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Painting Presentation​

Framing, Mounting, Varnishing



After all the effort and concentration involved in producing a few paintings you are proud of comes the equally taxing, but also very rewarding task of deciding how to best present your work to the public.


Whether it’s family and friends, a gallery or an exhibition, painting presentation, once the painting is finished, can make a big difference to how your work is received.

If budget is no problem, it is a simple matter to find the best framer in town and pay them to perform their magic. There are however many options to save on the cost of framing without compromising the quality of your work, but before we look at those options, lets start at the beginning.

Painting framed with taped boarder


The first thing we can do to improve our paintings presentation is to isolate it from it’s surroundings and the simplest way to do this is to run a strip of masking tape around your paper before you start to paint.


Once the painting is finished and the tape is removed, the crisp white boarder adds to the appearance of your painting right from the start. When the painting is framed this boarder is covered, but this isolating boarder helps you immediately appreciate what you have done.

Watercolor with freehand boarder


A loose, casual effect can be created by roughly drawing a freehand rectangle to contain you painting, then painting up to the loose line and leaving the border clear. This approach also means a single mat is all that is necessary – the rough edge around the painting is left visible inside the mat.


A framing technique that does away with glass on works on paper is to mount the painting on a hard backing board then varnish the finished painting. It can then be surrounded by a simple museum style moulding.


For a backing board you can use a well primed sheet of ply or aluminium composite panel lightly sanded and primed (available from sign writers). Fix the painting down with acrylic varnish.

Varnished watercolor with simple museum frame


For mounting large (over 1 metre square) works on paper in this way it is best to have your framer do it in a vacuum press. It can be done with a roller, to remove air bubbles, then heavy weights stacked on a thick sheet of ply placed over the painting and mounting board.


It is a fiddly job making sure there are no air bubbles and you must be careful no varnish oozes out and sticks the painting to the heavy ply (tissue paper is good insurance here).

It helps to make the painting perfectly flat before bonding it to the backing board.

  • Spray the back of the painting with clean water, let it soak in for a few minutes

  • Lay the painting on a flat surface covered by a smooth blanket

  • Place another flat sheet of cloth over the work

  • Then place a sheet of heavy ply and weights on top.

Be sure there are no creases or lumps in the blanket or cloth, then let the painting dry out for 24 hours. The painting will come out nice and flat making it much easier to fix down.


Paintings done on gesso primed boards with a backing frame or stretched canvas can have their edges painted in a color to match the main color in the work, and be hung unframed as long as they have been suitably sealed with a varnish. Works painted on this type of support can also be finished with a thin museum type moulding for a more formal look.

Painting board taped and gessoed for a clean, sharp boarder.


To create a clean, sharp, mat like,  surround on gesso primed boards

  • Prime the board and support frame with several coats of gesso, sanding lightly between coats.

  • Make sure the edge and area to be kept white are evenly coated

  • Carefully measure and place masking tape around the border

  • Re-coat the painting surface and the edge of the masking tape with gesso

  • You may want to protect the outer boarder with paper and masking tape

The final coat of gesso seals the edge of the masking tape so, when the painting is finished and the tape is removed, there is a very sharp line with no bleeding forming the outer border.

I have used this technique on aluminium composite panels primed with watercolor gesso. The work is framed under glass with a single mat leaving the sharp white edge exposed. The composite panel takes away all the problems associated with buckling/cockling edges on large sheets of watercolor paper.


The technique can also be used with a finishing varnish if you don’t wish to use glass.

Simple frame and integral matt made by masking  the painting board.


The white surround on this painting was primed and sanded several times to make it smooth then, after the tape was applied, a couple of rougher coats of watercolor gesso created a texture for the painting area. Border area and painting were then sprayed with satin acrylic varnish making glass unnecessary.



Choosing Picture Frames

I always choose simple, understated frames – not too conservative and not too contemporary. Choosing frames too much one way or the other can limit the appeal of your work. A conservative frame wont suit some decors and an extremely contemporary frame would look out of place in other decors. The one in the middle suits both.

I prefer warm silver, as simple as possible and as robust as possible. Discuss the options with your framer. Some mouldings are very expensive, extremely fragile and can often be substituted for a cheaper more robust option that looks very similar. 

If you keep your work to a few standard sizes and use the same moulding and mat combination you can order frames in bulk which can save money. I have the mats cut the same width all round rather than weighted at the bottom. This means I can substitute a vertical painting for a horizontal one and all I need do is change the string.



Final Word

Thoughtful painting presentation can make a huge difference to your work. Don’t skimp on your framing. It can be very simple, doesn’t have to be expensive, but should be carefully considered.


Galleries and exhibitions can be hard on frames – some even have disclaimers exempting them from responsibility for damage. Choose frames that disguise minor marks or are difficult to damage, rather than smooth, fragile gold of silver leaf and composite mouldings.


Use plenty of bubble wrap and foam packing when transporting frames and paintings and keep bubble wrap around all your stored paintings.

Author: John Lovett

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