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July 2010




  • Behind the Art:
    From the Ground Up in Acrylic
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview With Ciruelo Cabral
  • Ask an Artist:
    Life Drawing
  • EMG News:
    News for July


  • Basic Framing, Pt 1


  • Fiction: The Naked Woods

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  • Basic Framing, Pt 1
    by Jenny Heidewald

    So you've created or acquired a beautiful piece of artwork. Now what? For most people, the next step is displaying the artwork. When the artwork is a two-dimensional graphic artwork, in most cases it will be framed. Done properly, framing enhances the beauty of a piece and acts as a presentation for said piece, as well as protecting it from harmful elements such as dust, moisture, or mishandling. Framing your art can be a substantial expense, sometimes costing as much as hundreds of dollars, but it also adds to the perceived value of a piece. Compare the selling price of an unadorned artwork versus an attractively presented one. In this article I will cover the basics of framing, from choices in materials to putting it all together.

    Professional Framing vs. Do-It-Yourself

    For most works you can save money by framing the piece yourself, but with certain pieces you may feel better to invest in a professional framer.

    Why should one go to a professional? An experienced professional will have an eye towards the interaction between the art and frame, and be more apt to choose a framing style or technique more suited to your particular work. They can also answer questions that you have about different kinds of materials used in framing. A professional shop will also have access to a larger variety of framing material and styles than a typical art or craft store.

    In addition, if you need an odd size, or want more frame design options, a framing shop is a good place to visit. Be sure to bring your art work. Molding is sold by the foot, and you can pick from a wide variety. You can either get your frame as a "chop" (the cut pieces of a frame, also referred to as "legs") if you wish to join it yourself, or already joined. Make sure to add a 1/8" or 1/16" of an inch to your frame measurements to allow the finished sandwich of glass, mat, art and backing to fit comfortably within the frame.

    Framing shops will usually stock other items needed for framing, like glass, mats and other supplies. These materials can also be found at craft and art supply stores, or even a hardware store. If you are interested in making the frames yourself, a couple companies sell “frame shops in a box” which include all that you need to get started.

    What Goes into a Framed Piece?

    The Frame

    There are many different types of frames these days, available in many different places. You can visit a framing shop, craft shop, or even go to thrift stores, yard sales, and don't forget the internet. Let's start with the choice of material.

    Wood: The most commonly used material for frames, it's natural, typically lightweight, and has the most variety of styles. Wood frames can also vary from wood fiber or particle board crafted to resemble other kinds of wood, wood stained or painted to resemble other forms of wood, or stamped with "compo" (short for "composition", a form of putty) to create intricate design work. The disadvantage of wood frames is that they need to be stored with care when not on the wall to prevent dents and scratches.

    Metal: Metal frames are stronger and more durable, but typically plainer in appearance. Metal frames are easier and faster to join yourself. If bought in chop form, they include an L-bracket for each corner that secures with screws. They also include spring clips to hold the picture and glass in the front of the frame, as well as snap-in hangers with which to attach picture wire. Beware of the sharp metal corners when putting these frames together. While not as much as wood, metal frames are also susceptible to scratches or dents.

    Plastic: These frames tend to be the cheapest and lightest, but also the most easily scratched or broken. They can also be molded in different shapes and designs, or made with colored plastic for a variety of appearances.

    Pick a frame that complements the art work, and be sure that the frame takes second stage to the art. If you are at a frame shop, have fun and try frames that you might think would never really go with your art. You may be pleasantly surprised at what works.

    Size is another issue that needs to be taken into account early in the process. Frames in ready-made form are readily available and generally cheaper than custom sizes. I try to figure out what size frame I aim to put the art into even before I start the picture; this saves time in the long run.

    Some standard sizes in the United States (inches): 5x7, 6x8, 8x10, 8 1/2 x11, 9x12, 11x14,12x16, 14x18, 16x20, 18x24, 20x24, 20x30, 22x28, 24x30, 24x 36, 30x40.

    Keep in mind that frames should have 1/16” to 1/8” allowance on the inside of the frame in order to allow the materials to fit easily, as well as allowing for expansion and contraction of the materials.

    For oil and acrylic paintings you will want to make sure that the frame has enough depth to be able to hide the sides of the canvas. Be sure to take measurements of this depth, or bring the canvas with you when selecting a frame.

    Protection (also known as "Glazing"): Glass / Acrylic

    Glass: The traditional choice for works on paper, this material comes in basic window glass or ultra-violet light resistant forms. The latter has a special coating that blocks most ultra-violet light and helps protect the art from fading. When working with UV glass be sure you have the plastic coating facing the art. If you lose track of which side is which you can test a small area near the edge of the glass for the plastic coating by scratching it.

    The difference between non-reflective and regular glass is that non-reflective is etched on one or both sides to reduce glare. This also means that the sharpness of the art is reduced, which can mask some of the smaller details. Newer types of anti-reflective glass have a special coating that reduces glare while preserving the sharpness of the image, but can cost a lot more.

    Acrylic: For larger works of art, acrylic (also known as Plexiglas) is a lightweight alternative to glass. It can be surprisingly expensive, and tends to scratch easily. There are also UV resistant acrylics, but these may be harder to find than UV resistant glass. Never use regular acrylic with art made with charcoal, pastel or other powdery substances, as acrylic generates static which would attract the loose bits of powder. Tru-Vue makes a special acrylic (Optium Museum Acrylic®) that has been treated with a static dispersing coat.

    Glass and acrylic are usually sold in standard sizes, but, if you are working with an unusual size, a hardware store or framing shop should be able to cut it to the size you need. You can also purchase a glass cutter from the hardware store, or use a sharp utility blade for scoring acrylic (I have heard that a woodworking saw can cut acrylic). Please use care when cutting glass and acrylic yourself, as both can be quite sharp.

    Oil and acrylic paintings do not need to be placed under glass, as they should be coated with a varnish to protect them.

    Matting: Another key component to framing is the mat (a type of thin paper board), which is needed in virtually all works under glass to act as a spacer between the art and the glass. If the glass is against the art it invites smudging, mold, or even, in the case of some prints or pastels, art adhering to the glass. A mat also acts as a visual spacer, giving the art room to be observed without the eye being distracted or crowded by the frame.

    Mats come in a variety of colors and styles, and craft stores usually offer a plethora of mat boards already precut to standard sizes, along with uncut sheets of 32 x 40" boards. Archival mats (also called museum quality), are boards which are acid- and lignin-free and made of all-rag fiber. You will want to frame any original art using archival materials in order to avoid the acid in lower quality mat boards. The lower quality boards, though they may be promoted as “acid-free”, are really only buffered with calcium carbonate, or other chemicals, and will turn acidic when the buffer is exhausted. They will eventually discolor or destroy the artwork.

    How big should your mat border be? It is said that a border less that 2” in width will make a cramped presentation, though I have gone down to 1 3/4“ and it looks fine to my eye. In general anything from 2" to 4" is good. A larger mat will make the art look more impressive, and the larger the piece the larger the mat. Another thing to be aware of, and to avoid, is having the mat width and the frame width the same size. If they are the same it invites visual monotony, and a striped look. This also applies if you are going to have a double mat. Generally, the visible amount of the inside mat will be smaller, more of an accent.

    If you are willing to invest in a custom frame, subtract a 1/4" from the outside dimensions of your art, then take those measurements and add the desired amount for the mat. Add another 1/8" for the frame allowance and the result will give you the dimensions for the frame.

    My method is to pick a standard frame size that looks like it has the best border around the picture, or plan my picture to give it the best mat border in that particular frame, and go from there. Generally, I make the sides of the mat thinner than the bottom and top, though there are also times where making the mat the same size all the way around works best, like with square frames. Some prefer to have the bottom of a mat a bit larger than the top, in order to “ground” the picture. It is good to have additional space on the bottom of the mat if you have a title or plaque that you wish to put under the picture on the mat.

    If you only need one or two mats now and then, you can get them cut for you at most frame shops. If you need a lot of mats it is good to invest in a mat cutter. There are many different kinds out there. I started out with a hand-held Logan 2000 push style, then upgraded to a board mounted version. I find that it is much easier to cut mats with the board mounted cutter. With the hand-held you need a strong, steady hand, and the ability to hold the ruler in place at the same time. I had to resort to clamping the ruler and mat board to a table before cutting, or getting my brother to cut the mat.

    One of the other items I use is called the Fit-n-Frame Border Guide by Logan. It is a tool that makes it faster to figure out the border sizes to cut on your mat, no math involved. I highly recommend this item if you are going to be cutting a lot of mats, it is simple to use and also helps when planning double mats.

    Mounting board: Even though it won't be seen, the mounting board is as important as the mat, since it supports and holds the art in the frame. For irreplaceable art be sure to get an acid free, archival safe board (4 ply museum board). In general you can use the same material as what was used for the mat, but there are also acid free foam cores as well as acid and lignin-free illustration board. Never use cardboard as from corrugated boxes or lower-quality paper such as newsprint in framing original art; all of these materials are high in residual acid and will discolor or destroy your art over the course of several years.

    Backing: Most of the time the backing board doubles as the mounting board. For archival works, you would ideally have an additional piece of museum board as a separate backing from the mounting board.

    Mounting: One of the popular ways of mounting art to the backing is with a hinge. This method uses strips of Japanese paper (look for 100% Kozo) and rice or wheat paste, or methyl cellulose. Rice or wheat pastes, which are vegetable starches, can require cooking (or microwaving) and have a short shelf life. Methyl cellulose, a chemical compound derived from cellulose, can be mixed cold, but has a weaker bond than rice or wheat paste. Since these pastes are reversible with water, the reason for using them is the ability to remove the mounting tabs while preserving the integrity of the art. In a pinch I have used rag paper and an archival glue to hinge my works, though these would have to be cut rather than removed with water. If you want a faster way Lineco makes a multitude of tapes for this very purpose, archival, gummed and self adhesive. For heavier works of art, such as those on heavy 300 lb watercolor paper, use gummed linen tape.

    A word of warning here, never attach art to the backing with one long piece of tape, it restricts the expansion and contraction of the paper, and will cause the art to buckle.

    The other alternative is to use archival safe photo corners; you can even make these yourself by folding and gluing strips of rag paper. You will need to take care so the photo corners don’t show when the mat is in place, so these are best used when there is a rather large area that can be covered around the edge of the artwork.

    A relatively new way of mounting work, without using adhesives on the actual art, is referred to as edge strips. Folded strips of paper are used to hold and support the art at the edges, and then adhered to the mounting board with linen tape.

    Using spray adhesive or heat pressing art to the mounting board is not recommended for original art works, as adhering the art to the board makes it impossible to remove the art for restorative or conservation purposes. It works well for items that are not irreplaceable, say large posters, or a print-out of a photo.

    In Closing

    Now that we have reviewed the general materials and some techniques needed for framing, in Part Two we will cover how to turn these materials into a framed work.

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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