Mimenta for Visual Arts

 
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Watercolours

Australia is unusual because we are one of the few countries that value watercolour paintings almost equal to oil paintings. Much of our early settler history was recorded as watercolor painting by travelling explorers. The few materials required and the fast drying times made watercolors the favourite method of recording scenes prior to the compact camera.

White Gums by Hans Heysen

The dry atmosphere here extends the life of works on paper, reducing fungal deterioration which is the main enemy of paper. This is reduced if 100% rag fibre paper is used. It is more expensive but is a good investment in the long run.

Normal drawing paper is made of wood fibre which rapidly turns acidic and creates an environment that favours fungi. The result is a scattering of brown freckle -like dots, called "foxing". Your precious artwork looks like it is covered in fly dirt. There is no cure for foxing. It can be severely slowed down but not reversed.

If you have ever wet paper, you'll be aware that it buckles and never dries flat again. Have you ever wondered how watercolor artists cope with this?

They wet their paper before they begin and while it is still damp, they tape it to a board to dry. This stretches the paper and it dries flat. When they paint on the dried paper, it will not buckle.

Water colour painting is almost completely opposite to oil painting. In a watercolor, the illusion of light is usually the result of the pale paper either unpainted or showing through the paint. The artist cannot usually cover a mistake successfully so watercolor artists have a quick, certain positive approach to painting. Oil painting artists can remove paint from their canvas or overlay paint over their mistakes to cover them. A fine art oil painting should never have exposed white canvas showing because this area would be un restorable.

An oil panting can safely be displayed unframed. A watercolor cannot. Unlike an oil painting, any marks cannot be washed off. Watercolor paintings can only be displayed fully framed. Mouse over the image below to see two different examples of good framing that compliments the painting.

Framed watercolor paintings

Watercolour paintings should be displayed in a mount - a conservation matboard card with a window that shows the watercolor painting. Matboard is available in a wide range of colours to compliment any picture.The mount or mat can be a colour to comliment the colours of then painting or a bone white with a decorative border inked onto the mat for that regency or art nouveau look.

The range of colours of conservation mat board

The role of the mat is to keep the watercolor painting from touching the glass. This is because the glass surface attracts minute amounts of condensation with temparature variations. This dampness can be enough to promote fungal growth and cause rapid deterioration of the artwork. Conversely the painting needs protection from the normal environment where it could be marked by accident or a fly with a love for art. The best material to protect it is glass.

Components of a watercolor frame

There are three transparent options to cover watercolor paintings: Plain Glass, Difuse Glass (also called "non-reflective" glass) or perspex (also called acrylic sheet). Sprays or varnishes are not an option. They yellow with time and cannot be removed.

  • Plain Glass - the clear favourite (excuse the pun). The reflection can be annoying if viewed at a sharp angle but it retains all the brilliance of colour and the finest detail.

  • Dufuse or Non-reflective Glass does not have as many reflections as plain glass due to it's satin finish surface. Unfortunately it comes at a cost - you lose a little brilliance of the colours and a little detail.

  • Perspex or Acrylic sheet is scratched more easily than glass but it is unbreakable and lighter than glass. It is ideal for very large peices, where the weight of the finished picture is an issue for consideration. It is also ideal for pictures in children's rooms, being totally imune to the odd pillowfight.

Because the work is on paper, which must be kept alkaline, the mounted artwork should be backed with acid free backing too. To seal the frame and prevent the ingress of dust, a paper seal, called a gasket, is glued to the back of the frame.

Sadly many picture framers will make a big fuss about placing a conservation quality (alkali) mat around a watercolor painting but fit a cardboard or MDF board backing in direct contact with the painting. The acidic contact undoes any benefits of the concervation mat around the picture.

Don't limit yourself to rectangular mat openings either. It's easy to get an oval or circle cut in a mat and a lot cheaper than buying a round or oval frame. Here's some examples:

Mats with Oval, round and double oval openings.

If you are about to ask your picture framer to frame a watercolor painting (or any works on paper), ask for a conservation quality mat and backing board. Many framers forget the conservation backing board.

 

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