watercolor portrait – framing basics

now that the painting is mostly done, it’s time to turn my attention to the frame. in a corner of my studio storage area there is a large stack of empty frames that take up most of the space (that’s not already taken up by file drawers, shelving, and my large encaustic paintings). i went thru them and found a couple that were the right size, namely 16×20. one was black, and the other was a fancy bamboo-themed black and gold. jim argued for the fancy one, but there was a matching set, and i figured it would be better to save them. besides, i didn’t like them. so.

then i found a board just the right size, already cut and primed. but i didn’t like the color i’d found, which was a muted gray green, so i mixed up my own using sage colored latex paint and a fair amount of zinc white, because hte premixed paint was too dark.  i did a lot of testing using a mat board, and on the other side are several color samples painted in watercolor on the board.  but they streak, and look watercolory, i.e. grainy, and they were too light.  i was using matboard partly to see if i could actually paint on mat board and have it still be presentable/usable.  because at this point i’m rethinking my idea to mount the painting on board, because the frame i found has glass, so i could use a regular watercolor mat and glass arrangement if i wanted to.  but i didn’t.  so.

the painting is sitting in the middle of the frame i found, which still has its contents.  the matboard is between the painting and the edge of the frame so i can see how it looks.  the wet paint in the bowl, you’ll notice, is a shade or two lighter than the dried paint in the top swatch.  this is what acrylic does, dry darker than you expect.  the swatch below was my first attempt at lightening, which was barely any lighter than right out of the can.


the composition below is a little complicated.  starting from the green block of watercolor that contains the painting, it is perched on the green housepaint and a can of zinc white that i used to mix the background paint.  the orange thing in front is woodglue.  in front of that is a tub of black gesso draped with a damp cloth for wiping edges.  the brush on the plate is covering the bowl with green paint in it, so it doesn’t dry out.  i just finished washing the brush.  the board is a 16×20 piece of masonite we’ve had around for donkey’s years, freshly painted with a fairly thick coat of green (only because i hadn’t diluted the paint any), and i’m going to go back over it tomorrow with a thin coat of green, just to fill in some of the streaks.  the board is resting on a bunch of short moulding, because those square frames were resting on them after i’d painted their edges black with semigloss.  now that they were dry, i stacked all but one up underneath the black frame, which you can see on the top right.  it’s sitting in a vise that’s atop the stool, and i’ve forced glue into one corner and set it in the vise to dry, just as a precaution (because once the board is set into the frame, it’s not going anywhere).  i’ve just taken the black gesso and painted the frame everyplace except where the vise covers the sides.

this, by the way, is considered horrible studio practice.  because i have newly edged frames, still uncured, holding up a freshly painted black frame (which has already dripped on the brown paint of the faces on those square frames), and i’ve got that next to a freshly painted light colored panel.  worst of all, i have a raw watercolor painting in the same room with paint that, if it should spill or get smudged on to the paper, would absolutely ruin it.  i’ve had watercolors ruined before this way.  something accidental happens, or i wipe acrylic paint with a finger and don’t notice when i touch the watercolor with it.  nightmares.  so.  don’t do this at home.


those little square frames are little tiny ikea mirror decorations, cheap little things, 4″ moulding around a 4″ square mirror.  but i found them, someone chucked them out and i got to them first, and now i’m going to put encaustic paint all over them and give them as gifts to those of my family not fortunate enough to be getting a painting.  that’s my next project, which i will be blogging about directly.  also to do before next week is finish a portrait of my uncle harry, for my mom’s birthday, which jim and i have been working on, and still needs the final touches.  i’ll blog about this as a separate project, again, real soon now.

but i’m almost done with this painting.  i have yet to fix those steps (you can see where i tried to erase them last night if you look at the first picture, above).  then i have to spray fix it, then mount it to the board, and assemble the frame, and we’re done.

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