Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

How many times have you seen a beautiful painting at an art exhibit framed badly? Or, entered a competition only to be rejected for an award because of a bad presentation? A fellow artist had such an experience where his beautiful painting was juried into a show but later discovered the judge rejected it for an award because of framing. It is unfortunate the planning and execution put into making a wonderful painting is not extended into the final presentation.

Side Bar: For the sake of this post, I’ll confine the discussion to works on paper, matted and glazed with glass or plexiglass. Another given in this discussion is budget. Not all budgets are created equal so you do the best you can with what you have. Let’s assume you have an appropriate budget to frame your painting in a professional archival manner.

Matboard Color

Watercolor and other water-based mediums are framed with matboard in most cases. If you are framing for a gallery or a show the first decision is the mat color. Professionally speaking, the mat color should be white or off-white or as close to the white of the paper as possible. Colored mats are not for professional presentation, in my opinion. They are dated in appearance and are a major distraction from the painting. The goal is to not make the matting match a color in the painting. The painting loses importance matted with a color mat. If you can attend the American Watercolor Society exhibitions or other professional exhibitions, you will find the majority framed with light or neutral colors. Most state and regional watercolor societies emphasize this in their competition prospectus.

Matboard Weight

Matting also comes in different thicknesses—2-ply, 4-ply and 8-ply are the most common and comes in sizes up to 40” x 60.” The cost increases with the thickness. For my works on paper, I choose the 8-ply because it looks more substantial and makes a better presentation for my work. Budget will dictate your choice based on the size of your painting and your presentation strategy.

Island Float or Flush?

I use a couple of ways to mat my acrylic paintings. An island float floats the entire sheet of paper on an archival backing with the window edge of the mat cut approximately .25” to .325” from the edge of the painting. A flush mat is where the window is cut to be flush or slightly overlapping the edge of the painting. The choice is a matter of taste. Most of my paintings have deckled edges and I paint all the way to edge. I like the look and feel of seeing all the edges of the painting in an island float.

Matboard Width

This is where a lot of presentation mistakes are made. It is really important to give your painting breathing room. I’ll say it again. It is really important for a painting to have breathing room. Conventional wisdom says—depending on the size of the painting—that a minimum of 2” is the smallest width on smaller paintings. Typically there is 2” on top and sides with 3” on the bottom. Having a bottom-weighted mat is also a matter of preference. The larger the painting the greater the width of the mat should be—proportionately. However, paintings larger than a standard 22” x 30” single sheet of watercolor paper will perhaps require a more custom solution. There are many variations in using mat width to emphasize your art. Even a 5” x 5” painting can have enormous impact with an 8” mat width all around!

Glass or Plexiglass

This choice is determined by the end use. If you are framing for your home or to give to someone, then glass is probably a good choice. If you are framing to ship to an exhibit then plexiglass would be the best choice. Always try to use UV glass or plexiglass to protect from sun damage. Most competitions require plexiglass for safety in shipping and handling.


The moulding for your frame should be substantial enough to carry the look and size of your painting. For example, a frame too thin on a large piece will look flimsy and fragile. A moulding chosen appropriately will complement the look of your painting while not overwhelming it. The style of moulding is also important. If your painting is abstract, maybe a ornate gold-leaf frame would not work. That’s an extreme example but you get the point.

Presentation, presentation, presentation. It could make the difference between making a sale or receiving an award. Find what works for your work and your budget and always be consistent. Regardless of your career trajectory, making your work look the best it can is essential.

And, like I say, I’m just tryin’ to make small talk.

One Response

  1. Nick,

    Not small talk at all. This is such an important subject that we are always trying to impart to members and non members of Tennessee Watercolor Society. Thank you for addressing the subject! Well done!

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