29 May, 2012

You can always learn something new! Notes on Demo on mounting paper to panels, etc.

A Doodle from my notes shows a monster crying out in alarm when a bird poops on his head.  (The turd was an afterthought, not a comment on the demo, which was actually very good!  My husband also did a doodle, which I think is very good, and I hope he posts it online, too.)  

The notes were from a free, AZ Art Supply store demo, by Katherine Kurgan, on mounting watercolor papers to canvas and board, and finishing them, so they didn't need framing or glass. 

As any artist knows, framing can be very expensive.  Buyers may not like what you chose. And, some galleries tell artists that works under glass don't sell well. The demonstrator, Katherine Kurgan, felt there was an albeit unfair perception that watercolors on paper were not worth as much as oils and acrylics on canvas.  I believe this could be true, but also think it could be about the fragility of glass, as much as anything.

A couple of years ago, I began experimenting with mounting drawings on panels because of the expense and fragility of glass framing.  The results were very pleasing. I went to the demo because I wanted to learn more about this process. This blog post's purpose is to compare and contrast the demo with what I do.  If you get an opportunity to see this demo I think you will find it very informative.


 The demonstrator was using ordinary gessoed artists canvases on 3/4" deep stretcher bars as well as cradled panels.  She was using acrylic gels which are excellent adhesives and many people use them for collage work for that reason, (I do, too!).

Cradled panels are one of my favorite surfaces to work on and mount things on.  They are either thin plywood type panels, or Masonite or Hardboard type panels which are also wood products.  Some come pre-gessoed.  Especially if not gessoed, they should be sealed with a thin coat of fluid acrylic medium or gesso. Let it dry, before mounting anything on it.

 The "cradled" part of this is the wood support on the back, which makes for sides that vary from 3/4" deep to 2" deep.  The deeper panels are more expensive, but from what I've seen of show requirements, most galleries require work be on 1-1/2" deep panels or stretcher bars, with finished edges, if it's unframed.

Alternatively, uncradled panels are available.  I am unsure if very large plain panels would warp, so I stick to small work that I intend to frame, without glass, when using plain panels. 

Panels are available with absorbent paper-like coatings, but if you want real paper or something special like papyrus, you will need to mount it.


 The demonstrator was using finished artwork that had been done on at least 140 lb watercolor paper.  I have mounted 8 x 10 inch handmade watercolor paper, and approximately 11 x 14 inch sheets of papyrus, as well as small works on illustration board and heavy drawing papers.  (Both on plain paper and paper with artwork on it.)  Practice this on some small paper scraps or small drawings/paintings you aren't too attached to.  I don't recommend trying it the first time on something important, particularly if it's big.  The thinner the paper, the more likely this process could do something unintended.  If you want to retain the absorbent papery quality, you don't want the medium soaking thru in places from the mounting.


This part she was doing pretty much like my process, with a few inventive twists on how to weigh down the pieces as they dried.  She spread acrylic gel medium on the back of the paper as well as the front of her support, as do I.  She used a metal scraper tool typically used in the application of drywall mud.  I use a brush, plastic scraper, or sometimes a palette knife. You would  need a large scraper to work on larger pieces just to get it covered before it dried.  She advised using gel rather than the fluid mediums.  I have used both but agree the gel works better; it has a little longer working time.

Do not add drying retarders. My experience with retarders is that they weaken the material you mix them with.  Some glazing type mediums extend drying time when painting; I have not used them in THIS application.

In our warm dry Arizona air, one just learns to work fast!

After she adhered the paper and positioned it on the support, she laid it face down on sheets of gray palette paper, which is pretty non stick.  She weighed hers down with a large bag of white rice and/or some paving bricks, depending on the piece, and said to leave it that way for a couple of hours, then turn it over and let it dry.  This is similar to what I do, except, I use baking parchment, (not art paper parchment).  Baking parchment is also very non stick in my experience.  I have tried waxed paper and found it didn't work very well.  I use books for weights. But I am going to have to try the bags of rice, I think that would work really well!

Make sure the surface you put your work on is level and clean. She said that at home she used her kitchen floor.  I use the counter top or a work table.

She was mounting mostly finished works on paper.  I have done this, but I usually mount paper before I do the artwork.

Either way has its inherent risks.  You could ruin an existing work of art by mounting it after you do the art.  But you could also waste the materials by doing work you didn't like.  The bright spot is that nearly anything is possible to paint over, or mount more paper over.  And there is something kind of liberating about taking risks.  But do practice on unimportant materials, first.

Chick, mixed media drawing/painting on papyrus, which had first been mounted on a small cradled panel. I did this in either 2010 or 2011.  The entire panel had first been painted black.  When the black was dry, I mounted the papyrus scrap with acrylic gel medium. After the painting was dry, a crackle medium was applied to the edges and sides, and it was "aged" a bit with paint glazes.  The entire piece was top coated with a mix of fluid matte and gloss medium.  It is very durable little piece.


The demonstrator applied a generous gob of Dorland's Wax Medium, (an oil painting medium that has other uses, too).  She spread it around until the piece had a thin uniform coating, and let it dry. She said one to three coats does it.  She said to let it dry at least a few hours between coats.  She compared it to car wax, and demonstrated how you buff off the haze of the dried wax, to the gloss level you want.  She sprayed a waxed piece with water and it beaded up and rolled off. She said these pieces are ok to hang in a kitchen or bathroom, two places where you usually don't put art, because it could be damaged.  I will experiment with a piece in the bathroom.

The demonstrator also sometimes used acrylic mediums, and if necessary, permanent spray fixatives or sealers.  She, like I, did not like to use sprays because of toxicity issues.  In any case, the wax is always the last step, as other products will not stick well to the wax once you put it on.

When I talk about varnishing a painting I am not actually using varnish, I'm using acrylic medium.  Liquitex makes a combination medium &varnish that I like. I think it does work better than those that are just for use as a medium, plus it makes a great medium!  Tri Art makes a varnish/medium, too, and in three gloss levels.  Tri Art is as far as I know, only available from Dick Blick which means I have to order it.

There is a controversy over whether acrylic paintings need to be "varnished" with spirit based products as oil paintings do. I have not used spirit, wax or oil based things over acrylic work in many years, but will experiment with Dorlands Wax Medium.  Not sure how this wax dries, but I would not want a soft waxy coating on my work if it remains that way. An acrylic paint book published fairly recently, and promoting a particular good brand of paint, stated that acrylics do not need varnish.  It stated that an isolation coat of acrylic medium is a good idea.  The isolation coat separates the painting from actual varnish, and can function as varnish itself, according to the book. But the demonstrator felt that acrylic paintings needed actual varnish.

What I do now, is to coat the finished work with fluid acrylic medium.  Like the wax, it takes 1 to 3 coats, and can be hours or all day before it's dry enough depending on your climate.  If you want a matte finish, do matte on the last coat.  Gloss enhances colors and is very, very transparent.  Many layers of matte can be kind of misty looking.  I like matte to preserve the papery appearance of work on paper.  Plus, if you're working over something with pencils, matte is a good drawing ground.

I water down the final top coat layers of acrylic medium when I 'varnish' a painting, because in our air, it dries way too fast if I don't.  I have not had any problems with watering it down even half & half (water and medium) though the instructions usually don't advise going that far.  I apply my top coatings with a soft, synthetic bristled, wide brush that is for varnishing.  It was a rather expensive brush but is worth it.  It's wonderful on surfaces that are smooth.  I can get away with most any kind of brush on more textural work, like palette knife paintings, just be sure the brush does not shed bristles.  Sometimes even good brushes shed at first, so use your 'varnish' brush to paint washes, etc, for awhile, before you use it to varnish.  When/if it does not shed, it can be used for varnishing (top coating).

Work fast when top coating or varnishing, especially if you're in dry air.  Working back into a finish will leave brush strokes and varying levels of gloss.   Catch drips on the edge before they dry and just smooth them out.

Some people spray the top coat.  I have the equipment to do so, left over from my mural and large scale work days, when I was an employee of co's that did that.  But I HATE spraying.  I hate the overspray, the sound of the compressor, wearing a respirator (mask), and the hassle of cleaning up equipment.  But if I had to coat a lot of things I might drag out the spray gun etc, because it is fast and does not leave brush marks.  So far, I have not had a problem with brush marks when I water the medium down, use the right brush, and work quickly.

Here's a link that may be helpful, too:

Golden Paints technical info on isolation coats and varnishing acrylic paintings 


The edges of your work should be finished in a way that goes with the artwork.  This can be as simple as just painting them to match the art, or painting them black, but could also be a special finish like crackle, etc. I personally would not apply wax over the edges because you might later want to change the edge.  The demonstrator said she sometimes agrees to change the edge color if a buyer wants that.  Once things are waxed, it's very hard to put anything over them, at least not easily!


Now, it's up to you, to decide if the piece still needs a frame, but you can get away with omitting a mat and glass by using this process.

The demonstrator liked "floating frames" which I also like.  I have put a number of my small paintings, and my entire Peanut painting series in floating frames. They are not too expensive, (she and I both liked Jerry's Artarama's version), and it's a nice clean modern look.  Floating frames can be bought to accommodate 3/4" and 1-1/2" deep canvases and panels.  Hardware and instructions come with them.  The edges of a piece DO show in a floating frame, but they are in a channel, so they do not show prominently.

I also like Jerry's Plein Air frames, which have an uncluttered but fairly wide face, and come in multiple finishes.  These work well with art done on uncradled panels, (either harboard type panels or canvas panels).  They also come with hardware, normally.

I shop sales, and use coupons, to buy frames.  Also check yard sales and 2nd hand stores, for the occasional treasure.


 I have mounted several small canvas boards on cradled panels with acrylic gel medium, to combine small paintings into larger pieces.  The gel holds very well.  This is one I did earlier this year that is now for sale in Willo North, a gallery that is open for First Fridays of the month, (art walk night), just south of Thomas Road, on 7th Ave, in Phoenix, AZ.  Fri June 1st the show for Paul Wilson opens at Willo.  My work and other small works are in the gallery's boutique area.  Paul's show promises to be spectacular, hope you will go see it if you're in the area.