How to Frame a Watercolor Painting

A Guide to Conservation Framing

How to Frame a Watercolor Painting - a guide to conservation framing | www.LydiaMakepeace.com

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.

Illustration by Jacqueline Mahannah via Reframing Photography

Illustration by Jacqueline Mahannah via Reframing Photography

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

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

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