Mounting Watercolor Paper to a Panel

Posted by on Feb 16, 2015 in Blog | 22 Comments

For the last few months, I’ve experimented with mounting watercolor paper to a cradled wood panel for my work. The idea came from my friend and fellow artist, JAW Cooper. She wrote a tutorial on her own blog about this process. I’ve since adjusted just a few things for my own purposes, so I thought I’d document my own process. This is the fourth panel I’ve created in this manner and the first that I feel pretty good about, including the varnishing technique, which can get very tricky.

Here’s what you’ll need (follow links for product information):

If you’d rather watch a video of this method, check out my “Process and Tutorials in Watercolor” video!

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Step One: Tape the edge of your board with painter’s tape and use the squeegee to press it as firmly to the edge as possible. This is  not only to keep the gesso and matte medium off the edges, but you also don’t want your water media (as you’re painting) to seep over and into the panel’s edges.

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Step two: Apply the gesso to the surface with a foam brush. This is to create a barrier between the paper and the wood, since over time the acid in the wood will seep into the paper if you don’t protect it. The matte medium might do a well enough job, but I’m not sure of this, so gesso is your best bet for protecting the underside of the paper from the wood’s acid. One coat is probably enough.

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Step three: Take your 120 grit sandpaper (or something similar) and give the gesso’s surface a once-over. You just want to even out the surface enough that there won’t be any noticeable bumps when you press the paper later.

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Step four: If you haven’t already, trace your surface over your paper (make sure that gesso is dry!), and then cut around it, leaving about 1″ of space all around. Set that paper aside. Also, make sure you have a flat surface ready with paper towels, like below.

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Step five: It’s really important that you work very quickly here, since the matte medium dries pretty quickly. Spread out a hefty dollop of the medium over your gessoed surface with a large brush. Leave a little extra at the edges. Then, line up the panel over your paper that’s been set aside. Gently press it down. For this 14″ x 18″ piece, this step took about a minute. Any longer, and I would’ve needed to reapply the medium.

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Step six:  Flip the panel back over with the paper at the top. Take your brayer and, starting in the middle and working to each edge, roll it over the paper with as much pressure as you can muster. The goal is to have as few bubbles under the paper as possible to make sure the medium is spread out evenly underneath.

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Step seven: Put the panel paper side down over the paper towels and pile weighted objects over it. Try to evenly distribute the weight if possible, too. Turns out my college art history books are pretty useful here! I’ve also got a smaller panel (12″ x 16″) on the inside to help distribute the weight. Leave it overnight, or for at least a few hours.

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Step eight: After the matte medium has fully dried and adhered to the paper, remove your weights. You’ll now need to cut away the excess paper. I’m using an x-acto knife with a fresh blade to cut into the edges. If you’re not confident with your abilities here, using a stiff ruler as a barrier between the panel and the knife will help you get a more precise cut that can later be sanded away.

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Step nine: Using your 600 grit sandpaper, sand DOWN at an angle to remove any excess paper and get a cleaner edge. If you sand upwards, you’ll risk pulling the paper away from the panel. After this, you’re ready to paint! DON’T remove the tape yet, though!

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Step ten: Once your painting is complete, it’s time to varnish and prepare the panel for hanging. After all, the surface needs protection too! Everyone has different methods for varnishing water media paintings – this is one I’ve worked on for years and only recently settled on what I do now. You’ll need acrylic spray varnish to start. The spray varnish is important since brushing on varnish at this stage will only smear your watercolor work. (If you’ve painted with acrylic, you can use brush-on varnish). I typically do 2-3 coats allowing for ample drying time in between each coat. I prefer to use GLOSS varnish since matte varnish reduces the brilliance of any color I’ve used. However, if you’re using gouache or have used thickly applied watercolor, the gloss will make those parts shine and not others. Because that was the case here, I then used a brush on satin finish acrylic varnish. I did about 5-6 coats, applying alternately in vertical and horizontal coats. Once you’re happy with the finish, you can remove the painter’s tape!

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Step eleven:

To prepare the panel for hanging, I’ve used to hook eye screws on the inside of the panel, wrapped framer’s wire, and added four felt stickies. I’ve also added the information about the painting in the back for archival purposes.

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Step twelve: Hang it up and give yourself a high five!

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22 Comments

  1. Hanan
    February 17, 2015

    I love this idea! Do you find it to be easier to paint on this surface in comparison to your other method? Are you going to do a YouTube video of the process as well? Absolutely love your work 🙂

    Reply
    • admin
      February 17, 2015

      The surface is practically the same, though I’ve noticed that the watercolor takes just a little bit longer to dry than it did on my stretched panels, since the stretched panels didn’t have a surface directly beneath it. I’m not currently planning on a youtube video tutorial (I think this one is pretty thorough), but I will have a tutorial as a part of my DVD coming up, hopefully in the next couple of months.

      Reply
      • Hanan
        February 17, 2015

        Thank you for responding!! Yes this is very thorough! I just always get things better when watching it done (just the way my brain works I guess :/) lol. Can’t wait for your DVD, how exciting! Best of luck to you and thanks again. ~ @hanan_draws_stuff 🙂

        Reply
  2. Elissa Baltzer
    February 18, 2015

    Thanks a lot for creating this how to post Kelly, I’ve been meaning to try to figure out how to do this for a while and haven’t had the time. The way you’ve presented this technique makes it really accessible and easy to understand! I’m looking forward to trying it. Your work is really beautiful, by the way.

    Reply
  3. Nyela
    February 18, 2015

    Did you sketch out your composition before of after you mounted the paper to a panel? Just curious.

    Reply
    • admin
      February 18, 2015

      I sketch it out after I’ve attached it to the panel, just because I do a wash before sketching and if I did a wash before mounting the paper, it’d be harder to get it flat.

      Reply
  4. Marti
    May 28, 2015

    Love your work.
    Thanks for this post
    Marti

    Reply
  5. Drs
    December 7, 2015

    Great method – Wouldn’t the glue between the paper and the wood be enough to prevent acid seeping through as glue is a solid, impermeable barrier?

    Reply
  6. Carmen
    January 29, 2016

    This is so helpful – thank you. Just discovered you via instagram and am loving reading your blog.

    Reply
  7. Flynn Gentry-Taylor
    March 12, 2016

    Wondering if this method can be put in juried competition? Loved it..

    Reply
  8. Peter von zur Muehlen
    April 20, 2016

    I have been wanting to attempt something like this for quite a while. Nice tutorial. I wonder how much harder it would be for a much larger panel/piece of paper. Say, something like 5 by 5 feet or bigger.

    Reply
    • admin
      January 11, 2017

      I would get several people to help you in the process!

      Reply
  9. Ellie
    May 3, 2016

    I really want to try this but I’m afraid of messing up and wanting to start fresh – have you ever tried to remove watercolor paper from the panel or mount a new price of watercolor paper on top of it all? I guess I need to feel like there’s a backup plan 😉

    Reply
    • Rachel
      September 24, 2016

      This is in reply to Ellie-
      I know it feels bad to waste paper because of the expense, but we have all had paintings go south and be beyond saving. With this method as with most things, you have to break at least one egg to make an omelet. So it may take losing a sheet of watercolor paper and an attempt to get it right. I would suggest buying an imperial sheet of 90lb cotton Arches cold-press watercolor paper( there $7.50 at my local art supply shop) or something similar and using that as your practice piece of paper to mount. The weight will give you a basic idea of what it will be like to mount a 140lb piece to the frame without costing you quite as much as the 140 or 300 lb version. 😊

      Reply
  10. Erica Lyn Schmidt
    May 5, 2016

    I use mixed media, and decided that mounting my paper to a rigid support would be smart to help prevent my top oil layer from cracking over the acrylic (and watercolor) layers. I thought I would have to search the dregs of the internet to find out how to do this, but your post popped up right away and I’m thrilled. Thanks so much for making this information available for Google-Fu-ers like me! 🙂

    Reply
  11. Karen P
    June 24, 2016

    Hi, Thanks so much for your directions. A great alternative to traditional framing. Have you ever mounted a finished painting this way. I was wondering if it would work? Thanks again.

    Reply
    • admin
      January 11, 2017

      I haven’t mounted a finished painting, but I have mounted prints before. The trickiest part is in the cutting and sanding, because you risk tearing and exposing unpainted areas in the process. If you do that, I’d just paint an extra 1/2″ so you have some wiggle room.

      Reply
  12. Amber Rogers
    July 29, 2016

    Could you use this technique with artboard watercolor paper? I’ve been looking for different ways to frame water colors and this one most attracted me. Just wondered if you’ve mounted thicker paper like that?

    Reply
    • admin
      January 11, 2017

      Like illustration board? I think it’s possible, just plan to add a LOT of weight in the drying process.

      Reply
  13. Meriem Elbar
    August 12, 2016

    Hi kelly ! thank you for sharing this original idea and i’ll be trying it as soon as possible … and i really loved your masterpiece <3 … keep going !

    Reply
  14. Aimee
    November 11, 2016

    Hi do you stretch the paper first? I paint portraits and figures so I don’t tend to stretch the paper first as its doesn’t buckle too much but I’d love to try mounting them first and wonder if the paper needs to be ore stretched?

    Thanks so much for the detailed explanation it’s very useful and easy to follow.

    Reply
    • admin
      January 11, 2017

      Nope, I don’t stretch the paper first. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it couldn’t hurt!

      Reply

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