Watercolor Artists Can Frame (Because, Really, We Don’t Have A Choice)

We are pleased to announce award-winning watercolor artist, Cady Driver, as our guest blogger for today's 'Ask Mike' blog article.

In my art circles, I’ve heard numerous watercolor artists bemoan the fact that they absolutely hate framing and they never know how to mat or what frames to choose or how to get that one wrinkle out of their paper. It IS a big hassle to frame, because we watercolorists would rather be…you know…doing fun watercolor related things and not framing, but it is a huge necessity if you want to successfully show and sell your art.
Cady Driver flower watercolor

Not only must watercolorists tackle and succeed at the hardest medium, (even Bob Ross said that watercolors were too hard for him)  they must also navigate the sometimes bewildering intricacies of choosing mats and frames, plus cropping and framing so that their art is a beautiful, complete package.  Oh, how we envy oil/acrylic artists and their breezy ability to simply hang a completed canvas on the wall, but, alas, it is not our destiny.  To survive, we must adapt and educate ourselves in the art of framing.

Therefore, this post is to hopefully assist you, the talented artist, in how to frame and show your art in a way that has broad market appeal, exhibiting taste and beauty, therefore encouraging sales.

You’ve finally finished that lovely large, light-filled flower, but alas, your paper has a big buckle in the middle.  Simply iron the back of the paper and your wrinkles will smooth right out.  Use a medium-high temperature and if you’re unsure, experiment on an old painting first.  Make sure your paper is at least 140lbs.  You can try it with 90lb paper, but I’ve never done it, so experiment with a scrap before ironing anything less than 140 lb.  It’ll smell like you’re burning your cat, but keep that iron moving and all will be well.  (I’ve never burned my feline, personally, but I imagine that that’s what it smells like)

Now, you’re ready to choose a mat and frame.  Upload your art onto American Frame’s handy see-your-art-in-a-frame thing.  When I discovered this page, I was thrilled all the way to the tips of my toes.  It made the job so much easier!  I always recommend that artists mat in a light, neutral color for all of their watercolor art.  A strong color will not appeal to as many people and will narrow your buyer pool.  Watercolors are a more delicate medium, so lighter neutrals tend to work better.  If a large portion of your paper is white, mat with a light color and a darker inner mat in a complementary color.  I almost always double mat my art. 

Always mat your art 3” or wider.  Think of the mat as a window drawing the eye in towards your work.  A wider mat looks more professional, plus it has the advantage of adding inches to your work since watercolorists don’t usually paint huge paintings like oil/acrylic artists.

When choosing a frame, do not choose wide, heavily ornate frames for your art.  Watercolors can be easily overshadowed by a frame that is too complicated.  Simple, clean lines or small patterns on the frame will show off your work best.  Typically when a work is in a frame that is too heavy for it, it distracts the viewer and can draw the eye away from your hard work.  You don’t want to do that, of course!

Many watercolorists choose metal frames for their art with 3-4” mats.  I, personally prefer wood frames  in blacks and dark browns, but the metal frames can set off your artwork beautifully as well.   If your frame isn’t for personal use, always be thinking about what would appeal to the largest number of people.
Cady Driver fruit watercolor

Yay!  Your frame is ordered and in just a few days, your hear your usually sleeping dog howling like a banshee and you realize, your frame has arrived!  You peel your canine off of the UPS man and excitedly lug your American Frame purchase inside whilst yelling apologies over your shoulder.  Hopefully, your friendly UPS person will deliver again in the future.  You wrestle your box, dog and possibly several children inside and if it’s not time to fix dinner, pick up a kid or make a quick ER visit for random stitches or broken bones (this is if you’re a mother of boys), you have time to frame! 

In my experience, I have mounted my art in several ways and I’ve only found one way that I completely like.  I have used double-sided framing tape, regular framing tape and several other types of sticky framing things and I’ve finally settled on good old-fashioned masking tape from Ace Hardware.  The double-sided tape tends to seriously damage my paper and make it hard to switch art out of frames, which I tend to do often. (switch frames, not damage my art)  So, after ironing my painting, I lay the mat on the painting to figure out exactly where I want my painting to ultimately lay.  Once I’ve decided this, I flip my painting over, tape a loooong strip across the bottom, leaving half of the tape on the paper and half off on one side and flip it right side up again.  Laying the mat on the painting, I center it and press down on the edge where the tape is.  Make sure your hands are clean for this.  Then I carefully flip the painting and attached mat back over and finish taping the remaining three sides.  Smooth your paper out and work around your edge until it’s complete. 

The nice thing about using masking tape, too, is that sometimes I get done taping and I flip it back over only to discover that it needs to be moved just a tad bit up/down/right/left….yes, I’m that picky.  Simply gently peel the tape off and try again.

Once your painting is securely taped, you are now ready to stand there screwing all those screws in for what seems like eternity and then you carefully hang it on one of the 63 nails sticking out of your wall.  This IS your art studio, after all.  You stand back and proudly gaze at your creation.  Inside that frame, there is something that used to be just a piece of paper.  It is no longer just a piece of paper, but a part of you!  An expression of your heart…a piece of your travels, a portrait of a loved one, a painting expressing your admiration of light, nature, water, sky….it’s your art!  You stand back for a long while and just admire it.  It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it and it will someday grace the walls of a buyer who admires your style, your vision, your eye for choosing your subject matter.

You are an artist…and you can frame!  The world is your inspiration and your stage.
Cady Driver dog watercolor

Happy framing!

Cady Driver resides in Raleigh, NC with her husband, three kids and numerous furry pets who shed too much.  She homeschools her teens and pre-teens and in her spare time, she’s an award winning artist and children’s book illustrator.  Cady’s art has sold internationally and is currently at The Village Art Circle in Cary, NC with guest shows throughout the greater Raleigh area.