Saturday, September 13, 2008

Framing a Lesson

I spent most the afternoon cutting a mat and backing board, mounting and framing an acrylic painting on a full sheet of watercolor paper (22” x 30”). When I heard tales about how much fellow artists were paying for framing their works, I thought I could learn to do it. A few months ago I bought an excellent book (“Basic Picture Framing”) and taught myself to cut mats and frame works on watercolor paper. But, boy, is it hard work! I don’t have a fancy system, just a handheld mat cutter, large self-healing cutting board, rulers, a pencil, and a good utility knife.

Then, when I was about to hang and appraise my work, the metal frame fell apart. Metal springs and corner holders went flying and the air turned blue with my curses! Luckily, there was a clear styrene sheet--not glass--in the frame or I would have had a big mess. I had noticed the mat and backing board overlapped the plexiglass and thought my small overage pushed the frame apart. So I dissembled everything, cut down the edges, sandwiched everything back into the metal sectional frames, double checked the corner screws, and was finally in business.

Is there a lesson? I think I won’t do another work on a full sheet of watercolor paper! It’s physically tough to cut and frame a painting that size—will stick to a stretched canvas instead. Cutting mats has to be my least favorite thing associated with painting. How do picture framers do it all day? My hands really hurt after just one cutting session.

Getting some framing supplies yesterday, I talked to a local framer who recommended I spend the least amount of money to frame. He didn’t recommend the 100% cotton rag mat nor the acid free backing boards, just plain acid free mats and regular foam board. Neither did he encourage buying fancy frames for works on canvas, as the customer could change the color to match their décor. That gave me a whole different perspective. I have been buying all the acid-free and high quality boards all along.

What do you do? Do you do the least in preservation? Since I am just beginning to exhibit, haven’t sold anything yet, and do my own framing, I bought the good stuff. But if it’s true that a buyer can and will swap out my mats for their own taste, why am I spending extra dollars for materials that might later be discarded so it will match their sofa?

Acrylics on paper is so difficult to ready for presentation, but it is such fun and fast to work with. This week, I grabbed a tangled bit of string to play with and had good results in smaller works.

From my sketchbook:

Two Panels

7 3/4" x 7"

Landscape of String

7 3/4" x 7"

From a watercolor block:

Purple String
9" x 12"

Orange String
9" x 12"


  1. Good on you on learning to frame your own work. I did the same. I went to an evening class to learn the basics. It will get easier the more you do, and if you can get a friendly supplier, they are usually happy to pass on tips and advice. Good luck with it all

  2. I hate cutting mats too. I would definitely use archival materials. It sends a message that you take your work seriously and want it to be handled as such. I wouldn't spend big bucks on fabric mats and double matting and all that. Just good quality, archival mats and backing.

    I used to work in a frame shop and it literally pains me to put a painting in a bad cheap frame. But sometimes it's necessary. I've started painting on gallery wrapped canvases for that reason. They dont' have to be framed to show. But the can be framed if you want to or if the buyer wants to. It's a win-win situation. :)

  3. Thank you for visiting, Miss 376. Yes, it's good to learn how finish your own work for presentation, isn't it? Wish I had found a class, like you. Since I mat, mount, and frame works infrequently, I often forget all the things I learned previously! But, I’m taking more notes in my framing book to jog the ol’ memory.

    Hello, Bridgette. Thanks for the good advice. My gut was telling me to use the good stuff and I’m glad to have my feeling reaffirmed from your experience. For your gallery wrapped canvases, do you use screw eyes on the inside stretcher bars to wire it? Since the bars are thicker, can they take that stress?

  4. I am with Bridgette. I first started working on paper, thinking it the cost effective way to go for sales. Framing sucks. And most people can spot a cheap frame. A friend of mine in a gallery framed some in raw , oiled wood frames for my exhibits. She put it so the art can be switched out. And when you exhibit, constantly carrying from place to place, the frames get dinged and nicked. With the raw wood, they can be sanded, and the patina works well. Meal frames look horrible all nicked up. I like the gallery wraped can get good sales on them online. Much less exspensive than stores. Also IKEA had a line of nice looking gallery style frames that won't break the bank, look very smart,and are cheap enough that if the buyer wants to replace, the price isn't impacted much from it.
    Good luck.

  5. Great thoughts, Michelle; thanks for the feedback.

    So glad your blog is working again, even though you had to create a new one!

  6. Your art is beautiful, I love these pieces, the linear divisions and the organic shapes from thread. So wispy and strong...Thanks for sharing! Roxanne

  7. Thank you for your kind words, Roxanne; I'm glad my art touched you. You have a great art blog and I love your journals.

    Hello and Welcome, Mixed Media Martyr! I've been so drawn to orange and blue lately.