’s fun.

Bear with me.

You only need five things, and a reason.  The five things are watercolour paper, a board, a roll of gummed tape, a clean sponge or cloth, and some water.

The reason is that when you do watercolours, the paper gets wet.  Obviously. And when it gets wet the fibres relax, and then it dries – and it you’re not careful, it distorts.  It buckles. It curls up.  And when you do watercolours, you will just keep on with that rhythm – wet, dry, wet, dry.  So how to stop the buckling?

I’m glad you asked.  There’s a way round this, which is to buy paper gummed into a pad on all four sides.  It’s a seriously good option, but on the expensive side, so certainly not for mucking around or practice.  For that you need lots of cheaper paper.  Which comes in a pack, or a more normal pad.  On the other hand, if you’re really good, you’ll be buying large, single sheets, and they will need stretching too.

Cheap as chips or costing the earth, that paper needs to be wet.

So, first of all, you must stay dry.  Lay the DRY paper over the DRY board, and measure and tear off DRY gummed tape to go along all four sides.  With DRY fingers.  

Otherwise it all gets very sticky and messy.

Now, you can get the paper wet.  It needs soaking.  Really soaking.  Like in a sink or (large, good paper) a bath.  And it needs time to absorb the water, not just rinsed under the tap.  You’re going to get the paper absolutely drenched, so that it is as relaxed as it could possibly be. Big paper, you can leave for hours.

Will it suffer?  Not a bit.  It’s designed to work this why.  It’s why you don’t use photocopy paper.

Then you lay the paper back on the board, and with your sponge lightly dampen the gummed side of the tape, which then you lay along the four edges – one third on the paper, two thirds on the board.  Smooth the tape with the sponge, to make sure there’s total contact, lay it flat, and leave. No fingers on the paper, because you’ll leave oil, which messes with the paint. No hairdryers – they dry the tape faster than the paper.  If you’re doing this with ordinary A4 or A3, and just for normal painting, an hour is probably good.  Large, good paper might need an overnight.

The paper will dry, as flat and tight as the board it’s stuck on.  And you can then wet and re-wet to your heart’s content.

But afterwards, with his disciples, he explained the parables.

Part of me enjoys this process because it is enjoyably artisan. Hands on.  As the world has grown increasingly digital in the last year, we all need something to get our hands dirty. Even introverted, bookish preachers.

Then,  no-one is born knowing how to do this – you learn from others. You stand in a small but long tradition of a craft, because you know that David Hockney, Turner, and Leonardo all stretched their paper and waited too.

There’s no shame in learning from other preachers.  Take their sermons into your study, and look at them with an apprentice artisan’s eye.  Why did they break the pattern to tell a story here?  Why did they suddenly lean into the Greek?  Was that a happy accident, a conscious choice, or the informed and ingrained habit of a great communicator?  

But mostly, I stretch paper because it’s a wonderfully levelling exercise.  It levels me, for a moment, because my blank wet paper can sit alongside Turner’s blank wet paper, and I can dream a little.

And it levels the tools.  My cheap multipack watercolour paper can sit alongside some high-end Chinese or Italian version, and they all get dunked.

You can be a newbie preacher, tackling your first ever sermon series, doing it from Mark (because it’s the least scary book you know), and yet you’re doing the same work, from the same text, as Martyn Lloyd Jones, Luther, and Augustine. They all got pens and paper ready, breathed in, prayed, and started on the text. Just like you. 

You might be a much more experienced preacher, who’s still daunted by some bible books.  I’ll be honest – I’m daunted by Job.  I fear that my default positions come way too close to his friends, and I fear God’s withering look.

But still, my job is do the work, the artisan’s work, and set to.

What have you learnt when you use your hobbies as a parable for preachers? Pile in!

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