Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How To Use A Sheetrock Press --- And 3 Good Questions!

     I know your first two questions!  #1:  What in the hell is a sheetrock press? And #2 :  What is a sheetrock press for?
     I owe this little gem of a tool to artist Melanie Fain (www.melaniefain.com), who is a spectacular artist as well as a good friend.  Several years ago she was listening to one of my monologue/rants about paper cockling. She suggested I  use a sheetrock press.  Well this was news to me!  I’d been painting full-time for 8 years or so and no one h ad mentioned it to me.  Mel gave me the inside scoop, and the “how to” info I needed, and to this day, this problem-solving method has saved my butt more times than I care to mention.
     Oh, I almost forgot…. Question #3:  What is cockling?
     Paper cockling is one of those British terms for “my paper wrinkled when it dried”.
     Generally, us watercolor artists must tape or staple our paper to a board of some type.  As successive washes are applied to the paper, the fibers expand and contract.  If the paper is properly secured, it will contract back to its original flat state.
     There can be extreme pressure exerted on the tape and/or staples during this process.  Once in my early days, I used a piece of masonite and Arches 300 lb. cold press.  The paper contracted so tightly that it completely warped my board.   
     If your tape job fails in this process, you my friend, have been “cockled”.  At this point in the scenario, one must make some decisions.  If the painting is in the early stages, I remove the painting, spray the back with water and re-tape with gum tape.  However, if the painting is closer to completion, and I don’t have many big washes left to do, (say mostly details or dry brush work) I will leave the cockling, finish the painting and use the sheetrock press.
       Here’s the process:

     1.   Purchase 1 sheet of 5/8” or 1/2” inch sheetrock.  (I look for a clean piece with no smudges, dirt, etc.
     2.   I use a standard utility knife to score one side of the paper that the sheetrock is sandwiched between.  After scoring carefully, break the sheetrock along the score line.  You will need two pieces that are at least 4” larger than a 22 x 30 standard Arches sheet.

     3.  Wet the back of the painting with a spritzer bottle (set the nozzle to a misting spray).  Notice how cockled my paper is!
     4.   Carefully lay your painting wet side up (painted side down on the sheetrock.

     5.   Lay the other sheetrock piece on top, sandwiching your painting.  Be very careful that your painting is absolutely flat in the press!
      6.   Wait 3 hours if your press is indoors; about 2 hours if it’s outside.  (about 1 hours if you’re in Texas!  Today was 101 degrees in the shade!!)
     7.   Place several heavy weights over your painting.  I use framing vises or books.

     When the time has elapsed, your painting will be flat and ready to frame.  The sheetrock applies some serious pressure to the cockled area and the gypsum in the sheetrock slowly wicks the moisture from the paper.  This little trick is a lifesaver and the sheetrock will cost you less than $10…. And you can write it off as a business expense!
     Good luck!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. Thank you, Mark (and Melanie)!

    I have an extremely cockled painting in desperate need of a good pressing and didn't know where to begin.
    Easy and inexpensive fix.
    Home Depot, here I come!

  2. Love the new painting! They should be very happy with this one - I'll betcha a quarter he laughs when he first sees it!

  3. Tricks of the trade that aint in no books, now thats what I'm talkin aboout. Had this problem countles number of times, have used many large books but never thought about sheet rock.
    Cool Beans!


  4. I love these comments! It's always a good thing when I can give you solutions that solve your problems. Hope Melanie doesn't read this, so I can stay the hero! HaHa

  5. Melanie Fain is a smartie! She has a great blog at http://www.naturewalkblog.com

    Good work Mark,