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How to Care for Your Art

by Frances Ku

3 May 2000


Watercolors are water based, used on paper. The best paper for watercolor is 300 lb due to its stiffness and ability to absorb water without warping. Watercolor paintings must not be displayed under direct sunlight or they will fade. For watercolor paintings with the deckled edge paper, ask the framer to float it so that the deckled edge can be seen and appreciated. Watercolors without the deckled edge should be framed normally with the mat or scoop covering all sides of the painting. Watercolors must always be framed with glass to protect it. Use glass cleaner to clean glass. Polish frame with dry cloth only.


Oil paintings are less fragile and do not need to be framed with glass. They can be hung just about anywhere and will not wear out. Oil paintings that have a gallery wrap (canvas that stretches for over an inch to all four sides and stapled in the back instead of the sides, also painted on all four sides) do not need to be framed.

Comparison of the Two

Oil paintings are often marketed at a higher price than watercolor paintings, due more to tradition than merit. Watercolors actually involve more technique and difficulty than oil, since watercolors are harder to control and can blotch easily. Obvious mistakes in watercolor are beyond repair, whereas in oil painting, it's a matter of painting right over your mistake, hiding the underlying coat.

Of course, oil paintings are time-honored for a reason. They are within such control of the hand of the artist that they can directly reflect the artist's thoughts, making for a versatile medium of communication. Further, oil has texture, which artists can use creatively on the canvas. Oil has provided for artists throughout the ages a great variety of styles that it continues to be seen as the creme de la creme of all painting media.

The colors that each medium produces interact differently and appeal to the eye differently. Oil colors on canvas are opaque and solid. Lightness must be achieved by the use of brushstroke and mixing color. While extra work must be done for lightness in oil, heaviness can be achieved without much effort. Watercolors, on the other hand, are more transparent. Therefore, extra work must be done for heaviness or opaqueness -- quite the opposite.

When interacting with other colors, watercolors dissolve together and surprise even the seasoned watercolorist in its results. Watercolors tend to glow and are superb in expressing feelings of romance, mystery, or airiness.

Copyright 2000 Frances Ku