Framing a Watercolor Painting

Learn How to Frame a Watercolor Painting 

Watercolor Painting of cows in a meadow

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.

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.

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.


You have at least three choices.

  1. Complete job by a professional frame shop.
  2. Buy equipment and all materials and build everything.
  3. 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 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.

You have just finished!