How to: frame a watercolour painting correctly

Written by chris pink on June 13, 2014 in Picture Framing

Watercolour painting tips onlineIf there’s one thing most picture framing outlets do a lot of, it’s framing watercolours. While those painting with oils are afforded more options, including painting straight onto a standalone canvas, anyone working with watercolours will have to get used to having them framed and safely kept behind glass.

 Basics: why it’s essential to frame your watercolour

In theory, you could put your watercolour in a clip-frame. Then again, in theory, you could also drive your hatchback through a deep stream. Much like this mistake that has a tendency of ending up on YouTube, framing watercolours in any way other than behind glass is a bad decision. Watercolour paper, even when thick and strong, is a sensitive thing which needs to be treated properly. Spill tea on an oil and it’ll require a simple wipe-down. Spill tea on your watercolour and you can kiss goodbye to all that work…and, most likely, the motivation to create any more. (At least for a while!)

So, quite simply, putting a watercolour behind glass keeps it safe from any accidents, ensures that it doesn’t attract moisture, and maintains the integrity of the paint. All good things which allow your watercolour to live on for years without incurring needless damage.

 Presenting the watercolour inside its frame

When it comes to mounting options, there are plenty. It’s not essential to mount a watercolour, we should add, but it is desirable: you don’t want to have your watercolour contacting the inside of the glass, and a good way to do this is to mount it, creating a void. Without mounting a watercolour, framing would be significantly more difficult – and glass, or acrylic, is a difficult thing to do without.

In addition, mounts provide far more than just a practical way to frame your water-based pieces. Mount board (or matting) has long been a staple of picture framing, simply because it enhances the look and feel of the painting, and provides a pleasing contrast between the painting and the frame that adorns it.

 Choosing the right kind of mount board

In past blogs, we’ve focused extensively on how to use mount board. See here and here for two such examples. So, in brief, it comes down to what kind of effect you are looking to achieve. Have a beach scene with a bold sunset in the background? If so, white or cream is a sound favourite with most artists. Failing that, any other colour can be used, and the best results are usually had by choosing one that matches the main theme of the painting (for example, if you were framing a watercolour of a Spanish dance festival where orange, red and yellow were obvious highlights, you’d want to go with one of these).

As for the width of the mount, that’s something else we’ve covered in detail. As a quick tip, though, it’s fair to say that most people favour a wider mount with a narrower frame, or a narrower mount with a much wider frame.

As you can see, mounting watercolours is incredibly subjective.

Selecting the appropriate frame

If we said that mounting is subjective, then know this: framing watercolours is even more open to debate! As a general rule, wooden frames are a firm favourite. Then again, gold modern frames and black frames are a winner for others. It all comes down to what you’re framing and a number of other variables. For example, if you were framing a beach scene that featured wood on a camp-fire, or a close-up detailed depiction of an article on the sand, you could use rough-looking driftwood, which would work wonderfully.

What has always been true is that wide, flat, wooden frames work wonders where watercolours are concerned. The grain tends to lend a certain something to the finished piece, and that’s hardly surprising when you consider that the grain of some kinds of paper offers watercolours a very specific texture.

Other considerations…

One: double mounting can work well.

Two: non-reflective glass can be a worthwhile addition, as it removes a lot of the glare the sun produces.

Three: limed wooden frames and pale mounts can work well together. However, be wary of using this technique for paintings which comprise mainly of pastel colours. You don’t want your painting to disappear from view!

Four: another mention about the sun…put a watercolour in a place where it gets a lot of sun and you will regret it. Sun tends to rapidly alter/destroy the pigment. Your best alternative is to use special UV sensitive glass. Your cheaper solution? Find another wall!

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