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Displaying and Caring for Artworks on Paper

Updated on July 16, 2013


This article will show you how to store, care for and display watercolours, and other artworks on paper. Whether you have painted your own picture, purchased it locally or by mail order, or even received it as a gift, make sure you know how to frame it and look after it.

What is covered in the article?

How to find a good local framer, what a mount (mat) is for, and what type you should choose. All about choosing frames and hanging your painting. Perhaps you wish to frame it yourself? Although this is not a 'learn to frame' article, still it will point you in the direction of those who can teach you. You will find a selection of Amazon books recommended to help you too.

Once you have bought or created your painting, who owns the copyright? This article will tell you the basics of this important issue.

Are you an amateur who longs to find the secrets to presenting your work professionally for exhibitions and galleries? This article gives you all the tips. (I even sneak a few pointers in for oil painters here.)

Images and Text copyright Michele Webber & other accredited artists.

Beach Huts, Southwold - Limited Edition Print
Beach Huts, Southwold - Limited Edition Print

Read on for how to care for your lovely new piece of art...

(Some basics)


Your painting or print will arrive in one of two ways: Either flat and possibly mounted (a mount is the card frame surrounding your painting) or rolled in a tube, it may also be wrapped in cellophane. If your painting is still a little curled from transit just leave it for a day or two on a flat dry surface with a light weight on top of it. Some magazines would be ideal. Do not worry if you do not like the mount colour, this can easily be changed by your framer. Because of the natural oil in your skin only handle your picture by its edges. If you must store it temporarily, keep it flat in a drawer, out of the damp and between acid free tissue paper.

Hollyhocks - Limited Edition Print
Hollyhocks - Limited Edition Print

Finding a framer, choosing frames and hanging your painting.

(Getting it on the wall)

ABOUT MOUNTS (also called Mats)

The mount is the cardboard inner frame that sits under the glass. Contrary to popular belief this is not there for decorative purposes, it has a very important and necessary job to do. A mount keeps a space between your painting and the glass. Without air circulating mould would form. So called 'clip' or 'frameless' frames must absolutely never be used. The artwork must not be allowed to touch the glass, or condensation will build up, mould spots will appear and your picture will be ruined. If you do not want a visible mount your framer can hide a narrow strip or spacers under the edge of the frame to ensure air circulation. Another option is to have the artwork attached to a backboard via a raised hidden mount, so it appears to float and you can see all the raw edges. Ask your framer for options, they do this all day long, they are the best people to advise you. A wide range of mount colours and styles are available. 'Conservation' grade is acid free and protects your picture for very little extra cost. Never attach a mount yourself if you do not know what you are doing, the mount is never taped down all the way round, the picture must be free to contract and expand with the changing temperature and humidity of the room. This type of mount is called a 'hanging' mount or hinged mount.


In order to make the painting look more attractive, most professionals add a few extra mm to the lower edge of the mount. For pastels or charcoal that may shed particles over time, ask your framer to cut a slightly smaller mount and hide it behind the front one. This leaves a small gap or reservoir for particles and dust to fall into, without leaving unsightly marks on your mount. To give a small painting a modern edge, consider an extra large mount. For a classy, 3 dimensional look, try a double mount in white. Check the corners of your mount, if cut correctly they should be perfect. If you see little cross cuts this means your framer has not been as precise as he should be. Don't be afraid to refuse to pay for a badly cut mount.


There is probably a picture framer in your local high street, often in an art materials shop or gallery. But many good framers work privately from workshops and homes. To find the best quality and cheapest local framer try asking an artist! Artists always know the best places to get framing done. It's their livelihood so they will go for maximum quality at a competitive price.


It is easy to get carried away and choose double mounts in different colours and an ornate frame, but often simple is best. After all the painting should be the main event, not the frame! Dark wood and gold carved frames are best kept for traditional oil paintings. For your watercolour try a soft beech or honey coloured wood, or perhaps one with a pale 'lime' stain. When choosing a mount colour consider your home, personal style, and if you are likely to move the picture about. If so then a soft white or neutral mount may be best. Dark mounts can look effective, particularly for dramatic paintings, but avoid bright colours. If you match the mount to your sofa and wallpaper, what happens when you re-decorate? You can of course get the painting re-framed in the future, but it may be costly. At the end of the day however it is your choice and your style so don't let the framer talk you out of what you want.


There are several ways of putting your painting up. Mirror clips show each side of the painting and ensure it never moves. They are not the most attractive way of hanging but good for places where the work may get knocked all the time, or where there is a risk of theft. A picture hook is knocked straight into the wall with the nail it comes with. These are only suitable for light work, and decent walls. Personally I find them a nuisance and can guarantee I will bend the nail and half the plaster will immediately detach from the wall. I prefer a rawl plug and screw every time. For very large paintings use two at the same level a few inches apart. This will enable you to straighten the picture much more easily and spread the weight. Another way to hang is to put up a permanent hanging rail, this looks attractive and you can move work about, just by changing the paintings and sliding the hooks around. For a professional display covering a whole wall you will need the type of hanging system used by galleries: A thin rail fits along the top and base of the wall, and a series of thin metal or clear plastic wires slide along it. Clips are attached wherever you like by a turn screw arrangement allowing total control over positioning of paintings.


Many people make the mistake of hanging work too high. It should be roughly at eye level.

Don't hang paintings in areas of high humidity (bathroom etc) or where there is a big fluctuation in temperature (near a heater etc)

Artworks on paper may be prone to fading so keep them out of strong direct sunlight. A professional artist will use pigments known to be safe for hundreds of years. Amateurs may use fugitive (means they fade and degrade) paints. Collages are especially prone to fading so be aware.

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."

G.K. Chesterton

Frames in my studio!
Frames in my studio!

Frame it yourself?

(Where and how to gain the skills you need)


If you are determined to do it yourself please ensure you know what you are doing and use professional equipment. Mounts and tapes should be acid free. A hanging mount or other proper system should be used. The back should be properly sealed to prevent insect invasion. If you hope to display the painting in a public exhibition then don't use anti reflective glass or any coatings, many organizers ban these. The most popular way of attaching hanging apparatus to the back is to have it 'tight strung', IE a strong double (loop) length of proper hanging string attached via screw eye fittings each side. If the painting is to be displayed in an area open to the public then the alternative method of attaching flat 'mirror plate' fittings to either side will enable you to screw it to the wall. This should prevent all but the most determined theft. Note: if you wish to enter exhibitions then framing must be professional, immaculate and to the exhibitors specifications.

Yes framing it yourself will save money, but bear in mind it is not easy, it is time consuming and finding materials can be tricky. If you are still determined to go ahead then there are several ways to proceed, I will list 3 here.

1. Short framing course. These are pricey and you may have to travel, look on the internet and locally, consider that you may have relatives who would let you stay nearer a larger town if you live in a rural area with no courses. However there is nothing like a short course to give you hands on experience.

2. Buy a book. It is possible to learn most things from books, if you like this method then see the 'further reading' I have selected below. Always read the customer reviews online for books before purchasing (even if you are buying from a 'real' high street book store) it will save you from making costly mistakes. Remember this method of learning doesn't suit everyone. I personally learn lots from books, but some people miss the feedback and hands on experience of being taught.

3. Get a local framer to teach you. A little tricky this one. Don't expect someone to teach you if you plan to set up a framing business in the next street. However, if you only wish to learn for your own work, or intend to frame other peoples work a decent distance away, it is worth asking. You will need to offer money, and agree to work in the frame shop for nothing, but it's a great way to learn. Nor does it always take actual cash, perhaps you have something you could do in return, car maintenance, accounting, anything. Don't offer paintings, the framer will not be interested. You may not find anyone willing to do this, but don't ask, don't get.

Gnarled Tree - Limited Edition Print
Gnarled Tree - Limited Edition Print


(Why you should care)


Although it may seem unrelated to this article it is important to understand how copyright law affects the artwork you have purchased. Unless you specifically purchased the copyright to your piece of art you do not own the rights to use the image. You have purchased the artwork not the copyright. Your painting is yours to keep forever or sell. But copyright is retained by the artist. Basically this means that you cannot use a photo or other copy of your piece of art either commercially or to reproduce in bulk; whereas the artist who made it is within his rights to do so. The only time this may be different is if you commissioned the work. But it is a legal minefield, and I suggest you tread carefully. Unlawful use of images for commercial gain is theft, and fines can run into tens of thousands of pounds/dollars. But really it is about more than that. Many artists have a tough time of it (cue violins), no really! It's a difficult way to earn a living, notoriously low paid and that's without the constant worry that some idiot has stolen your hours/weeks/years of hard work to shove some cheap rip off on ebay/cafepress/wherever. So use common sense. If you want to send a photo of your new purchase to your uncle to say 'look what I bought for my lounge' that's fine. If you want to print and sell postcards of it then you are breaking the law.


If your work is your own then of course the copyright is yours, but be careful. If you copied a photo and it is recognisable as a copy, even if some elements are changed, then the photographer owns the copyright to that image. Many amateurs do this, and its fine to keep or display your work at home with pride. But put the piece up for sale, and you guessed it: you are breaking the law. Don't think because the photo was in a magazine it's OK. Someone took that photo. Beware too of 'copyright free' images on the web. Anyone can post anything on the web, and frequently they do. The same general rules apply to copies of other peoples artwork.

Lighthouse, Southwold - Limited Edition Print
Lighthouse, Southwold - Limited Edition Print

Tips for new artists who are framing for exhibitions

Includes one or two tips for oil painters


OK so this section is for those of you wishing to display your work in art galleries, at exhibitions, art fairs etc. And it's basically drawn from my making every mistake possible. But you don't have to, you can read this list of do s and don't s instead and save time, money and hassle.

DON'T skimp on framing! Most people who will buy your artwork will be either friends, family or live in the same town as you. It is your responsibility to ensure your work is properly framed. When putting work up for sale it must be presented in a way that is attractive and also ensures that it will remain in good condition and free from insect invasion for many years. People keep paintings for decades if not longer!

DON'T use ready made store bought frames. It is tempting to save the money but cheap frames just make your work look cheap. Your original artwork deserves the best possible frame; just build it into your price. People will pay for quality. Besides, even if you can find a fabulous frame that's a bargain, what happens when the company discontinues the range?

DO consider your paintings as a group, not as individuals. When you frame one painting, you look for the frame and mount (mat) that are perfect for that one picture. When you frame as a group, you need to sacrifice the individual for the group. This leads me onto:

DO use the same frame and mount (mat) for all your work. Versatility is the Achilles heel of talented artists. Maybe you can paint in different styles, mediums etc, but that doesn't change the fact that galleries and buyers like to see a body of work, in similar frames and the same medium. They would prefer you painted the same subject too if they had their way. If you must do different types of work, keep it together in groups and market it separately. Different frames in a group just shout 'amateur.'

DON'T give the frame more importance than the work. The frame should be beautiful, but it shouldn't fight for attention with the artwork. Go for neutral tones every time. For Watercolours/Drawings consider light or mid toned wood frames, or lime washed effects, with soft white mounts (mats). For oils consider dark wood, a little gold leaf or even lime washed if you use a paler palette. More modern work might take a black or charcoal frame. And despite the recent trend for unframed canvases, do frame oils. As a very successful oil painter friend of mine said recently 'if they can't be bothered to frame it, I can't be bothered to buy it.'

DO work to set sizes. Unless you expect (not hope) to sell every piece I strongly suggest you give yourself the opportunity to re-use your frames for other work if the art does not sell. This does not mean you have to stick to one size, have several if you want, and consider using the same size turned around for portrait and landscape. This may involve a little maths in working out the mount (mat) size, but take it from someone who learnt the hard way, paying for expensive custom sized frames that couldn't be re-used.

DO have your work 'tight strung', but be aware some exhibitions will specify 'mirror clips'. These are a nuisance but do allow work to be screwed to the wall, particularly for public venues, which stops anyone walking off with it (and they do.)

DO label the back of your work as soon as it comes back from the framer. Your label should be printed and should contain: Your name, Contact details like phone number and website, Painting medium, Painting title, Price and your reference number. (Of course you do have a reference number - how else do you intend to keep track of sales and where your paintings are?)

DO price your work high enough. If you are new and unknown, you cannot command a premium price, however if you price too low, you will instantly be considered an amateur, and not taken seriously. Pricing is difficult, there is no set formula, but if I see a painting that costs less than I pay just to frame mine, then alarm bells ring...

DON'T upset your framer. He is your biggest asset; he knows a lot of people in the art world. If you are a regular he may give you a trade discount (don't ask, don't get), and will put you ahead of casual trade if you need a 'rush job.' He may even display your work or recommend you to people. That said he is there to work for you, and if his work is substandard or he refuses to frame exactly to your requirements, then be charming, be polite, and find someone else.

DON'T break copyright law, see above. Once you get into selling work professionally you must ensure the image is yours. You cannot copy another artist or photographer unless it is for personal study. Once you put it up for sale you are wandering into the realms of image theft. And lets be honest, if you are a professional you simply won't need to copy others. If you do you are probably not ready to do it for a living.

When looking at a piece of art...

you should notice the art first, not the frame.

The frame should not speak louder than the picture.

Fallen Petal - Limited Edition Print
Fallen Petal - Limited Edition Print

A final thought


With a little thought and care, your artwork should give you and others pleasure for years to come. The artist/photographer that made it put a little of their heart into it. Why not give them some feedback? They will be delighted to hear about how much you like the picture, and where you have displayed it!

Click here to go to my website
Click here to go to my website


How you can share or use this article (without infringing copyright!)

Whilst I am happy for you to share the link to this lens, text and images are a different matter, please read on for full clarification.

Feel free to share the link to this lens, to tweet it, post it on your blog, or put it on facebook. I want it to be helpful to as many people as possible, so if you enjoyed it please share.

Text/Images. This lens is for personal study only, and you may print it only for your own use. All text is original, copyright Michele Webber. Products and Images are copyright Michele Webber and other accredited artists. The text and images must not be reproduced, copied or distributed in any form including electronic except by express permission of the author. Use without permission is theft and legal compensation will be sought.

If you wish to reproduce text or images by Michele Webber for non commercial purposes on the internet you will need to 1)Ask permission 2) Include a short accreditation/copyright notice 3) include a link to Michele's website.

Further reading... - Some framing books that may interest you:

Is there any other information you would like included on this article that would make it more helpful?

Feel free to send me your feedback!

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    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 6 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Interesting and educational lens. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • profile image

      nycelady13 6 years ago

      Sure thing a matboard and Frame could help enhance photos. Great lens!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 6 years ago from UK

      useful tips, especially like the one about leaving somewhere for pastel dust to fall. I feel happiere about leavinig off the fixative now

    • asiliveandbreathe profile image

      asiliveandbreathe 6 years ago

      Good, useful info, especially re copyright issues.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Interesting read, I am in the process of finding a framer for a couple of vintage art pieces left by my husband's grandfather. It is rather expensive, but I think for vintage pieces it is worth it, because they know what to do and what to use for preserving the pieces.

    • profile image

      babylovetees 7 years ago

      Very informative lens! And a belated congratulation on LOTD! :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Congratulation on getting LOTD! Nice work creating this!


    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Great resource. Congrats on LOTD. Blessed and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and on Lenses That Shine

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      Very helpful lens! SquidAngel blessed.

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 7 years ago

      Very helpful! I have a collection of water painted cards that I would like to hang in our family room but I have no idea how to do so. Thanks so much for sharing. 5*

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      congrats on LOTD! I really like the tulip painting.

    • Shibamom LM profile image

      Shibamom LM 7 years ago

      Congratulations on a well deserved LotD. So much good information.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      Fine job on the basics of how to frame and protect artwork on paper. Love your work, and am lensrolling this 5* lens to Giclee Prints.

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 7 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Excellent lens and very useful for anyone who makes or buys original artwork.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nice lens , gives good information on art-work.

    • GingerAlly profile image

      GingerAlly 7 years ago

      Great lens! I've lensrolled this on 3 of my art lenses:

      About African Abstract Art

      An Introduction to South African Paintings

      History of Wildlife Art in South Africa

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      What a wonderful resource for framing artwork! Congratulations on LOTD!

    • profile image

      PamelaLough 7 years ago

      Your work is fantastic. Watercolor is my favorite medium. Thanks for sharing your work and your knowledge.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

      I remember stopping by this lovely lens some time back. Just stopped by again to say congratulations.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      As an art dealer, I applaude you and your informative article. You really touched all the bases, in particular copyright laws.

      Good work..I hope this gets the attention it deserves!

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 7 years ago from USA

      Excellent presentation! Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!!!

    • profile image

      ShortSaleRealtor 7 years ago

      Awesome lens hi five for you.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      This is a thoroughly wonderful and helpful lens. Thank you.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 7 years ago

      Boatload of useful art tips. Congratulations on LOTD.

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 7 years ago

      @Heather426: Me too Heather!

    • MomwithAHook LM profile image

      Sara Duggan 7 years ago from California

      Lovely Lens. I'll be sharing it with my fans on Facebook. My fil is a picture framer and his fans would love this page. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you for all of the wonderful tips. Beautiful paintings and you can tell a lot of this lens is something you are passionate about. Well done.

    • profile image

      PaintDog 7 years ago

      Excellent lens - thanks for sharing and for including the info on copyrights!!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Excellent information on framing and caring for your artwork. Most of the 'art' on my walls was done by my daughter and her husband (both artists) and an artist friend of theirs, and I understand about the matting and framing. I have a few other favorite pieces of art and these I framed myself in a class in the framing section of a store. It was fun learning how to do it, although I wouldn't do any without help from the 'experts'. There is a lot to learn and remember and expert framers are your best bet. Congratulations on your LOTD and welcome to Squidoo.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Thanks for all the great tips. Very nicely done lens!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 7 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      Nice looking lens- and lots of good information. Congratulations on LOTD

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is a great lens with wonderful tips. Thank you!

      Congrats on LotD.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great work on this lens, well-written and beautiful paintings. Congrats on LOTD! :)

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      My artist husband really likes this lens! and so do I.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      Congratulations on Lens of the Day! This will introduce so many people to your beautiful art. As a photographer, I found the information to be very useful and learned some new things, specifically the importance of the mount and copyright issues.

    • stacy mcdaniel profile image

      stacy mcdaniel 7 years ago

      Congratulations on lens of the day. Great Lens! Lots of good information.

    • EditPhotos profile image

      Edit Photos 7 years ago from Earth

      A well deserved lens of the day!!

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 7 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on LOTD. I can easily see why this lens was picked. Tons of tips & your artwork is gorgeous!

    • profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      Congratulations on LotD.... I have visited before and enjoyed this page a lot. This time I can leave a beautifully framed Angel blessing!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      congrats on the LOTD! very informative lens and beautiful artwork... I will be lensrolling it to my art lenses and copyright lens

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      I have a lot of pieces on paper that I wasn't sure what to do with. They've been sitting in a portfolio for some time, unframed and unmatted. Canvases are tough too, since they warp and puncture so easily. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 7 years ago from Concord VA

      Great information! Congratulations on LotD!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Congratulations on your LOTD! - Kathy

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      We've had quite a bit of the art I bought professionally matted and framed; that surely costs an arm and a leg. Only a few pieces were acquired already framed. I believe there is also a special art to tastefully and aesthetically framing a piece of artwork.

    • MicheleWebber profile image

      MicheleWebber 7 years ago

      @ZenandChic: Wow, thanks so much, this was my first lens so it's really special to get a blessing!

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 7 years ago

      Great lens! Blessing it!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Excellent work! Your artwork is gorgeous and this will be a useful resource that people can trust.

    • profile image

      octsage 7 years ago

      wonderfully informative and creative lens. You feature some beautiful artwork! thank you for the kind words on my lens. 5* :)

    • profile image

      Sketchart26 7 years ago

      Beautifully written lens and so informative well done and thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      designernovice 7 years ago

      thank you so much for contributing to my lens, your work is lovely and i am inspired :-)

    • adoptiondesigns profile image

      adoptiondesigns 7 years ago

      Very informative lens! Great job! Your artwork is beautiful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Iâve leaned so much from your articles. I have two types of frame â¦wow thatâs a problem. I never thought of using frames for more than one picture. Thanks Michele Great article and a great site too.

    • profile image

      helikettle 7 years ago

      The best lens I've seen to date! My neighbour is expecting a painting he has bought online from the US any day now so I'll send him this lens. Thank you!

    • profile image

      rsharts 7 years ago

      Michele this is a wonderful lens, full of excellent advice and information for both artists and collectors of art! You write so well!

      I will soon be preparing for an exhibition and will certainly keep your advice in mind!

      Thank you for featuring my "Song of Summer" (poppies) watercolour.

    • profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      Gorgeous lens... and very informative.

    • LotusMalas profile image

      LotusMalas 7 years ago

      As someone who has made her own mats before - I think your lens is very informative! Great job and lovely pictures!

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

      That is an awesome first lens -- It has lots of good information, it reads well, and the pictures are lovely.

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 7 years ago

      Very nicely written and well done!

    • profile image

      missprinteditions 7 years ago

      Excellent: so well written and attractively organized. Brava!

    • profile image

      PRPrints 7 years ago

      Thanks for featuring my Mystical Cove print. You've put together a very informative and interesting site!

    • profile image

      GiftsBonanza 7 years ago

      Great information 5*****

    • twopurringcats profile image

      twopurringcats 7 years ago


      Thank you for including my cat artwork. That is so very nice of you. Great lens, well done!

    • profile image

      FNolan 7 years ago

      Thanks for featureing one of my images :) Much apprecisted. Great idea for a lens you have here.

    • profile image

      MalibuItalian 7 years ago

      Great lens!!!! Thanks for including my art. Fived and faved - keep up the good work!