How to Flatten a Buckled Painting

Karen Jerome

If you've created a painting on a piece of paper and are experiencing buckling or waviness after it has dried, we've got two methods you can try to flatten the piece.

Before we look at those two methods, lets take a look at one of two reasons why the buckling likely occurred:

1. If you’ve created a painting where there is a border of non-painted areas, the center areas of the paper has fibers that have gotten wet, then expanded. The border areas conversely have not gotten wet. Thus you have areas of the paper where fibers have expanded and contracted, and other areas where this has not occurred.

2. If there is no border, buckling may have occurred because the paper fibers have gotten wet with different amounts of water, causing the sheet to dry at varying rates.

To prevent buckling from occurring prior to starting a piece, we recommend soaking the entire sheet before you begin to put your actual paint/wet media down. Click here to see methods for soaking a sheet prior to painting.

Now let's take a look at two methods you can try to flatten your piece if you’ve already created a painting and the sheet is wavy after it has dried. With both methods you’ll want to get the entire back of the sheet damp, and then let it dry at a uniform rate. Both methods use an approach that will not affect the front painted image. For each of the approaches below, if water soluble paint was used, extreme care must be taken to make sure the water used to soften the back of the paper doesn’t travel through the paper and dissolve the paint on the front side. 

APPROACH A:

Step 1Mist the back of the paper with water using a fine mist. You can also use a damp sponge. Do not over wet.

Step 2Place newsprint paper down on a clean surface. The newsprint should be larger than the painted paper.

Step 3Place the painting image-side down on the newsprint paper.

Step 4Cover with another sheet of newsprint or a towel. Place a board over the newsprint paper that is larger than the paper.

Step 5Put weights on top (you can use books if you don’t have weights).

Remove the board and weight every 2 hours and replace damp newsprint with dry newsprint. Repeat this until the newsprint is not wrinkling or does not feel damp, usually around 4-6 cycles. Then put another new dry sheet of newsprint down and cover with the board and weight. Leave 24-72 hours until paper is completely dry.

APPROACH B:
This approach is a more drastic solution that uses heat (an iron) with water to help relax the paper fibers. If you have never used an iron to relax the paper fibers before, a test should be done as this approach can ruin the paper if the iron is too hot or if it sits on the paper too long.

Step 1Mist the back of the paper with water using a fine mist. You can also use a damp sponge. Do not over wet.

Step 2Place newsprint paper down on a clean surface. The newsprint should be larger than the painted paper.

Step 3Place the painting image-side down on the newsprint paper.

Step 4Cover paper with a sheet of newsprint or a towel.

Step 5Using an iron set on medium low, gently rub over the entire surface. Adjust heat up as needed to allow the dampness on the back of the paper to relax the paper fibers.

Step 6Remove the towel or damp newsprint and replace with a fresh piece of newsprint over the paper.

Step 7Put weights on top (you can use books if you don’t have weights).

Remove the board and weight every 2 hours and replace damp newsprint with dry newsprint. Repeat this until the newsprint is not wrinkling or does not feel damp, usually around 4-6 cycles. Then put another new dry sheet of newsprint down and cover with the board and weight. Leave 24-72 hours until paper is completely dry.

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