Many people choose to mount watercolors, artwork on textured paper, or time-worn documents, like old maps or handwritten letters, so that they’re suspended within the window of a mat and the paper’s raw edges are visible. This technique is called float mounting, and it creates a very professional and unique presentation that showcases the original nature of your piece. It’s especially ideal for watercolor paintings, which are created on heavyweight paper and will not be damaged by mounting from the backside of the art.
Be Careful with Original or Valuable Art
Never use any kind of adhesive process such as spray mounting or dry mounting because it will permanently alter the artwork and is not considered a proper conservation technique. Always choose acid-free mounting materials and apply them correctly, so that the art will lay properly but retain the natural tendency of the artwork to expand and contract in response to changing environmental conditions. When handling the art and mat boards, wear white gloves to prevent fingerprints or other damage.
For reasons of preservation, minimize the amount of adhesive you put in contact with the paper. And for the best lay-flat effect, avoid restraining the artwork’s natural tendency to “breathe” (to expand and contract as it absorbs and rejects moisture in the air) by taping it as little as possible with the least amount of liquid. Therefore, you want to use only two tabs of tape to hold the artwork against its backing. The backing, in this case, will be mat board.
Select Your Mat Color Choice
The first piece will become your window mat, and the second color will be used as the background against which you will mount your art. It’s important when choosing the color you are mounting on that it is a 100% rag mat. An acid-free mat board usually refers to the white core of the board and not the colored surface paper that is adhered to it. This is fine when matting around a piece of art because the colored paper is not in contact with the art itself, only the white acid-free board is. However, that’s not the case with float mounting, so it is not recommended.
Once you have selected a 100% rag board, cut two pieces of mat board to the same size as your frame. You’ll also want to select and size a secondary backing material, such as acid-free foam core or another rag mat, to provide added rigidity behind the backing mat board.
Hinge-Mount Your Artwork
It’s recommended that you hinge-mount your artwork without permanently adhering it to the mounting board. Hinges should be removable with water or a small amount of alcohol. You should use a material with enough strength to hold your artwork in place, but it should also have the ability to pull free if the art is dropped. So, if the hinge tears, you don’t want it to tear your artwork. The best and most common materials for this are rice paper hinges, linen tape, and some archival pressure-sensitive tapes.
Although Japanese rice paper is probably the best material to use—mostly because it’s made from traditional fibers that are known for their strength and pH neutrality—it’s not the most convenient to find and use. Pressure-sensitive tapes are easier to find and easier to apply. These archival tapes can usually be found in most art supply stores and are most commonly made by Filmoplast. Or alternatively, you may try Japanese hinging tape.
The advantage to these tapes is that you do not need water to apply them, so the paper will not ripple or wave. However, the disadvantage is that they don’t remove easily with water, especially over time (check this link for details on the Filmoplast removal process).
These tapes come in three weights, so determine which one is best suited for your art before purchasing. Also, when applied, the tape needs to be burnished to hold its strength. You can use a burnishing bone, the rounded side of a spoon, or any smooth-rounded tool that will not tear the hinge or the artwork.
The hinges should be T-shaped and approximately ½” to ¾” wide. The T-hinge will allow the artwork to breathe. Put your artwork facedown and measure ¼” down from the top and approximately one-third of the way in on either side. You will have two hinges. Make a very light pencil mark at the locations. You are now going to attach your T-hinge to the back of the artwork.
Steps for Using a T-Shaped Hinge
- First, you are going to make your T-hinge. Your vertical hinge is going to be adhesive side down, and your T top horizontal hinge will be adhesive side up (the part that will be adhered to the mounting board).
- Once you have made your T, you will set your hinge in place. Take your hinge and line up the top of the T to your pencil marks (vertical part, adhesive side down) and burnish it down to the back of your artwork.
- After both sides have been adhered, you will mount it to the mounting board. Flip your art face up and center it lightly over the mounting board ensuring it’s centered exactly where you want it.
- Once it’s in place, lower it onto the board and, using clean hands, apply pressure to the top of your art where the hinges are. Be sure to apply enough pressure to make the tape secure.
- Cut your window mat so that it’s larger than the art and place it over the piece of art. You may choose to apply an extra thickness of mat board or acid-free foam core behind the window mat to create added height and to ensure the window mat stands higher than the artwork that is being floated.
- Complete the presentation by framing the mounted work. For valuable art, be sure to select museum-quality, UV-filtering glass to protect from UV damage and risk of fading.
—A piece of mat board that has been reduced from the full-size sheet to the frame size. The blank does not yet have a window cut into it.
—Typically, the frame size is defined as the interior size, or recessed area, of the frame; in other words, the part that encompasses the mat, glass, and backing. Generally, the overall dimensions of the mat, glass, and backing that fit into the frame are equal to the frame size.
—The process of securing the art within the mat or against the backing. Various techniques may be chosen depending on requirements for presentation and preservation.
Custom Online Framing
Church Hill Classics does not provide float mounting services; however, we do allow you to create custom frames for your special documents, photos, artwork, and more. Our Create-A-Frame technology lets you choose your own frame style, frame moulding, matting, custom insignias, and upgraded glass options. It’s easy to create a frame that matches your own style and decor.
Lucie Voves is the President, Founder and CEO of Church Hill Classics/diplomaframe.com.