a monotype with pastel showing an interior art deco bathroom with a bright, open window and a bouquet of flowers on the sill

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Tearing Full Sheets of Fine Art Paper to Smaller Sizes

When I started my creative adventures, I was baffled by the assortment of papers available for watercolor painting and printmaking. Many of the recommended fine art papers were only available in full sheets, and I liked to practice by working small.

Tearing down full sheets of paper to smaller sizes gave me pause because it required math, and I’m about six years old with numbers. Also, paper is expensive, so mistakes and/or waste while reducing the sheets would be costly.

Over the years, to avoid the math of dividing fine art paper into smaller sheets to produce maximum yield, with minimal waste, I scribbled a series of yield templates (see below).

Depending on the project I was jumping into, I could look through my yield templates for appropriate sizes to meet my watercolor painting plans, or match the size of the block or plate I’d be using to print an edition.

Templates to tear down a 30x22 inch sheet of fine art paper to various smaller sizes
I’ve got four templates on two downloadable sheets for you below.
Tearing paper down to match printmaking blocks and plates is part of the prep-work to print an edition
Tearing paper against a cork-backed stainless ruler (like this one)
Mokulito prints hanging in the art studio to dry
Measured margins as pre-motor-planning: 1 inch of space around each mokulito print on paper – all torn to size in advance of printing the edition
Once your smaller sheets have been separated from the full sheet mother-ship, you don’t have the benefit of the watermark to tell you which paper you’re using. Label the front (or the back) of your paper with the brand and weight in light pencil. You can erase the pencil later if needed.

Label Your Paper

After tearing down full sheets of watercolor, printmaking and drawing paper, it’s impossible to tell them apart. Without the benefit of the watermark, you can’t tell which brand of paper you’re holding. Plus, the watermark tells you which side is the front versus the back.

I decided early in my art-making adventures that I’d *always* label my smaller sheets of paper with the brand and weight, on the front of the sheet in pencil. I could always erase it if I needed the edge of the paper to be visible in the final art.

Oftentimes, the front and back of fine art paper aren’t discernible, but in a few papers, they are quite different, and I wanted to keep that detail straight.

I use light pencil to mark the front of the paper with the brand and weight, even if the paper is tiny. This helps me avoid making a teeny watercolor on drawing paper that has no sizing, or attempting to print with Akua ink on watercolor paper that has a lot of sizing, which will prohibit absorption, and thereby drying time.

A stack of freshly torn sheets of Arches Cover fine art paper ready to be labeled with pencil so I won’t forget which paper it is.

Paper Yield Templates for You

I’ve prepared four of my art paper yield templates for you to download. There are two per sheet, so you can print them on standard copy paper as a reference.

Feel free to use these four downloadable paper yield diagrams to inspire making new configurations for yourself – especially if the standard size of fine art paper in your area varies from what we get here in the US.

Having these measurement maps to tear paper down saves time and number crunching in the studio. And we all agree that any pre-motor planning that gets our hands on art supplies sooner is a very good thing, right?

A sanded and prepared sheet of battleship gray linoleum, ready for a design and carving, on a stack of torn-to-size printmaking paper waiting to be editioned.
A sanded and prepared sheet of battleship gray linoleum, ready for a design and carving, on a stack of torn-to-size printmaking paper waiting to be editioned.
A series of watercolors painted on a set of same size watercolor paper sheets torn down from a full sheet

A 1 inch margin is my usual preference, but printmaking artists select both narrower, and much wider margins, based on tastes. You get to choose.

Tearing Fine Art Paper Down to Smaller Sizes

I made a quick video to show how I tear fine art paper down (below). When I started buying full sheets of printmaking and watercolor paper, I ruined plenty of pieces by tearing crooked lines, losing my grip on the ruler, or pulling in the wrong direction.

Now, I only use a stainless steel ruler with a cork-backing, which helps keep the paper snug against the table without sliding, and the steel edge makes a nice clean tear.

I also make sure to adjust my hand positions as I’m tearing, over and over, so both of my hands are moving down to either side of the point of separation while I’m tearing. You’ll see a demo of that in the video. I hope you find it helpful.

Paper torn down to accommodate a 2 inch margin around the plates (linocut and drypoint combined) featuring my studio assistant Scout and a bouquet of Tulips. You can see more of this combined printmaking process here.
Some papers cannot be torn – like this Yupo paper – so you can use a good knife or blade with your trusty cork-backed stainless ruler to cut your sheets down
a framed collagraph print with watercolor, showing a moroccan arcade
Framing hand-pulled printmaking usually exposes the margin to feature the plate impression and the title, edition number and artist signature.
a monotype with pastel showing an interior art deco bathroom with a bright, open window and a bouquet of flowers on the sill
Keyhole to Spring, 20 x 18 monotype with pastel on paper – and you can see the margin all the way around the print (This piece is available framed in my Etsy Shop)
Here is a demonstration on the way I tear down fine art papers to smaller sizes.

Every Little Thing Helps

Making room for frequent creative time can be a challenge because life gets in the way. When we finally do have time, we get in our own way with negative self talk, fear and lack of experience and mastery over the tools we need to get the job done.

The map to making more art is littered with friction, so every little tip to clear the path helps. If there are other challenges stopping you from making art more often, leave them in the comments, and we’ll all tackle them as a community. You’ve got this.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the studio,

Belinda

P.S. This cool video shows how paper is made.

Art Quote

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

Ernest Hemingway

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12 thoughts on “Tearing Full Sheets of Fine Art Paper to Smaller Sizes”

  1. Mickey Nolan

    Belinda, thanks for sharing your yield charts when tearing paper. There are times when you can’t help but have a few odd pieces left over. When that happens, I save them with the newly torn sheets and use them for testing the colors when working on a painting. I always love seeing what you are working on and am always inspired. Thank you!

    1. Hi Mickey, I agree with your usage of those few odd pieces of leftover fine art paper – they make great test swatches! I recently gave a stack of them to my grand daughters so they can try dabbling with good quality paper.
      Great fun, no waste! Thanks for your note, and I wish you many happy painting hours!

  2. Anne Maxwell-Jackson

    Thanks so much, Belinda, for another helpful, friendly newsletter. I love the examples of your beautiful artwork, which are very inspiring.

  3. I learned to tear paper in my first bookbinding class. I invested in 2 very nice, sturdy T-Squares 36″ and 48″. The T’s butt up against the flat edge of the table and the paper edge can then line up on the T edge. I find I have much more control, especially with the mother sheet. I pull at an angle to the straight edge as well.
    There’s something very calming about this process and having the hand torn edges on my work, both prints and book pages.
    Thank you for all your helpful information always.

    1. Hi Dana, Thanks for this… I almost forgot about T Squares… I have a big one somewhere, but mine is made from clear acrylic and it’s super slippery on a table. Does yours have non skid cork or rubber on the back? And I wholeheartedly agree – the process of tearing paper is an excellent meditation before beginning a project. I often take notes on my plan as I marinate on the process while tearing the paper for it. 🙂

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