Most of you know I work in a frame shop. This week we had a signed and numbered print by one of the Group of Seven in shop. When the customer brought the piece in, it was mounted in an unflattering set of white mats. When the new mats arrived this week I had to remove the art from its frame and switch the mats. I was horrified to see the original framers had used packing tape to mount a piece of national history. This print got me thinking about how many common mistakes people make when framing their art.
Before I go any further,let me say, we are discussing art. Art has no rules. It does however have guidelines.
These are common mistakes that people make
5-Matching Your Decor- Choosing colors that match your house if they are not in your art will have two results- it will do nothing to enhance your art and it will date it. The purpose of matting is to focus the viewers eyes onto the art. The matting will separate the art from any surrounding distractions, and enhance it. If the matting is not of the picture it will draw attention to itself, not the art.
4- Single Mats- While going with a single mat may save money, and look simple, it is not good for your art. The reason professional framers use two mats is to keep your glass elevated off your art. If the two elements touch, they can stick together over time and damage your art. If your glass ever breaks and the two items are stuck together, your art is lost forever. Using a double mat will not only give you the opportunity to enhance your art, it will protect it. If you are adamant that one mat is the look you desire, look for a mat that is double thick, or request your framer uses spacers. Spacers are made of a hard plastic and are designed to keep the glass elevated off your art. If your custom framer does not use them, find a new framer. A word of caution about spacers- if you put them on a single mat, they will create pressure around the outer edge of the mat, and may cause the mat to buckle over time lifting off your art.(spacers cost about the same amount as the second mat would)
3-Narrow Mat Margins- Many people think that keeping mats small will not detract from from the art. The fact is that mat margins should be based on the scale of your art. While a 2″ border may work on a small print, It will not work on a on something that is larger, say 20″x20″ . Putting narrow mats on a large piece of art only attracts attention to the matting.
2-Narrow Frames-Selecting the proper moulding is essential. If you choose something too narrow because you “don’t want to detract from the art”, you will actually be detracting from your art. Once again this is a question of proportions. There also technical reasons to choose a wider moulding. If you go with something too narrow it will not have the strength to support your glass. Due to their depth, most canvases are mounted into the frame with a series of offsets that are screwed into the frame. A narrow frame does not have the structural integrity to withstand so many holes. If you do go for a narrow frame, look for one that is quite deep, so that its has some strength to it.
1- White Mats- this is the most common error. While white mats may look good on some pieces, for the majority of art it does not work.The goal of framing your art is to enhance it and draw out the details. To do this you select colors that are in the print. Professional artists do not use flat white out of the tube, they mix their paints to adjust the tones in the art. If there is no white in your print, then there is nothing that is enhanced by flat white. I know what you’re thinking- galleries use white mats. True, but much like selling a house, galleries use neutral white to make it easier for prospective buyers to see that art in their house.
If you have a black and white photo, white is not necessarily the best choice. Look closely at the image, unless there is a very high contrast of tones in your art, it will be in shades of grey. Going with a soft grey may be a more flattering choice.
Keep in mind there are no rules, you don’t need to stay with a neutral mat on a black and white print, you can inject colour. Muted colours can enhance the theme of the picture, while a bolder colour can take a traditional black and white to the world of pop art.
There are things about framing your art ,while not a visible to the finished product, that need to be considered. -Unless you have a canvas, or fabric based art (like needlepoint) do not roll it. If you are bringing a print back from overseas, and rolling it is the only way to travel with it, make it your first priority to unroll it and press it flat. Paper has a memory and can ripple even after being framed for several years. Paints on canvas can dry while rolled, causing cracks to form when it is unrolled.
- If you are purchasing a canvas, keep in mind that the art will need to be stretched over a stretcher bar, if the art is painted to the edge of the canvas, you will loose part of the picture. Stretching a canvas requires approximately an inch and a half off of each edge. That will leave you with a series of staples along the outer edge of the canvas. You will need a decorative moulding to hide this. If you would like to stretch your canvas without the staples exposed on the outer edge, you are looking for a gallery wrap. This technique requires approximately 5inches off of each edge. Additionally, this is a very difficult thing to do. It takes an experienced framer 5 or more hours of labour depending on the size of the piece. If the canvas is poor quality material then it may not be possible to pull hard enough for a tight finish.
Enquire about the material used, and handling techniques.
- does the glass have a UV layer in it? if not your art will fade over time. While sunlight will speed the process, the light from your bedside lamp is strong enough to discolour your art. Ready made frames do not have UV protection.
- are your mats acid free? if your mats are not acid free, the color pigments in them can leach into your art. Conversely if you have loose pigments in your art, those colors can discolour your mats
-will your art be taped? A quality framer should be able to mount your art without using tape. Just as old photo albums mounted the photos with corners, not adhesives, this technique should be used whenever possible. In order to hide these corners, your matting will need to come in to hide them. If the opening in your mats has been left intentionally large, acid free tape should be used. Scotch tape yellows and cracks losing its adhesiveness as it dries out. The same can be said for masking tape and packing tape. Masking tape can also ripple as it dries, damaging your art. Any tape that is not acid free will discolour your art where ever it is stuck.
- does your framer intend to dry mount your art? dry-mounting is a way to heat seal a piece of paper to a heavier material, usually foam-core. While not permanent, it can damage some art. You should never dry-mount a piece of original art. The heat could destroy inks and loose pigments, causing them to run. The seals on items like diplomas will be flattened, destroying their decorative texture. The heat also will effect the adhesives used on the seal, causing it to come unstuck, and often making the glue run. Dry-mounting is ideal for posters that have been rolled, as it will prevent the paper from buckling.
- Is the piece being laminated? Laminate finishes should also never be used on original pieces of art. Laminates are adhered in a dry-mount machine at 220 degrees of heat. that is approximately 40 degrees higher than the temperature used for dry-mounting. Just like glass not all laminates are created equal, some laminate finishes do have UV protection.
While we are on the subject of framing- Canvases do not require glass as the paints need proper air circulation to cure. Matting does require glass to protect it. Without glass you cannot wipe your art and mats clean, and prevent them from getting scratched. If you wish to have your canvas matted, you will need to choose a fabric covered mat as its finish does not require as much protection. It is safer to use a frame inside another frame to achieve this look. (frames designed to be used inside another are called liners).