There is also fashion in terms of framing. Boxes, tall frames with free-hanging artwork were popular in the 90s. During the 1940s and 1950s, wide neutral frames with linen fabric were used. Nowadays, the trend seems to be several mats in different colors in far too large and artistic frames.

As I see it, a frame, in addition to protecting the artwork, should be as discreet as possible. At the frame maker, I have heard things like: This green frame highlights the green in the painting, or: A red mat does the trick together with the red in the painting.

Reasoning in this way, that the painting and the frame constitute an artistic entity, and thereby extending the painting to the surrounding framing, as if the frame and mat are part of the artwork, does more harm than good.

The mat

A passepartout must be white, nothing else will do. Not blue or black and certainly not two in different colors. The size of the passepartout should be as discreet as possible. I don’t like large mats unless the painting is tiny. Really small paintings do well in a large passepartout. So actually I don’t agree with Renoir who is said to have said: mats should be as large as possible because people have such ugly wallpaper.

Ugly framing
Nice framing

One of the functions of passepartout is to create distance between the watercolor, or other paper art, and the glass. A watercolor that lies close to the glass will age faster, and for, for example photographs, there is a risk that the image will stick to the glass.

There is a risk of changing temperature creating condensation behind the glass, and water on a watercolor painting is not a good idea. It has happened to me at exhibitions in slightly colder rooms that the paintings later get wet on the inside. Lucky that I had passepartout on them. For several reasons, framing paper art without mats is not recommended.

Picture frames

As I see it, there are really only a few possible picture frames to choose from: Gold, silver, white, gray or black. Natural wood is also good, it doesn’t matter if it is pine, teak or other wood. I can also imagine combinations of, for example, black and gold and the like. But I opt out of colorful, red, green and multicolored frames.

I also opt out of all ornamented and decorated frames. I think smooth frames are the best. Wide or narrow frames are less important, some paintings want a narrow frame, others fit better in a wide one. Large paintings must have a wide frame for durability, while small paintings can have narrow ones, but sometimes look good in a wide one.

Another ugly framing
White frame also works well

Frameless framing, glass mounted to a backing using clamps without an enclosing frame is a very bad idea for watercolors.

The glass

I once spoke to the owner of a high fidelity store. He had recently had a client who was the first violinist in the city’s symphony orchestra. The disappointment that the violinist could hear no difference between cheap speakers, and the best ones, was obvious. I don’t think it’s that strange, she was listening to music while the seller was listening to the sound.

The same thing with the glass in front of a painting, the frame maker wants to sell nice UV safe non-reflective glass to his customers, it is very expensive and certainly good in many ways. But for my part, a little reflection in the glass doesn’t bother me, as an art lover you see the art, not reflections. As a frame maker, you see reflections that hide the art. The UV protection is less interesting with modern durable paints. Ordinary glass will do.

Frame sealing

To prevent dust and dirt from getting into the painting, the frame is sealed with gummed paper tape. All ready-made frames you can buy lack this seal. Some, even frame shops, use ordinary masking tape or the like. Such tape does not last many years, there is only one durable way to seal a frame: gummed paper tape or frame sealing tape.

The paper tape you use for this should be acid-free, but by all means, for just the seal on the back, brown tape that is not acid-free will do. But don’t use it for mounting the watercolor on Passepartouts or backings, it must be acid-free paper tape.

Picture wire 

There is only one material for the hanging on the back: metal wire, steel, copper or bronze. I have seen people use way too thick hemp rope, thin nylon fishing line, many turns of regular sewing thread. Necessity is the mother of invention, it is far too difficult to buy a small roll of thin steel wire. Wonder how many glasses are broken daily by fallen picture frames.

The back piece

It is not completely uninteresting what is behind the watercolor. I have noticed that many people use plain white cardboard which is not acid free. That presents a problem. In about ten years it will not only have yellowed, it will stain the watercolor with its wood acid and later give rise to brown spots.

It is fine to use passepartout cardboard as the backing, but it is quite expensive. Fluted Backing Board is a good backing that looks like thinner corrugated board but is acid free. You can also imagine a thinner acid-free middle paper in front of a non-acid-free backing. But the best is completely acid-free framing, both for the passepartout and backing and for the mounting of the watercolor itself and the sealing on the back.

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7 months ago

frames are furniture not “art” but every now and then a thin colored inner mat can be a good accent.

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