Why watercolors need frames
While in some cases you can get away with not framing an oil or acrylic painting – for example a gallery-wrapped canvas where the edges have been painted – works on paper such as watercolors definitely need to be hung in a frame. This not only allows the art to be hung securely and to enhance its presentation, it also protects it from the elements. That’s where the mat and glass come in.
Hold the glass, please
As I wrote in my last post, I thought it would be great if we could frame watercolors without the need for a mat and glass, especially when shipping paintings long distance. Of course, this would require adding some sort of protective layer to the watercolor itself, to make it impervious to moisture.
First try: fixative
Some artists do this by spraying with a fixative or a clear protective sealer. My first attempt involved doing this, and as far as I can tell it works, but I quickly rejected this method anyway. This stuff smells like a chemical factory and the smell lingers a long time. You really shouldn’t do this indoors. But even when I took it out on my balcony to spray the second coat, the smell was overwhelming. This is not something I’d like to be doing on a regular basis, so I was back to square one.
Second try: wax
For my second experiment, I used Renaissance Micro-crystalline wax polish. This is a cold wax that was developed for conservation specialists at the British Museum. You simply apply the wax with a clean, cotton cloth. It smells like furniture polish, but I didn’t find the odor to be overwhelming (in fact, I rather liked it). It dries almost instantly and doesn’t change the appearance of the watercolor at all. There is no sheen and colors and textures remain exactly the same. Most importantly though, it does indeed protect the surface very well. You can sprinkle water on top and just wipe it off: there is no smudging or lifting of color. You can guess what I’ll be using from now on… If you’d like to try this for yourself, just google Renaissance Micro-crystalline wax polish for a supplier near you. I ordered mine from a sculpture supplies company.
Putting it together
Now that we have our painting protected, we can mount it on a panel (I use heavy acrylic gel medium), trim it, and mount it in a frame. Here I’ve used a natural birchwood float frame. Of course, it’s a different look from the traditional way of framing watercolors with a single or double mat, which can look quite sumptuous when well done, but I like this in all its simplicity. Bonus: it’s very sturdy, too!