Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to Mount a Painting to a Cradle--Step by Step

A Cradle? We aren't talking infant beds here. This is the term used for a painting panel which can be used in several ways. I was looking for a way to present my artwork that would eliminate the mat, frame and glass or plexi-glass which is the traditional way to hang a watercolor painting. A friend attended a workshop held in Portland, taught by Rene Eisenbart, and he shared what he learned in her workshop.

First step was getting the necessary supplies. I looked on line at and found they did not list the size cradle I wanted (one that would fit a 1/2 sheet of watercolor paper.) I called them and found the price very reasonable to have a custom made size, so I ordered 3. 

I also had to order a variety of Golden products to mount and protect the painting. I will tell you what I used as I go through the process.

First I coated the top of the wood panel where the painting would be attached with 2 coats of GAC 100. This product prevents acids from the wood making contact with the paper. In this photo I have already coated the top and have taped it off to apply stain to the side of the cradle. When I coated the top, I taped the edges to keep the GAC 100 from making contact with the wood so the wood would take the stain evenly. 

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Next I scrounged around in my garage to find sandpaper, stain, and varathanes to finish the sides of the cradle. (Thank goodness I've got an assortment of such stuff from years of home projects.) The wood in the cradle is quite nice wood and can be painted or stained. For my painting, I thought a stained wood would be quite handsome.

I sanded and stained the sides and bottom edge of the wood. Be sure to read the directions on your particular products. This oil based stain needed a few hours to cure.


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After the stain cured, I sanded with a fine sandpaper and applied clear varathane to the wood. I recommend using a water based product for several reasons--fast drying, easy cleanup and less smell. I put on 2 coats of clear and one final coat of satin varathane, sanding between each coat. I now had a well prepared cradle for my painting.

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I prepared my painting by applying 2 or 3 coats of Archival Varnish MSA with UVLS. Now both my board and painting were protected from damage as I moved on the the big event--gluing the painting on to the board.

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The product for this step is Soft Gel (gloss). I simply applied a good layer of the gel to the back of my painting. Again, I protected the sides of the cradle with painters tape.  I used my brayer roller to apply pressure and firmly attach the paper to the board, getting all the air out.

*When I do this again, I will wet the back of the painting with water so the gel is absorbed more evenly. I ended up with a couple of bubbles, which I'll explain how to remedy at the end of the post.

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I then put freezer paper over the painting, put it all under a piece of plexiglass on top and hoisted my two 25 pounders on top of the plexi and let it adhere overnight.

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You want a small overhang where the painting is a bit larger than the board it is being mounted on. I used a utility knife to make a clean cut where the painting met the side. I had a sliver of white paper at the top, where it had been cut, so I used my finger in a bit of gouache to stain the white, and since both the painting and wood were protected with a finish, I just wiped it all up with a paper towel. The final step was using Top Coat with UVLS to put a final finish on the painting and I was careful to wrap the finish over the edge again to protect the little sliver of exposed paper I had just stained with gouach.

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The one problem I had was the bubble in the middle of the painting after the application, weighting down and all. I did fix it--a trick I learned from years of hanging wall paper. I took my exacto knife and slit the paper along an area I knew a small cut would not show. Then I inserted enough soft gel to adhere the bubble to the board, making sure to massage it into the farthest parts. It is invisible now. But I do think starting with a moist paper prior to applying the soft gel would be a good idea.

I am really pleased with this presentation. It lends itself well to a more contemporary painting like Columbia Basin Reflections. It takes quite a bit of effort, but the piece is now secure and protected. I won't have to worry about glass breaking, plexi scratching, etc. I have two unfinished cradles sitting in my studio. I haven't chosen my next painting to mount using this method, but I like this new and refreshing way to hang art.

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Columbia Basin Reflections, Mixed Media, 14.5 x 21.5 inches

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Anonymous said...

Thanks Margaret; Very informative. Jennie

Blenda said...

What a great idea, Margaret! Thanks for the tip...I'm trying this one for sure.

Candace X. Moore said...

Great blog, Margaret. This post on mounting watercolors or paper on cradle is excellent. I'm looking to mount some large charcoal drawings to eliminate the issues with framing and glass reflection. Your procedure is full of great information, exactly what I was looking for.

Best regards and happy new year.