Framing can enhance or sink a picture

     When it comes to framing a picture, in the long run the choice of frame is a matter of personal taste. Different kinds of artwork require different kinds of frames.  In all cases, the presentation should enhance the artwork it encloses.  The color and style of the frame and/or mat shouldn’t fight with the artwork for attention, after all the picture is what you want people to look at, not the framing. 

     If someone looks at a picture and says, “My, what a beautiful frame,” or “What an interesting mat,” then the framing is overdone.  Always, framing should be chosen to enhance the artwork, not to match the décor of a room. However, there are a few principles to follow.

     OILS AND ACRYLICS: When framing most oil or acrylic paintings, often all you need is a narrow metal or wooden frame.  With stretched canvas, some artists simply tack wooden strips to the edge of the stretcher, which is quite acceptable if neatly done.  If a larger frame is preferred, a large painting can usually handle a big, strong frame without having it distract the eye from the painting. 

     In the case of a small painting, sometimes a wider frame will enhance the picture by focusing the eye onto the painting.   Avoid overly ornate gilded frames unless they truly enhance the picture.

     Generally, paintings done in oil or acrylics on canvas or hardboard supports are not covered by glass, although sometimes glass is used to provide protection for smaller pictures or oil/acrylic paintings done on paper.

     WATERCOLORS: Watercolors are prone to suffer from “over framing.”  Most watercolors are delicate and washy, and heavy framing makes the picture look as if it is fading away. 

     In general, watercolor paintings should be matted, which involves cutting a special, acid-free cardboard to make a frame within the frame.  This creates an expanse of space that separates the watercolor image from the hard edge of the frame. 

     Traditional watercolor mats are white, cream or pastel-colored.  If you use a bright or dark mat, choose it for a specific reason to enhance the artwork, not overwhelm it.  The smaller the picture, the bigger the mat can be in contrast.  The frame itself should be narrow.  In fact, the frame on a watercolor should be as unobtrusive as possible.  Because of the delicacy of the paper surface, watercolors should be framed under glass or acrylic to protect them from dust and moisture. 

     Sometimes, instead of cutting a hole in the mat for the picture to show through, the picture is “floated” on top of the mat by affixing it neatly to the mat’s surface.  This is often done with watercolors having a deckle (rough) edge all around.  If you float the picture, it’s best to put shims (small pieces of mat board cut to fit invisibly) between the mat and the frame, so that the glass does not touch the surface of the painting.

     PASTELS: Pastels, like watercolor, are generally mounted with a mat and a frame.  Because of the possibility of smudging a pastel painting, a double mat is often used to keep the pastel away from the glass.

     PHOTOGRAPHS AND ART PRINTS: These can also be framed like watercolors.  With photographs, it’s best to use a modern frame and avoid heavy, ornate framing.  If a print has a title underneath the picture, a small window can be cut in the mat to show this, although some may find this distracting.

     If you are framing artwork, to enter in a competitive exhibit, “show” matting (white, off-white or pale gray) and unobtrusive frames are often the best choice.  Presentation may be the deciding factor when judges are choosing works for display and/or awards.  For example, jurors might reject an otherwise well-done painting, if it had a bright purple mat and an ornate frame.  Even though the mat might have enhanced the picture, jurors might find the presentation is too decorative and more suited to home décor than gallery exhibit.

     There are excellent books on framing which can give you guidance.  With a little practice you can do your own framing, which is the most economical way to go.  If you prefer not to do it yourself, there are many excellent professional framers.  Be sure to ask if your framer uses archival or museum-quality mat board, backing and tape, so the work will stay in good condition for many years.

SOURCE: Art-to-Art Palette Journal print edition

Published by on February 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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