Often artists will create a drawing or sketch on paper, and then want to adhere it later to a stretched canvas to create a stronger support, and even to continue working on it – adding subsequent layers of paint.
Here are some suggestions for a way to glue paper smoothly onto canvas and other surfaces, without wrinkles.
Gluing small to medium sizes of paper
When the sheets of paper are manageable sizes you can glue the paper directly onto a painting surface such as canvas or wood panel. Make sure to read through these instructions first, to have all your supplies prepared and close at hand when you are ready to begin the process. It is important to do all the steps quickly without any lag time in between, as that can cause issues.
Start with Your Surface – such as canvas or wood panel. Use a canvas that is stretched and primed with gesso so it isn’t too absorbent. If using raw canvas or raw wood, it is recommended to seal the support first. Seal front face of the canvas with an acrylic gloss medium, or prime with gesso. Wood panels need to be sealed with an acrylic gloss medium on all exposed wood areas – back, front and sides. If the support is not sealed, and is too absorbent, there is a risk that the glue will sink into the surface too fast, before you get a chance to apply the paper. This is the main reason paper gets wrinkled – the areas where the glue is no longer wet when the paper is applied.
The Paper you want to adhere onto the surface should be a bit larger then the canvas you want to glue it to. Ideally the paper should have at least 1/2″ excess on all sides, so that this can be trimmed off later.
Select Your Adhesive – this can be just about any acrylic product – with the exception of acrylic mediums. The actual acrylic component in the product is the glue. For example, an acrylic gloss gel is all acrylic – nothing else added – and therefore will have the most glueing strength. Whereas, an acrylic paint color is made of two components – acrylic and pigment – and won’t be as strong a glue as the gel. You can also use acrylic gesso, but again this product has white pigment in it along with the acrylic component, and will work – but the gel trumps all. I do not recommend using acrylic mediums, as these are thinner then gels, and tend to dry quickly. When your glue dries quickly you risk wrinkles and areas that aren’t glued properly. Whichever acrylic product you choose don’t dilute it with with water when using it for glueing purposes.
Apply your acrylic gel or other acrylic product (I repeat – not mediums) onto your support. I like to apply the gel with a knife, and the gesso with a brush. While the acrylic is still wet, place the paper over it. If the paper you are glueing has a drawing on it, apply a piece of tissue or clean sheet of paper over it, so you can smooth it out without smearing the drawing. Use your hands to smooth the paper onto the wet acrylic starting from the center and moving outwards towards the edges. The paper will stretch as it gets wet from the acrylic, and will move over the edges, so you end up losing about 1/2″ of the drawing along the borders. When it is all smooth, let it dry at least a day.
Trim the Paper
Once glued and dry, you can easily trim the excess paper by running a single edge blade along the outside edges. This technique gives a very clean edge so you can’t tell the paper has been glued.
Place boards, books or something rigid under the canvas to give it support, so when you rub the paper to smooth it out it won’t sink down in the center with the canvas. The most important thing is to make sure the acrylic is still wet everywhere when you put the paper over it. If the acrylic dries in areas you will get wrinkles there. When you are working with a large size, or in a dry hot climate, you can first apply a gloss medium or gel to the primed canvas. Let this dry. Now the surface is less absorbent, so when you apply the acrylic to glue it won’t dry as fast.
Gluing very large sheets of paper
To glue large sheets of paper to a support, you would want to use either plywood, or the stiffer foamkore sheets. If you want to glue it onto canvas, then use canvas that is not stretched on stretcher bars, so you can lay it flat on the floor or table.
To glue use a spray adhesive (wear protective gear) and another two pairs of hands so that one person holds one end, another holds the middle, and you would start to apply it at one end, smoothing it out before lowering the middle, then lowering the other end. It’s tricky but can be done.
Cool alternative idea
If you like working large and on paper, but not enjoying the finishing process – here’s a very cool idea. Start with a rigid surface, like a piece of plywood or other wood surface, instead of paper. Then change the surface to create a quality that simulates paper. I like to apply a product by Golden called Absorbent Ground. Apply one to four coats of this product onto your surface, letting each coat dry for at least a day, before applying the next. The more coats you apply, the more absorbency you will create. Four coats ends up looking and feeling exactly like a beautiful sheet of Reeves BFK paper. This product is actually made of pieces of paper fiber in an acrylic base, so in effect you really are changing the wood surface to a paper surface. By the way, applying more than four coats is a waste because the absorbency maxes out at four coats. When the coats are dry you can paint on it, or work on it in whatever way you like. Then for finishing and hanging purposes, you can treat this just like a painting – frame it or not – and add hanging hardware on the back.
Framing or hanging paper works
First, let me say that framing paper is always tricky, and best left up to the experts – a framer. Paper is mostly framed without glueing it down. Usually paper is attached very loosely to a board like foamcore with some hinged fabric tape in a couple of places to hold it in place, but only in one direction – for example a few places along the top. Paper moves along with the climate – moisture and temperature – and when attached to a backing in a loose way like this – the paper can move without causing issues.
Usually choosing to work on paper means you are willing to let the finished product be about the paper – loose. If hanging in a show, you can attach it as above, with hinged fabric tape directly on the gallery wall. Then you can place a piece of plexi over it that screws into the wall, without pressing the paper flat. In other words, the paper is allowed to hang freely – wrinkles, flipped edges and all.
Framing a large size, like a 6 foot sheet of paper, is a monumental job. I have framed some extra large paper works for myself over the years, but rarely do it anymore as it is so difficult. You would use the hinge tape mentioned above, used by watercolorists for their framing along the top only, to allow it to hang freely and shift like paper does.