Choose a frame that

complements the size of

the piece after it’s matted.

For Elegant Watercolours Matting Matters

If you go to a museum and look at the prints and works on paper, you’ll notice one thing: the absence of strong color in the matte. Most curators feel a colorful mat is a distraction to the art, and therefore go with cream, antique white or very soft neutral white shades—thinking these neutral choices make the image in the frame look more important. This is OK sometimes, but color can work very nicely with

a watercolor. Matted watercolors with colored mats can produce beautiful results. Choose color wisely. Go for tones that are either dominant in the image, or that draw out subtle colors in the piece—a color that seems to bring it all together. And keep in mind that stark white can be a killer

if the white in the piece is not as stark as the matte color.

Most importantly, always use acid-free mattes and acid-free backing. Your painting must be enclosed in an acid- free environment.









A frame can be too large or too small. A too-small frame doesn’t give the painting the importance it deserves—this effect is as bad as the overpowering effect of an oversize frame. Don’t be shy about giving the mat some breathing room. A 16 x 20-inch painting needs at least a three- to

four-inch mat. Often, an oversized mat can help set off a small piece. If you’ve added a four-inch mat to a 16 x 20-inch watercolor, your new dimensions are 24- x 28-inches. For these dimensions, a one to two-inch wide frame would look fine. Any wider may look overpowering. Your eye can usually tell if your painting is out of proportion to the frame.


Does the style of the frame complement the painting?

A common mistake I see is a “too loud” frame. This makes me, the viewer, confront the frame first, not what’s inside it. The painting should be the star. An example I see a lot in museums is impressionistic paintings in Louis XIV frames. The discord created when these ornate gold frames fight with the vibrant colors of an impressionistic painting. While the frame may be beautiful in and of itself, its pairing with an impressionistic painting spoils the appearance of the piece.



Does the color of the frame complement the painting?

The impressionist artists themselves chose white frames for their work. This framing combination makes the paintings sing harmoniously, but the look was very avant-garde in the 1860s.  Many people felt white frames didn’t fit with their décor.

Today a white framed watercolour painting is modern and flattering in many homes and  much better than a gold Louis XIV frame. The origin of the subject matter may come into play when you’re selecting a frame. For example, a painting of the Italian countryside would look completely appropriate in an ornate Italian-style frame—possibly gilded with articulated corners. For a still life or landscape painted in the Netherlands, a dark ripple molding would look fine. However, some watercolors will only look correct to the eye in a contemporary frame. We have assumed the modern trend for watercolour frames and suggest four modern choices.

1. The classic Black frame: Simple modern and most important encourages the eye to focus on the art and not the frame. Matched with a warm or cool matte, depending on the overall tone of the artwork, black frame white matte is always a classic choice.

2. The White frame: Again simple and a clean look for many modern homes today. On a dark wall this maybe too much

of a contrast. A light coloured walls would look elegant.

3. Pewter Metal:  Less stark then silver chrome frames and have a modern appeal. This frame is an excellent choice for a modern furnished home .

4. Chest Nut Brown frame: Earthy and masculine. More appropriate  for a more rustic subject matter and home decor.


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Content Source in part :   The Autumn 2000 issue of Watercolor Artist