Naively, I originally thought that all I’d need to do to frame a watercolour is go to the art store to buy a frame, get some glass (if the frame didn’t come with one) and then put a board on the back and voilà!
As I’ve learned, there’s a bit more to it than that. Here are all of the various components to framing a watercolour:
FrameA quality frame will enhance your painting. Normally, bulky frames do not enhance the look of watercolour paintings. Metallic frames or wood frames suit watercolours.
Glass or plexi glass (acrylic)
To protect the painting you can use glass or plexi glass/acrylic. Although the plexi glass is much harder to break than glass, it scratches more easily. Non-reflective glass makes a big difference to watercolours, but they are a bit more expensive.
In addition to provide a nice inner frame, the mat allows air to circulate around the painting. Preferably, acid-free or PH neutral mats (as any material in contact with the painting) should be used to prevent oxidation and aging.
Traditionally, white mats are used for watercolours. The width of the mat should correspond to the size of your painting. The bigger the painting the wider the mat should be. However, mats should not exceed 6", even for a very large painting.
In addition, two mats are usually recommended with the second one showing only a small portion (1/8 to ¼ in.) of the first mat.
If you opt not to use a mat, then you need to put a spacer between the glass and the painting so they don't touch.
I have a number of nice frames that come with a wooden "mat". I like their look and hence often use them for my paintings.
Backing (or mounting)
The backing will protect your painting from the back as the glass will protect it from the front. Most use quality, acid-free foamboard backing in either 1/8" or 3/16" thickness, whichever is best for the particular framing job. The watercolour painting should be fixed on the acid free foam core with acid free tape, not on the back of the mat . Do not put tape all around the work.
When the mounting is completed, the mat boards are adjusted over it. A frame is fixed around it, usually with framer’s nails.
Some people like to add a protection paper on the wooden parts on the back of a wooden frame. This protection paper doesn’t need to be acid free because it doesn’t touch the work. Wrapping paper or brown paper will do, but the paper must be thick enough to protect the frame from dirt, humidity and unwanted visitors like insects. For more durable protection and nice finishing, a gummed brown tape can be glued over the brown paper’s edges.
Of course, if you're like me and often change the paintings in your frames around the house, you won't be using any protection paper.
Metallic fixtures (triangular or D-ring type ) are screwed into the wood approx. 3 or 4 inches from the top. They hold metallic or plastic covered metallic wire to hang the frame on the wall. The wire should not be too tight. On the wall, for a larger frame, two nails will be more secure, a 3 or 4 inches distance between the nails is suggested.
As for all kinds of artworks, choose a wall that is not exposed to bright sunlight for many hours during the day.
Having said all of that, I’m currently experimenting with mounting watercolours on claybords. I’ve tried it three different ways so far, and my preference is to paint the sides with liquid acrylic black paint and gluing the painting to the top only. If you want to know more about this experience, write me.
Claybords appeal to a different audience which seek something a bit more “modern” for their homes.
Here is a tree peony painted by Marney Ward