FRAMING, Part I, Works on Paper Framing Overview

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Every painter wants to frame his or her painting once it’s done. As beautifully as possible. As much within the conventions of the medium as possible, unless, of course, you are after the weird frame of the year award. As a painter who uses several different media, framing my paintings has given me a unique overview that I think will help collectors and students alike understand the measures I take to love up on my paintings by honoring them with a semi-permanent house. I say that because even the best framed pieces are semi-permanent. We just want decades at the least.

Usually, oil painters don’t want to hear about how to frame watercolors, or vice-versa. However, having insider info into several media’s framing requirement needs will help you understand why I chose the frame I did, and what you will be replacing perhaps with inferior quality, if you choose to re-frame. Even hobby artists and do it yourself folks using a shadowbox frame for mementos can profit from this. There are several things to think about when you frame. One is the stability of the art work itself. Another is its beautification or enhancement. Another is the stability of the unit that is the framed art work. And yet another is the identity of the work.

First, let’s describe different art works to be framed and go into what years of experience from framers and artists tell us. The purposes are many–architectural stability, protection from bugs, spacing the work away from the wall and possible moisture, to name a few. This is not meant as a technical treatise; that I leave to experts. However, my advice will give you a general guidance in the best possible directions.

Pencil, colored pencil, pastel, gel pen, pen-ink, watercolor, and even paintings in oil or acrylic on canvas sheets (not stretched or on board). All of these works need similar handling. The framing process for Works on Paper itself must be broken down into four separate areas: Matting, Backing, Framing Material, and Glazing. Let’s look at each one.

A. Matting. All works done onto paper must be matted. Insert pix of Mom’s Magnolias. Besides enhancing and highlighting the work itself, mats separate art work from the glass. The image of the art work, if placed right next to the glass, can affix to the glass itself, an unintended but permanent state of affairs no artist wants to happen. Glass can magnify sunlight’s rays in all forms and fade the picture. All materials used fade if hung in bright sunlight. Mat comes in different qualities–acidic, buffered, neutral, acid-free. I use only acid-free mats, due to the fast deterioration caused by acid to paper fibers, and also due to its yellowing of the work (early stage deterioration). Acid burns, and the burning yellow color causes premature deterioration of the art work. The only variation I use is between acid-free and museum quality. Various techniques include single matting, double or triple matting, float mounting, and separation from the glass by invisible strips carried by every framer and available on request. Added distance between artwork and glass can always be considered a good thing. For the watercolors I paint on beautiful deckled or raw-torn edges, I use the float mounting technique which requires a full mat sheet behind the work of art, and the at-least 3-inch mat in front of it. I actually don’t go below 4″ or 3-1/2″ matting. Besides worrying about the surfaces on which the art work lies, or which lie on top of the art work, you must also be careful how you affix the painting to mat board. Again, we have to go with acid-free tape, most often, linen. You can order this yourself, but if you don’t specify that you want your framer to use acid-free tape. The work on paper needs not to wobble, but should not be attached too tightly, as different climate conditions will expand and contract the piece. For this reason, and to limit the affected area, a hinge system is used at the top of the work, with only strips holding onto the paper by the acid-free glue on the linen strips. For the process, see source below! This keeps the work in place but expandable so it doesn’t bow and warp from being taped all around four sides, a practice that should NEVER be done.

A few words about color. Mat colors fade. White, grey, off-white, don’t and even darker neutrals don’t look bad slightly faded. Color does. Less is more. You shouldn’t have to enhance to make your work shine. Do, however, choose even your neutrals for nuance of tone. Photo-white is my all time favorite–not too yellow, not too grey. Almost white.

B.Backing. Acid-free foam core of various thicknesses protects and adds stability to the architectural sandwich. It lends stability to the wooden or gallery frame (metal), as well, countering the stress points of such a flat unit. If you use metal or gallery frames, you will use no further backing material, as the design does not allow it. Tension strips of metal come with the frame to press the unit tighter together. This prevents torquing as well as the introduction of bugs into the unit. That being said, bugs will get in, somehow, and is no sign of neglect by either artist or gallery owner. Gallery-framed paintings need to be refreshed every so often, but if you change any of the elements, you MUST INSIST on acid-free components. If you value your art work at all, pick a reputable framer who knows his stuff, and the lady you know will not sneak in shortcuts. Ask for explanations at the point of service. If they don’t know enough about it, you will get a skimpy or curt answer, and you can look further for your framer. If you are a diy person, examine all your materials from the art supplier to be sure they are what is claimed. Make them say it is acid-free.

If you frame your work on paper in a wood or wood-substitute frame, you will add an additional step to your acid-free foam core. Once the backing is stapled in place (this is NOT a framing primer), you will need an acid-free sheet of paper to glue from side to side on the back of the wood, continuously. Read: no gaps in glued surface for living things to enter.

C.Glazing. Strange word. It is simple one step more general than glass. Because you can use glass, or you can use Plexiglass, or maybe there’s something else I don’t know about. However, I use Plexiglas on all my watercolor paintings, as that is the only way they are accepted and received from shows. No one wants blood liability on the artwork from shattered glass in transit. So if my customer prefers glass, that’s his chance to ante up and refresh the package, if not the individual elements. Remember, you can get any number of UV-ray controlling exemplars of glass and Plexiglas. It’s best to choose a framer who has a picture of what it looks like under the type of either glass or Plexiglas they are offering so you know how it will look. Some non-glare glass actually greys down a watercolor, and that is something you really don’t want. Plain glass allows for more light play. Treated glass may give additional protection. Weight it out; it’s a personal decision. If you opt for no protection, don’t put it facing a south oriented window to fade away in the blazing sun.

D.Frame Material: metal (gallery), wood, synthetic wood, rigid liner mats, whatever. First, let’s discuss gallery frames or metal framing, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes, profiles, and dimensions. Metal frames are a dream for the do it yourself-er. You can assemble all of the parts yourself even without instructions, intuitively, like I do if have to. There are hinges which hold the corners together, and the four sides have come to you custom cut. There are tension spacers to hold the inner packet together without extra space. If you get a deluxe rounded profile, the total looks smart enough to accompany antiques in a classical or traditional style house. These are the preferred choice of painters who enter watercolor society shows.

However, wood or its substitute is also a choice. For works on paper, since you have a generous (I stressed this, earlier) spacing around your work, you don’t want to go furniture store style and over-burden your piece of art with extra curlicues and show-off gilded pieces, and a very wide profile. Watercolor and other works on paper frames should traditionally be thinner than those used for oils and acrylics. However, they can be modern or classical, plain or played up. Remember the principle of less is more? You don’t want to give anybody the impression that your art work is lacking so you make it up by adding too much show-off stuff around it.

Have fun! For a variety of framed works on paper framed effects, look at both my paintings for sale in the watercolors and gel pen categories on my website.


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