Friday, September 10, 2010

My Magic Tape Machine

    There it is.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment that doesn’t actually apply paint.  Like I told you in a recent post, I am inclined to find systems for certain tasks.  Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I try and find ways to do things better, cheaper and faster.  With the Marsh taper you can also add less hassles.
     Let’s start at the beginning.  We’ve accomplished an awesome drawing and are ready to stretch our paper to our board.  Many painters pre-wet their paper and use the same brown tape my Marsh taper uses.  Many artists like wetting the sizing in the paper and actually scrub the surface after the damp paper is attached.  I don’t do this, but experiment with what will work best for you.
     Next, we must decide what type of board to use.  Birch drawing boards and masonite work well, but I feel they are cumbersome and heavy to work with in the studio.  My choice is Gatorboard.  We’ve discussed this before, but let’s recap, so no one has to dive into the archives. 
     Gatorboard is two sheets of plastic with a plastic foam core.  The board isn’t affected by moisture, is rigid and light as a feather.
     First I measure my board, and then pull the handle on my taper for that specific length.  The Marsh has a huge roll of brown tape in its storage unit and when the handle is pulled, it dispenses and pre-wets the tape.  When the handle is released, it cuts the tape to your desired length.  This beats a water bowl and sponge all to hell!  The Marsh taper is expensive (around $250) for such a relative task, but remember, I’m all about time saved and being professional.  The Marsh fits the bill.

     Photo #2 shows one taped edge. I then attach the next strip 180 degrees from the first.  This allows me to pull any slack from the painting. 
     This is what your set up should look like now. 

     Proceed with taping the other two sides and keep working the tape’s edge where it meets your painting.  We want all four edges taped with no lifting.  This is what the completed tape application should look like.

     Now, we start attaching our masking tape, which will meet our painting’s edge and overlap our brown Kraft tape.  I only use 3M #230 drafting tape for this part of the preparation.  Hold while I get on my soapbox…. If you get only one thing from my blog, please take my advice on this tape.  Yes, drafting tape is expensive (about $10 per roll) and yes, masking tape from a box store will technically work, but you will eliminate so many potential problems by using this 3M tape.  Here’s a small list why:
1.    The adhesive is the perfect degree of tackiness.
2.    Masking tape will almost always leave residue on your paper.  You are responsible for providing an archivally sound painting.
3.    If you use a dryer masking tape, adhesive will melt into your paper fibers.  This is a “game over” mistake.
4.    Upon completion of the painting, 3M drafting tape peels right up with no damage to paper fibers.  (If you use Lana paper---be careful and pull slowly).
     Back to our demonstration.  Apply your drafting tape from the brown tape toward your painting.  The last strip should be the edge of your painting.  This method also creates a shingling effect so water has a tough time breaching your tape.

     Here’s my painting with all the drafting tape in place. 

The only step left, prior to painting, will be burnishing our tape edges.  I like to use a bone folder (available at art supply stores), and lightly press or burnish my drafting tape.  First, I use the point to press down the corners.  This is usually where paint will breach our tape job.  Don’t get carried away on pressure.

     Now, take your bone folder and use the flat side and seal the bordering edges all the way around your painting.  I will be doing an entire post on the lowly bone folder soon, so see if you can acquire one soon.  Artisans in Santa Fe has some in stock.

     By the way, this will be my upcoming demo painting.  I won’t be foot-stepping this like the last painting, but I plan to photograph the painting in 15-minute intervals.  It should be very instructive.  Pam will post the photo tomorrow, so you can participate in the next couple of weeks, should you choose.  I plan on starting the demo the week of September 20th, so this should give you plenty of time to accomplish the drawing.

All content and photos © Mark Kohler Studio.



  1. thanks for all your help and helpful tips. i have completed two paintings with your help. its a vast improvement compared to my previouse paintings. thanks

    luis garcia
    mission, tx

  2. And thank you for the feedback, Luis. It's always nice to know that my tips are resulting in positive outcome and growth for you as an artist. If you ever run into a problem with a painting, I welcome you to send me an email with an image of your painting, and I'll be glad to offer some advice. Some of my former students do it all the time. But continue to read the blog, and hopefully, you can get more advice that will help you.

  3. thats alot of tape. I have been just taping the corners. What does that much tape do for you?

    David McMullen

  4. I am so glad to see how you prepared your board for your painting, Mark. Is your board preparation primarily for a dryer painting process? My medium is pastel over watercolor on watercolor paper and I work pretty large (24 x 30ish"). I have always wet my paper (with a garden hose), stapled it to a sheet of plywood, let it dry then used masking tape around the borders. And yes, it behaves just like you said. Your process sounds great but I'm not sure it would hold the large sheet as it stretches and shrinks. Does it? Maybe I should just use the draftng tape instead of masking tape and continue to staple. What does your experience say? I would love to improve on the process I am currently using.