Once you’ve created a masterpiece with oil paint on paper, you’ll want to mount it for framing. Although works on paper are often mounted on a backing board with T-hinges, I prefer to mount my oil paintings on paper onto a hard backboard. This essentially turns the piece into a painting on panel, which I can frame without glass.
For this type of mount, I use a reversible, heat-activated adhesive called Beva 371 film. The adhesive film, sandwiched between a clear Mylar release sheet and a sheet of white, silcone-coated paper, comes in rolls. Because I use a clothes iron rather than a hot press to activate the adhesive, I recommend my method of mounting artworks in oil paint onto paper only for paintings 12×16 or smaller. Activating the adhesive requires a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. I set my iron on “delicate,” but knowing what setting to use on your iron and how long to run it is a matter of experience. I recommend practicing with a scrap of Beva film and sheets of paper; try to glue two pieces of paper together with this method until you get a feeling for the timing and heat required.
Before starting the mounting process, I make sure the painting is dry. Because I don’t do much impasto work, my paintings dry to the touch within a week or two. If I have an area of thick paint, I press into it with my fingernail to see whether it gives; I want to make sure the paint is solid enough to stand up to the pressure of the clothes iron.
Below is a demonstration on how to mount oil paintings on paper onto a panel:
Materials list: hardboard panel, Beva 371 film adhesive, Gamblin PVA size (optional), marker, clothes iron, scissors, pushpin, steel ruler, cutting blade.
1. Measure and cut adhesive paper: When I create a work in oil paint on paper, the finished piece generally has a trim border of ¼ inch. (For example, the 8¼x10¼ painting that I mounted for this demonstration is on a 8½x10½ sheet of paper.) After selecting a sheet of acid-free hardboard that matches the size of the painting (rather than the size of the paper), I unroll a length of Beva 371 film adhesive, place the hardboard (in this case, medium-density fiberboard, or MDF) on the adhesive, and trace the outline of the board. I then take an additional step and brush a thin layer of PVA size on the board. At this point I turn on my iron so it will be warmed up for step 6.
I then cut out the adhesive sheet with an extra ¼ inch beyond the outline of the hardboard, which makes the adhesive film about the same size as the paper to be mounted. Later, I’ll trim the extra ¼ inches of the film and painting.
2. Create registration marks: To aid with the positioning of the painting during mounting, I place the painting face up and set the hardboard upon it, covering the image exactly. I then use a pushpin to prick a hole at each corner. The pinpricks serve as registration marks.
3. Separate adhesive layers: I separate the clear Mylar release sheet from the white, silcone-coated sheet of the Beva adhesive. The adhesive remains on the clear Mylar release sheet. I keep the white sheet to use later.
4. Position release sheet: I place the hardboard so the side to which I want to attach the painting is facing up. Then I place the clear Mylar release sheet, with the less shiny, adhesive side down, upon the board.
5. Heat the release sheet: Now I take the white, silicone-coated sheet and, with the slippery, silicone side down, place it on top of the clear Mylar release sheet. The white sheet acts as a barrier between the warm iron and the Mylar. Next, I take my preheated iron and, using firm but even pressure, I run it over the white sheet. I try to heat all areas equally, using my fingers to test the warmth of the surface. I strongly recommend doing a trial run for this step, as described at the beginning of this demonstration.
6. Remove release sheet: Put the iron aside and let the whole assembly cool completely. Then carefully remove the clear Mylar release sheet. The adhesive will remain on the hardboard. If you see bubbles, put the clear Mylar release sheet back on, cover it with the white sheet, and re-iron the assembly until the bubbles are gone.
7. Position painting on panel: Using the pinpricks as a guide, position the painting face-up upon the prepared panel.
8. Activate the adhesive: Place the white sheet, with the slippery silicone side down, against the painting. With firm but even pressure, use the iron to activate the adhesive. This may take a little longer than the heating process in step 6 because now the heat has to penetrate through the painting and paper to the adhesive beneath them.
9. Check adhesion: Remove the white silicone-coated sheet. When the “sandwich” of painting, adhesive, and hardboard has cooled completely, examine the edges for poor adhesion. If a part of the painting can be separated with a fingertip from the edge of the board, iron that area again. Don’t forget the white silicone-coated sheet!
10. Trim edges: Use a steel ruler and a sharp blade to trim the excess paper and adhesive.
11. Voila!: Here’s the finished oil painting on paper, mounted on a panel.
By Michael Chesley Johnson
- “Oil Paintings on Paper” – (free online article) Artist Peter Fiore reports on his painting tests with Arches oil paper.
- “A Case for Oil on Paper” – (Brushing Up article in the March 2014 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, available at www.NorthLightShop on January 14, 2014) Michael Chesley Johnson explains the advantages of creating oil paintings on paper and demonstrates how to prepare a paper surface for oil.
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