Framing a Watercolor Painting
Learn How to Frame a Watercolor Painting
It does not matter if the children gave the painting to you or if you painted it or purchased it.
It is important to know how to frame a watercolor painting properly. Whether the value of your painting is monetary or sentimental, be sure to protect and preserve it properly.
The biggest mistake made in purchasing an original work of art is not speaking to the artist or not asking the seller some very important questions. So what questions should I ask Jim? Here’s what you need to know. Type of paper used in the painting and the quality of the paint used in the painting.
Let’s suppose it had been painted on low-quality paper, wood pulp for example (don’t think my dear reader that this does not happen). It will just yellow like old newspaper does with age.
If you don’t know the quality of the paint used, fading of the paint could be a problem. Excellent color like genuine Vermilion could turn black if exposed to smoky atmospheres. Chrome yellows and reds can change to dull ochres and browns.
You need to know how to frame a watercolor painting and also how to mount a watercolor paintings.
Protect your work with a frame, mat and glass. Show your art in the best manner.
Trust me. I have seen this countless times, viewers will walk by a wonderful piece of art that’s ruined by the frame. Rule of thumb; if the frame “fits” the work, the frame becomes invisible.
Strive to match a picture with a frame that’s from the same period. This is what curators and collectors call a genuine picture in a genuine frame. Example a severe modernist work should not show up a Louix IV frame. Conversely, it is also true a frothy 18th-century work will look odd in an austere frame. Imagine a Jackson Pollock in an elaborate frame. Just use common sense.
There will be times when a reproduction of a historical frame can enhance a contemporary work.
OVER-FRAMING Some art galleries will over-frame. You have seen it; a giant gilded frame around a small painting. The thinking is the bigger the overall size, the bigger the selling price. Artists, however, should resist that commercial pressure, so beware of over-framing.
The frame should not compete with the work. You want the frame to make a statement, but you want the viewer’s eye to go into the painting, not the frame.
Frame to the work, and not the setting. Meaning forget about the color of the sofa and the way the other works already on the wall are framed. Fit the frame to the work.
MATS Best tip is to keep the mat as neutral as possible. No bright white or colored mats. Try off white, light tinted mats, do not use too many layers of mats, a classy simple framing job is best, and since you don’t know who is going to buy the work or where it will be hung, play it safe.
Mats must be acid-free. Yes I know the other mats are cheaper, but don’t be tempted. Everything must be archival, the mat, glass, adhesive tape, and backing (no cardboard). A good framing job is a must. People who buy art are savvy. They can tell a slipshod framing job, plus it reflects on the Artist. It’s all about you creating an image in the public’s eye.
Try getting the mat cut a little wider at the bottom, compared to the sides and top. It will look a lot better. Don’t choose or cut a mat that’s equal on all four sides. Same size top and sides OK, increase the size of the bottom.
Should you stay with today’s fashion, what’s in vogue, or stick with what has been timeless. This I know, trends come and go. Today’s vogue you have opulent wood frames, carved, inlaid, gilded, etc.
Colors up and down, a few years ago gold, then silver, then warm silver. This year bronze, coppery tones in classical shapes and designs are in.
But what seems to stay strong are simple classics that highlight and turn the eye into the painting. Nothing heavily carved, nothing too modern. A wide panel frame which is flat and smooth with grooves but no fancy carving looks great in contemporary and traditional spaces.
HOW TO FRAME
You have at least three choices.
- Complete job by a professional frame shop.
- Buy equipment and all materials and build everything.
- Buy frame from a catalog, hobby craft store, and then finish the framing.
No discussion is needed here if you go for choice number one.
Choice 2 or 3. My opinion, buy a ready made frame, the rest is fairly easy, but cutting angles and making a frame is NOT.
GLASS OR PLASTIC Glass can be partially non-reflective or just plain. Some exhibits or shows require plastic, as no glass is allowed.
Glass or plastic must not touch the painting, it must be raised-off by a mat or a lining of plastic “spacers” – shadowboxing, stacking two moldings with the glass in between and various other methods.
If the paper (or other media) were to touch the glass directly, any condensation inside the glass would be absorbed directly into the art, having no room to evaporate. This is harmful.
Mat Boards normally come in 40-inch by 30-inch sheets (you must have a mat cutter).
Again, you can buy ready made mats, glass or plastic all cut to fit your standard size frame. Some of the standard sizes of frames, mat and glass are: 8- by 10-inch, 9- by 12-inch, 11- by 14-inch, 16- by 20-inch, 18- by 24-inch, and 20- by 24-inch frames.
So you have purchased the frame – Now What?
Clean the glass; watch you don’t leave fingerprints.
Pre-cut the mat next since they are typically thin (about 1/16 inch); they can be cut to stack inside the frame allowing for double, triple or quadruple matting. They can be all colors of the rainbow.
The surface could be plain paper, linen, silk, even leather, and rice paper, which can be textured and patterned.
Most mats are only available with a white core (the tiny part that shows when a bevelled opening is cut). But a handful of mats does come with a black core, green, red and yellow.
A common form of decoration on non-cloth mats is the “French Line” or “French Panel”. These are lines drawn in ink or paint forming a rectangle around the opening. They could have several lines.
It is best to buy acid-free mats. An acidic mat will fade and leak into the artwork, causing “mat burn” – light brown marks.
If you have mats on existing artwork, look carefully at the white core if it has turned brownish or yellowed it is acidic. Replace it before it damages the work.
So you have the mat, now attach the picture with non-acid tape to the mat. Place it on the glass.
Next, comes the foam board. Hold it in place with the framing points (looks like small metal arrows).
Turn it over; look at the artwork before inserting point in the frame and across the top of the foam board (no cardboard backing).
Paper back attached to the back of frame covering top to bottom, side to side (called dust cover).
Drive in fasteners into the back of the frame, about one-third (1/3) down from the top. String wire between fasteners.
A Guide to Conservation Framing
So you’ve purchased a beautiful watercolor painting (hopefully one of mine), and now you’re asking – “What the heck do I do with it?!” It’s time to learn about custom conservation framing. With this guide you’ll learn how to pick the perfect frame and preserve your artwork for years to come.
My qualifications –
My journey with custom framing began in Grand Junction, Colorado at the Frame Depot. (If you’re in the area head over immediately and skip this guide; they’re THE BEST.) I had just graduated from college with a degree in graphic design and found myself in a catch 22, nobody would hire me without experience but I couldn’t get experience because nobody would hire me. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My true love has always been, and will always be, painting. And because of the experience I gained while working at the Frame Depot I have an inside knowledge about how to add that all important finishing touch to original artwork.
What is conservation framing and why is it important?
Conservation framing refers to the techniques and materials used to protect and preserve artwork in an archival manner. If you want your artwork to stand the test of time this is the method for you.
The diagram below depicts what’s called a frame package – all the materials used to frame artwork.
What kinds of archival materials and techniques are used?
Archival materials include acid free mats, mounting boards, and frame backs. Watercolor paintings are light sensitive so UV glass is used to protect them from fading. (It’s also recommended that you hang artwork away from direct sunlight.)
A technique called conservation mounting (or reversible framing) is used, meaning that the artwork must be mounted in such a way that it can be removed from the frame package without any damage to the painting. The most common conservation mount is called a T-hinge.
Framing tip – Ask your framer if they use archival materials and how they will mount the artwork. Make sure to request that they use UV or museum glass.
If you can afford it, museum glass is the way to go. It cuts down on glare and you can hardly tell it’s there! Image via C4 Contemporary Art
How do I pick a mat and frame?
There are no fixed rules for selecting the perfect mat and frame, but I’ll highlight some general guidelines to get you started down the right path.
Frame for the artwork. Instead of trying to match your existing decor, choose a mat and frame that best complement the artwork. Your decor may change but if you frame for the painting it will look beautiful no matter its environment.
Don’t skimp on mat width. A mat serves two purposes; it keeps the artwork from touching the glass and creates a visual space between the artwork and frame. (The mat is the quiet that allows the artwork to sing!) A standard mat width is 2 1/2” to 3” although larger artwork will require something more substantial. Be sure to vary the width of the mat and frame as similar widths can appear visually stagnant.
When in doubt, keep it simple. Highly detailed or busy artwork will look its best when not competing with a fussy frame. Remember, the mat and frame should draw your eye to the artwork, not attract attention to themselves.
For more matting ideas and advice check out this super helpful article with lots of pretty pictures – The Right Mat for Your Artwork
One of my favorite ways to frame a watercolor painting is with a float mount. It beautifully displays the decorative deckled edge of watercolor paper.
Float mounted artwork via Fareham Picture Framing
Why is custom framing soooo expensive?! Is it really worth it?
A lot of materials go into framing artwork, not to mention the time and care that are required to assemble it all. Custom framing is an art in and of itself. When done correctly it will enhance and protect your treasured artwork for years to come.
I strongly recommend your local frame shop as I can’t tell you how many times I reframed art that was shoddily assembled, with inferior materials by a big box store. Plus, it’s awesome to support local businesses!
Framing tip – On a tight budget? Purchase a ready-made frame in a standard size and have your local framer cut a custom mat to fit the artwork.
For more framing tips and ideas visit this Pinterest board – Frame It
Let me just say, I am completely in love with my DIY paw print wall art. It is without a doubt one of my favorite handmade home decor pieces of all time. It’s the most personal memento I have of my fur babies. But after I made it, I didn’t hang it up on the wall. Something was still missing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was one project I wasn’t quite finished DIYing.
Then I realized that the white frame with the (almost) white paper and the black print was a little too colorless for me. It looked wonderful and classy, but if you know me, you know that I need some color in my life! I really didn’t want to change the frame color, so I decided to add some color by sprucing up the frame mats!
I was able to create a beautiful watercolor picture frame mat using acrylic paint. The possibilities of crafting with acrylic paint are really endless! I think it turned out wonderfully and adds the perfect touch of color to my paw print wall art. What do you think?
If there’s a piece of artwork in your home that you want to add a bit of color and personality to, I highly suggest making your own watercolor picture frame mat! It is super easy and literally takes less than 5 minutes to create a gorgeous, custom look for your picture frame mats.
Materials Needed to Create a Watercolor Picture Frame Mat
- Water-based paint
- Paint brush
- 1 TBSP water in a small cup
- Frame mat
Steps to Create a Watercolor Picture Frame Mat
1. Mix a little bit of your water-based paint into the water. Do this slowly a little at a time until you have the desired color you want. More paint will make the color darker and less transparent and vice versa. I used 1 TBSP of water and a few drops of paint to get the color for my photo frame mats. (I used a ramekin to mix my paint… nothing is off limits when it comes to crafting in this household!) I recommend experimenting with the color on a scrap piece of paper beforehand so you can make sure the color looks right before you begin painting your photo frame mats.
2. Dip your paint brush into the paint mixture and blot off the extra water on the side of the cup. Then gently draw the brush across the frame mat for a neat watercolor effect. Every so often stop to reapply the paint until you get the desired coverage on your frame mat. If you want to create patterns, you can paint diagonally back and forth or swirl the brush around on the frame mat in different directions. Another neat technique is to create an ombre effect by starting out with light colors and then eventually mixing in more paint for darker colors.
3. When you’re finished painting your photo frame mat, let it dry and then display it in your photo frame for everyone to see!
I just love love love the way these turned out. I am thoroughly obsessed with the color, and they add such a wonderful dimension to my paw print wall art. It was definitely the perfect finishing touch to this project. Now that I am completely satisfied that this project is finished, the only question I have left to answer is where I’ll hang them up!
Do you have a picture frame in your home that is in need of a little pop of color or some personalization? I hope you’ll consider watercolor painting the frame mat. It’s amazing what a big difference a small amount of paint can make! And this seriously takes less than 5 minutes. You could do it during a commercial break of your favorite show. So you really don’t have any excuses not to give it a try! 😉
Will you be giving any of your frame mats a watercolor makeover? Shout out about it in the comments! If you’d like to make your own paw print art, you can find the tutorial for it right here. And if you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my newsletter. Sign up below for weekly craft, DIY, and home projects and tips!
In this tutorial I will show you how to mount, seal and varnish your watercolour paintings.
This is an entirely new way to protect and display your watercolour paintings which is very exciting for such a classic and traditional medium.
Are you ready to take the plunge? Let’s do it!
Why do we need to protect a watercolour painting?
1. As the painting is water based it is easily damaged by water or a liquid spill.
2. Damp air will be absorbed into the watercolour paper attracting mould.
3. Oxygen in the air and will deteriorate the paper and cause it to become brittle.
Until recently, watercolour paintings have been framed behind glass for protection.
Disadvantages of framing behind glass
1. It must be framed with a mat board between it and the glass surface to prevent condensation and moisture build up inside the frame. This add an extra cost to the framing process.
2. Framing behind glass is expensive.
3. Glass is smooth which causes reflections when trying to view the artwork.
4. A glass frame is heavy so often needs extra caution when hanging to ensure the artwork doesn’t fall off the wall.
4. The potential of breakage during transport between galleries and exhibitions is much higher with glass framed paintings
5. The cost of packaging and posting to clients and galleries is much higher.
Then there is the potential damage by framers who are ignorant and/or careless about watercolours and the handling thereof. Even the most careful framer can spill coffee over your painting by accident while working.
Would it not be better to be able to frame and/or suitably protect your watercolours yourself, knowing that no one else will damage your precious paintings?
I have good news for you. There is a way to protect and seal your watercolour paintings.
This method makes your watercolour paintings waterproof which allows you to even frame them glassless if you want.
Recently I spoke to an art supplier in my city and told her about it. She was very sceptical and said she would be afraid to damage the surface of her watercolour paintings. (She is also an art teacher.)
A few days later I took her the finished article of the project while she had a class on the go. I poured water on my painting and rubbed my finger over it with no damage to the painting, she also tried it and was speechless.
A watercolor is unique in that it has a special blend of beauty and charm that is not achieved on any other art work. Watercolor paintings are delicate and are easily damaged, buckled and discolored, and can even crumple if not cared for properly.
Watercolors attract art lovers for their beautiful soft hues, subtle blending effects, varying degrees of transparency and even application. Watercolor-inspired home décor continues to trend this season too, and this is quite the apt time to bring a lovely watercolor painting home.
The color pigments used in watercolors are finely ground and combined with a water-soluble binder like gum Arabic. Artists mix the colors with water and paint them over absorbent surfaces like textured paper. When the water evaporates the color pigments stay on the surface bound by the gum Arabic.
If you have brought a lovely painting home and are wondering how you should take care of it, here are a few helpful tips for you.
1. Watercolors Need to Be Framed
Watercolors are best off when you frame them under glass, and there are compelling reasons to do so.
Watercolors are usually done on paper which will deteriorate very fast if left in the open. Also, the paper is never given a water-resistant coating prior to being painted upon because it will make application of colors difficult. Most artists refrain from applying any protective varnish over their completed work which makes the paintings quite vulnerable to environment damage.
Watercolors get reconstituted when they come into contact with moisture. Colors may shift, run or break, thereby ruining the painting. A glass front will protect the painting from dust and moisture damage.
You might not like the idea of putting your pretty watercolor behind glass but even dust has the potential to damage the painting permanently. The paper on which watercolors are done is a very delicate surface and will be easily damaged when you dust is. A glass protective panel will protect your art from dust and moisture as well as from insects, mold and mildew.
Ensure the glass your framer uses is glazed. UV-coated Plexiglass or Denglass is quite apt for the job.
There, now you see why framing a watercolor under glass is recommended by experts.
2. Archival Framing Techniques Are Essential
Archival framing assures the looks, life and quality of your art for decades to come. A well-preserved art work will outlast almost every other item you have used to spruce up your interiors including your favorite rug and sofa.
So what exactly is archival framing?
Archival framing involves using materials that do not affect the painting adversely in any manner. The mat, the backing and the hinges used for attaching the painting to the mat are all 100% acid-free.
The mat board should be made from cotton or linen rags. This is completely free of damaging acids and is considered to be of the highest quality.
Use of adhesives like glue is a complete no-no as far as quality framing is considered. Paper tapes or Japanese paper hinges are great for attaching the artwork to the mat board. They are of archival quality and do not leave any permanent effect on the painting.
Archival framing essentially is a fully reversible process and does not physically alter the original artwork in any way.
3, Quality of Frame Matters
When you go for archival framing, you cannot have too many options for the color. We often use colorful mats to help the art really pop but when it comes to archival framing the choice you have is a bit limited. Archival mats are usually used in neutral tones.
If you really want an ornamented art display you can consider going for customized and decorative frames. They will provide the right combination of glamour and functionality to your art work. Our Sydney custom picture framing services will meet all your framing needs.
If you are using a non-archival frame, you will have to line the insides of the frame where it touches the art with pH-neutral substance.
4. Hang the Painting Away from Light
Paintings in watercolor are particularly vulnerable to the effect of external factors like light and humidity.
Never hang your painting opposite a window or on a wall where it is exposed to full sunlight for most part of the day. This will cause colors to fade and the paper to become brittle.
The color pigments in watercolors are extremely sensitive and will quickly fade when exposed to the ultra-violet rays in sunlight. You will also be dismayed to see the paper drying out, turning brittle, bleaching out and taking on an ugly yellow hue.
Fluorescent light is also as bad as sunlight for watercolors, so you will have to keep your art work away from it as well. Your gallery expert will tell you that the UV concentration in fluorescent light is the same as in sunlight.
You should ideally hang the painting in a room with halogen or incandescent lighting. A low-emission ceiling spotlight is the best to highlight the painting.
5. Do Not Hang in Wrong Places
All places in your home are not suitable to hang art. Keep the watercolor away from heat, oils, odors and moisture in the kitchen. Also do not hang them near heaters or other heat-emitting appliances because that will damage the color pigments permanently.
The best tip from experts is to rotate the paintings periodically to protect them from over-exposure.
6. No Dramatic Changes in the Environment
Dramatic fluctuations in the environment can also damage the painting. You feel colder in museums and art galleries because their temperatures are set below 20 degree Celsius and the humidity is maintained between 50%-65%.
You need not fret too much unless you have a 100-year-old watercolor to preserve. The filtration system of your home HVAC will do the job quite well for other artworks.
Ensure there are no dramatic fluctuations in temperature or humidity levels in your home. This will be harmful to all your fine art possessions.
Watercolors are luminescent and add a soothing, and serene charm to your home. By keeping in mind the above points you can assure they remain beautiful, and preserve them for posterity.
Why watercolors need frames
While in some cases you can get away with not framing an oil or acrylic painting – for example a gallery-wrapped canvas where the edges have been painted – works on paper such as watercolors definitely need to be hung in a frame. This not only allows the art to be hung securely and to enhance its presentation, it also protects it from the elements. That’s where the mat and glass come in.
Hold the glass, please
As I wrote in my last post, I thought it would be great if we could frame watercolors without the need for a mat and glass, especially when shipping paintings long distance. Of course, this would require adding some sort of protective layer to the watercolor itself, to make it impervious to moisture.
First try: fixative
Some artists do this by spraying with a fixative or a clear protective sealer. My first attempt involved doing this, and as far as I can tell it works, but I quickly rejected this method anyway. This stuff smells like a chemical factory and the smell lingers a long time. You really shouldn’t do this indoors. But even when I took it out on my balcony to spray the second coat, the smell was overwhelming. This is not something I’d like to be doing on a regular basis, so I was back to square one.
Second try: wax
For my second experiment, I used Renaissance Micro-crystalline wax polish. This is a cold wax that was developed for conservation specialists at the British Museum. You simply apply the wax with a clean, cotton cloth. It smells like furniture polish, but I didn’t find the odor to be overwhelming (in fact, I rather liked it). It dries almost instantly and doesn’t change the appearance of the watercolor at all. There is no sheen and colors and textures remain exactly the same. Most importantly though, it does indeed protect the surface very well. You can sprinkle water on top and just wipe it off: there is no smudging or lifting of color. You can guess what I’ll be using from now on… If you’d like to try this for yourself, just google Renaissance Micro-crystalline wax polish for a supplier near you. I ordered mine from a sculpture supplies company.
Putting it together
Now that we have our painting protected, we can mount it on a panel (I use heavy acrylic gel medium), trim it, and mount it in a frame. Here I’ve used a natural birchwood float frame. Of course, it’s a different look from the traditional way of framing watercolors with a single or double mat, which can look quite sumptuous when well done, but I like this in all its simplicity. Bonus: it’s very sturdy, too!
Watercolor mounted on board, 20×20 cm, in natural birchwood float frame
Many pastel artists are abandoning traditional mat and frame presentations and replacing them instead with wide wood frames. This allows the pastel to look less like a print or poster, which commonly have a wide surrounding border. These works are attracting the attention of the canvas-buying public. Commonly, oil and acrylic paintings are displayed with a wider wood frame that may or may not have a small liner. A pastel presented in a similar fashion demands the same respect often afforded these canvas media. This is especially true when anti- or low-reflection glazing is utilized, like Tru Vue brand AR and Museum Glass. Many prominent galleries are encouraging this presentation and most national pastel exhibitions are seeing entries framed in this manner.
The traditional mat serves as more than a decorative border; it acts as a spacer, holding the delicate pastel surface away from the glass. When matting is eliminated, the framing options are to either sandwich the painting against the glass (an old French method) or to utilize a spacer. Most framing experts agree that it is best to keep the pastel surface away from the glass. For this reason, I use a spacer when framing mat-less. I have found an excellent assortment of spacers to be available from Art Spacers. They come in an array of sizes, have adhesive on one side, and are easy to cut to size. These manufactured spacers make it a breeze to have a pastel ready to hang in a matter of minutes. Cut the spacer to fit the sides of the glass, peal the tape back to expose the adhesive, and stick it to the outside of the glass. Once attached to the glass, simply place it on top of the painting with a non-acidic, PH-balanced backing behind the painting. For added stability, seal the glass to the backing. Use PH-neutral tape available from a framing supply. Attach the tape to the front edge of the glass and wrap it around the sides to adhere it to the backing. This seals the painting between the glass, spacer and backing, allowing for easy placement into a frame and easy removal if needed.
With today’s readily available selection of plein air (or impressionist) frames, selecting a style that compliments your painting has never been easier. Whether to use a mat or go mat-less is up to you, but it is nice to have the option.
I provide watercolor painting restoration, repair, and cleaning. If your watercolor painting received damage or if it is old and has become faded, torn, or chipped over time, I can restore your precious painting back to its original condition.
The acidity of the paper is known cause changes in the pigment of the watercolor painting and appearance of the piece. The pH of the paper not being neutralized can cause issues with the image over time.
If there is a harmful acidic mat, tape or backing to the piece, I will remove it and replace it with a material that will not cause damage to the artwork.
Excess moisture or chemicals are also causes of disturbance to the physical structure of the piece. A variety of reasons cause discoloration; including fading from light, “foxing,” which refers to reddish-brown stains, and iron marks. Special chemicals are used to remove stains on the painting.
Watercolor Repair, Conservation, Restoration & Cleaning
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Paper Restoration offers restoration services for damaged works on paper. Paper is naturally acidic, which is why older works, such as old newspaper, turn yellow or brown as they age. The paper’s pH must be neutralized in order to halt the toning, and keep the paper and pigments from deteriorating. The toning can also be cleaned out of the paper, yielding a newer looking piece.
There are a variety of problems that can originate from poor environmental conditions, framing, handling or mishaps. Damage such as stains, tears, mold/mildew, abrasions and creases can detract from both your enjoyment of the piece and its value.
In addition to making a piece look nicer, proper professional restoration and conservation can stabilize its value and in some cases, recover some value lost to damage.
The following is a list of issues common to works on paper that would require restoration and/or conservation treatment:
Acid Burn : Browning/yellowing of the paper which also makes paper brittle.
Mat Burn : Brown line of acid burn around image.
Foxing : Corroding particles in paper create unsightly brown spotting.
Acidic backing and/or matting : Can cause acid burn if not removed.
Tape and adhesive : Will stain the paper if not removed.
Poor frame conditions : Improperly framed pieces can deteriorate from exposure to acidic materials, touching the glass, insect droppings, mold spores and humidity.
Water Damage : Rippling, mold/mildew and staining can all occur from exposure to moisture.
Mold/Mildew : Can cause paper and pigment deterioration, textural damage, staining.
Insect Damage : Silverfish eat away paper and pigment. Droppings can deteriorate and stain paper.
Creasing : Handling cockles, deep folds, wrinkles, rippling.
Surface dirt : Dust, soot, fingerprints, hair, fur, insect droppings, etc.
Abrasions : Scuffs, shiny marks, scratches with pigment loss, textural damage.
Creasing : Handling cockles, deep folds, wrinkles, rippling.