The Final Frontier: Framing Your Artwork
written by Moeima Makeba
Let’s discuss the often overlooked, misunderstood and highly underestimated subject of choosing a frame for your artwork. The frame around a work of art is the finishing touch, the element that completes and elevates a painting, presenting it to the viewer in its best possible light. Framing is an art in and of itself and just as a good frame choice can greatly enhance the appearance of a work, a poor frame choice can drastically diminish a work (like being trapped in an ugly outfit for the rest of your life).
Let the Art Speak Its Truth
There is a subtle science to choosing a frame, that is entirely dependent upon the artwork.
In many ways when you purchase your artwork - your artwork’s aesthetic suggests what the suitable frame will be. Classical works tend to be suited to gilded frames or the deep, rich simplicity walnut or mahogany wood frames deliver. More contemporary, abstract or ethereal works may do well with more simplistic frames. Try to choose a finish that doesn't interfere or compete with the visual of the work.
There’s also frame moldings to think of - larger paintings usually look best with wider moldings and, therefore, larger frames.
Don’t be intimidated by choices that you end up matching all your frames either - unless that’s your wave. Trust your tastes (or at the very least that of a professional) and allow the look of the artwork itself to guide you.
Protect Your Paper
Works on paper like paintings, watercolors, pastels, charcoal drawings and such—must be considered with a serious amount of care. If you think about the Egyptians - their works on papyrus scrolls were priceless but easily destroyed by the steady movement and passage of time. Paper works are perishable and can be affected by a number of influences (sun, air, dust, insects, etc), and because of that require special care.
Another important aspect of framing is glass. Glass protects the work (especially paper) from dust and other pollutants but depending on the glass in question - it can serve many purposes.
● Regular glass is commonly used. It’s scratch-resistant but breaks easily in terms of transportation and only filters out about half of the damaging ultraviolet (UV) light rays. Which could discolor your work if it is exposed to sunlight regularly.
● Non-glare glass works well on pieces placed directly in front of a window. And tends to be used more in galleries or similar spaces. The drawback is this glass tends to soften the image and give a slightly fuzzy appearance to the work. It also gives low UV protection.
● Conservation glazing is a coating applied to glass that offers 97 percent UV protection - this process can be applied to the previous glass types mentioned.
● Museum Glass is the premier glass choice — it is so clear and glare-free that you can’t see it at all when you stand in front of a painting. It also provides the best UV protection. This option is in no way, shape or form - cheap. But it is an incredible investment if you are serious about your artwork display and protecting your piece.
● Acrylic glazing, also known as Plexiglas, is much lighter than glass, which makes it a good alternative for large works of art. Though virtually shatter proof, it somewhat scratches easily. Available in regular and nonglare forms, the acrylic provides about 60 percent UV protection.
Before you frame anything, your work must be mounted. Conservation mounting is a process that assures that at any time in the future you would be able to remove your artwork from the framing structure without causing any damage to the work. Conservative mounting protects the value (or future value) or the work.
In terms of further means of support - everything must be acid-free when coming in contact with paper works. Doing otherwise will result in discoloration of the work over time. Acid-free corner pockets or adhesives will avoid damage, as well as a mat board (a piece used separate the glass from the surface of the painting).
Now after all that, you may look at me like WTF when I tell you not all pieces, need frames. But before you run for the door - hear me out.
Some contemporary pieces are gallery wrapped, meaning that the canvas iswrapped around thick stretcher bars and secured to the back rather than the sides. This mounting leaves the sides of the canvas smooth, neat and free of visible staples or tacks. Artists using this type of canvas mount often continue the painting around the sides - which is an easy way to spot this technique. Work of this nature is built to placed on a wall with ease. Whereas canvas that is not gallery-wrapped, the stretchers are thinner and the staples are visible along the sides. The intent here is that the piece will be eventually beframed, and saidframe needs to have sufficient depth to accommodate the thickness of the canvas and stretchers.
Do You, Always
Remember most of these are general suggestions, not hard bound rules. Should you be called to go another way in terms of framing - go with what works with your style and aesthetic but by all means never forget to protect your work so it stands the test of time. Give your works a fighting chance to be easily sold in the future, passed down to loved ones or donated to museums or galleries - ensure the life of the work, so you can always have something to be proud of.
Every single artwork and your personal taste could be the exception to what is common practice in framing. Embrace the individuality of the piece, and should you get too confused - always consult a professional framer with questions and ideas.