How to protect your watercolour painting

How do I mount and frame my watercolour?

The selection of mount and framing can have a significant impact on the aesthetic of your watercolour however improper framing can also have a highly detrimental effect in the long term stability of your piece. Common issues the conservator faces with regards to paper conservation are associated with poor backing and framing materials.

Indeed, it is not uncommon for fragile watercolour paintings to be mounted on a backing, sometimes wooden boards which may discharge resin, resulting in brown lines appearing on your watercolour.  In addition, ’mount burn’ can also occur, which is descriptive of the brown marks which appear around the edge of your watercolour where acidic window-mount has burnt the paper. Furthermore, the backing paper/card may be subject to the deterioration of acidity which can leach toward the front of the painting causing discolouration.

It is therefore advised that inert, stable acid-free materials are used when mounting and framing your watercolour.  Museum board is recommended, which is solid core 100% board, alternatively Conservation board which is high quality purified wood pulp board, With regards to glazing, UV protection would be recommended to prevent the adverse effects of light damage and crucially the glazing is placed away from the surface of the piece.

Backing removal

Removal of the backing may be carried out if damage is being caused to the watercolour however treatment is not independent of risk. Crucially, the backing is always removed from the watercolour and never the watercolour from the backing.

Mechanical action using a scalpel and moisture treatments can be used to aid the removal however caution is advised.

How should I store my watercolour painting?

Storage and Display

Ideally it would be recommended that your watercolour, if not on display, is kept in a specially designed case (Solander box). To ensure the safety of your artwork, the individual pieces would be mounted in conservation standard materials (acid free tissue for example) and then the watercolours would be stored away from light and dirt in the enclosed box. It is advised that when handling your artwork, touch as little of the paper as possible and ideally gloves should be worn.

Environmental Controls

Light:

Fugitive pigments, or in other words, pigments sensitive to light can lead to fading of colour and loss of definition in the painting. Obviously preventative measures could restrict this initial discolouration and it would be recommended that your watercolour is kept away from direct sunlight for example hanging directly opposite windows. Lights should be turned off wherever possible and blinds/shutters can be fitted.  In addition, UV filters on glazing is also recommended to reduce the risks associated with light damage and protect your watercolour.

Humidity:

Controlling humidity is also advised as paper is a hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the atmosphere) and consequently weakens the tissue fibres. In addition, raised humidity may result in undulations in the paper.  Mould growth and associated foxing are also exacerbated by increased humidity and crucially, it is recommended that the conditions remain constant and Relative Humidity is maintained at 45-60.

Temperature:

Temperature should also be controlled, again avoiding extreme fluctuations 16℃ – 19℃.  Crucially, the temperature affects the speed of chemical reactions leading to the degradation of paper. Ideally your watercolour should be kept away from direct sources of heat including above radiators and fireplaces as high temperatures can cause yellowing, darkening and embrittlement.  If possible, hanging the painting on the interior of the outside wall should be avoided as the lower temperature may result in condensation and mould growth on the inside of your frame.

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