how to flatten a watercolor painting

Flattening a watercolor painting is a crucial step to ensure that it remains flat and free from wrinkles or warping. Watercolor paper tends to buckle and warp when it absorbs moisture from the paint, and flattening it can help restore its original, flat appearance. Here’s how to flatten a watercolor painting:

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Watercolor painting
  • Clean, flat, and smooth surface (e.g., a clean table, countertop, or drawing board)
  • Two clean, lint-free cloths or paper towels
  • A plastic sheet or a plastic wrap (optional)
  • Heavyweight books or weights
  • Water spray bottle (if needed)


  1. Clean and Prepare Your Workspace:
    • Ensure that your workspace is clean and free from dust and debris. Lay down a clean, smooth surface, such as a table or countertop.
  2. Assess the Painting:
    • Examine your watercolor painting to identify any areas with significant buckling or warping. Note if there are any paint layers that may still be wet.
  3. Moisten the Back of the Painting (if needed):
    • If your watercolor painting is completely dry and still warped, you can try lightly misting the back of the painting with water from a spray bottle. Be very cautious and use a fine mist to avoid over-saturating the paper. This will cause the paper to expand.
  4. Place the Painting Face Down:
    • Lay the watercolor painting face down on your clean, smooth surface. If you are concerned about the painting coming into contact with your work surface, you can place a plastic sheet or plastic wrap over the surface before laying down the painting.
  5. Dampen the Back of the Painting (if needed):
    • If you lightly misted the back of the painting in step 3, allow it to sit for a minute or two to absorb the moisture and expand. This helps relax the paper fibers.
  6. Cover with a Cloth:
    • Place a clean, damp lint-free cloth or paper towel on top of the back of the painting. Ensure that the cloth is evenly distributed to cover the entire painting.
  7. Apply Weight:
    • Gently place heavyweight books or other flat, heavy objects on top of the damp cloth, distributing the weight evenly. The weight should press the painting flat and allow the paper to dry in this flattened state.
  8. Let It Sit and Dry:
    • Leave the painting to sit undisturbed for at least several hours to overnight. The drying time can vary depending on the humidity and the degree of warping. Check the painting periodically to see if it has flattened. If it hasn’t fully flattened after the first attempt, you may need to repeat the process.
  9. Inspect and Adjust (if necessary):
    • After the painting has dried and flattened, carefully remove the weights and cloth. Inspect the painting to ensure that it is flat and free from wrinkles or warping. If there are still minor imperfections, you can repeat the process as needed.
  10. Matting and Framing (if desired):
    • Once your watercolor painting is completely flat and dry, you can mat and frame it to protect and display your artwork.

Remember that the moisture used in this process can affect the pigments in your watercolor painting, so it’s essential to handle the artwork with care and use only a light mist of water if necessary. If you are unsure about flattening your watercolor painting or if it is a valuable or irreplaceable piece, consider consulting a professional framer or conservator for assistance.

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