CRESCENT CORNER: World Watercolor Month

by Connie Cook, Senior Product Manager

July is World Watercolor Month, so to celebrate, here are some fun facts about the medium followed by some great tips for framing original watercolor artwork.

Watercolor by John Carter, matted with Crescent’s RagMat Museum 100% Cotton Matboard

Although the use of watercolor can be dated back to Paleolithic cave paintings, Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is credited as being one of the earliest users of watercolor as a fine art medium. Sometimes used as preliminary “sketches” by artists that would later translate their studies into oil paintings, watercolor also became a popular medium for botanic and wildlife illustration, and remains so today. Today many artists use watercolor as their chosen medium for fine art work, in styles ranging from highly detailed realistic works to abstract themes.


The key ingredient that differentiates watercolor, oil and acrylic, the three most common paint mediums, is their suspension. Watercolor pigments are most commonly suspended in gum arabic, a water soluble binder. Oil paints generally use linseed oil as a suspension, and acrylic paints use an acrylic polymer emulsion.

Watercolor paints are available in either tubes, or pans (also known as cakes). Either way, the artist combines the paints with water and applies the strokes using a bristled brush to a variety of substrates, most commonly papers or boards constructed of cotton or cotton blends. Generally, the artist varies the transparency and tint of the colors by the amount of water added to the pigmented medium. Gouache is an opaque form of watercolor that is used in a similar manner, but due to a chalky filler added to the paint, the overlaid strokes are not transparent.

Framing a Deckled Edge

Watercolor artists often like to display the beautiful deckle edge found on hand-made watercolor papers. The following tips are provided by Kevin Pietro, owner of The Great Frame Up in Shaumburg, IL.

When framing a piece created on thin paper, it’s easy to show the deckle by creating a “sandwich” as follows. Center the watercolor on a piece of conservation matboard that is already cut to the size to fit the frame. Run a line of ATG tape near the outer edges of the matboard and approximately ¾” away from the outside edge of the art. Next, center a sheet of acrylic cut to the same size as the matboard on top of the watercolor and matboard. The pressure and static of the acrylic against the art and matboard backing will hold the art in place. Next, cut a top mat that is ½” away from the deckled art edge, which will also hide the ATG tape while showing off the deckle edge. Add UV glass or acrylic and the chosen frame.

Another way to frame deckle-edged watercolors that are created on thicker papers is to dry-mount the piece to a sheet of conservation matboard or mounting board that is approximately ¼” smaller than the art. Then cut the mat window opening approximately ½ – 3/4” larger than the art dimensions. Since the art will be lifted by the mounting board, attach spacers under the mat to raise it slightly higher than the elevated artwork. To do this, cut foam-core to the same outer dimensions as the mat and with an opening about ½” more narrow than the mat, and attach to the back of the mat using ATG tape.

With a little bit of extra care and design, framed watercolor art can be stand-outs in any art collection. Have fun enhancing and preserving this medium that’s been around since prehistoric times.

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