FRAMING, Pt. II, Stretched Canvas and Boards

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In and Out, Stretched Canvas and Boards Overview

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 with their semi-permanent house. And no matter how fine the house, it is not permanent, even when we hope for decades or centuries of permanence.

Usuually, 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 diy 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. (Add newly submitted photo of Harvest with full frame) 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.

Stretched canvas really doesn’t have to be framed if it is on gallery wrap. That’s the reason it was created. That having been said, frames protect. After the cutting edge and modern effect is done, the impact worn off, the edges scuffed and whitened and your surface touches the perhaps moist wall and grows a coat of mold which you may never fully get rid of. I prefer to frame. In 30 years, I have only just come upon one large watercolor show which requires wooden frames in order to be accepted. For that case, you need to read the first article on this subject as well. Even paintings in oil or acrylic on canvas sheets (not stretched or on board) must be handled like works on paper, unless PVC-glued to a rigid surface.

A. Matting. For rigid painting surfaces there are mats as well. However, they aren’t the same kind as for works on paper, which have paper mats. This is not necessarily obvious. I have had students frame for shows and add a paper mat to a stretched canvas in a wooden frame without glazing (glass or Plexiglas). Not good. No rhyme or reason for same. Mat insertions might be gold leaf or linen and may have a separate thin border added to show off the frame. Buy the appropriate rigid insert for a wood or wood-substitute frame. One instance of a rigid liner you may be familiar with is the oval insert for an oval portrait.

B. Backing. Here, backing comes into play. I used to think no backing–either acid-free foam core or rigid thin board Masonite–as I was told the painting needed to ‘breathe’ and passed the news along for quite some time. Now the better preferred advice is to securely affix with screws a Masonite furniture backing to the stretched canvas. On top of that, I use acid-free backing paper to take to the edge with a continuous edge of sealed paper so bugs absolutely cannot get in from the back. (Maybe from the front side.) The rigid board protects the painting from puncture from the backside, prevents small critters from setting up housekeeping in it, and makes a much steadier, sturdier, architectural unit, one not as subject to being bumped or even dropped. My acid-free paper is a light blue (see photo) and I have rarely seen it used by other artists. Go figure!

C. Glazing. Glazing is not normally use on stretched canvas or rigid board paintings, as it is not necessary. The final varnish is the substitute for glazing. Now, exceptions may be made in high handling areas, like museums and for famous paintings like the Mona Lisa.

D. Frame Material. Metal Gallery frames are generally not deemed suitable for canvas or rigid boards. Wood and wood substitutes, in any dozens and hundreds of styles, widths, profiles, plainness or fanciness, however, are the pick. Wood is acidic and may require the use of acid-free paper on the inside of the rabbet (, so as not to begin discoloration or contamination of the canvas or board surface. Some wood substitutes, while containing less acid, may loosen at the point of the hanger screw and be hard to fill in.

I’d like to address what I mentioned in the introduction and comment on the identity of the work. Often the wooden frame or the wooden portion of the stretched canvas frame become part of the identity of the painting itself. This happens especially in cases where it has been stamped by a framer in country or out, which, along with the aged coloring may mean it started the journey along with the painting. I would be very reluctant to change out such a frame, as this forms part of its provenance or “official papers” which are like a birth certificate. It could actually affect the value and worth of the painting. As well, should your canvas or board ever need restoration, there might have been notes annotated on the frame which would guide the restorer in his work. She might make the wrong decision if she lacks the information that was on the frame. This is not so much the case, of course, with watercolors in metal frames, although annotations on the reverse side are discouraged due to possibilities of bleed-through.

For specific longevity issues of materials, you must contact framers and suppliers. This article has no intentions whatever of supplying total lists, but is wonderful overview in which to fit your particulars in each category as you struggle through the process. Happy journey!!!

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