Framed! And lookin’ good…

All right, you’ve purchased an original painting – but it isn’t framed.  Now what do you do?  If you want your picture to look its best, please don’t think “Well, this is an 11 x 14 artwork, so I’ll just stick it in this 11 x 14 frame I have lying around.”  That method sometimes works, but more often the “handy” frame and painting don’t look well together. 

     With a little thought, you can choose a frame that will actually enhance the artwork. Many choices are available and the final decision on framing is a matter of personal taste.  There are a few principles that can help narrow the choice of frames.

     Different types of frames should be used for different types of artwork – acrylics, oils, watercolors, posters, photographs, and so on.  The frame should enhance the individual characteristics of a particular artwork – and in all cases the artwork should dictate the frame.  The style and color of the framing (and any mat required) shouldn’t fight with the artwork for attention, nor should they detract from the image.  If the viewer notices the frame or mat rather than the artwork, the frame job is a failure.

     OILS AND ACRYLICS ON CANVAS OR PANEL – Oils and acrylics are usually painted on stretched canvas, canvas boards, or wood panel.  Some of the newer painting surfaces such as wrapped canvas or wood cradleboard do not require framing – usually the artist will paint the sides of the canvas or panel so that it can hang “as is”.  All you need to do with these is attach screw eyes and wire or some other hanging hardware.

     If you use screw eyes and wire with or without a frame, the screw eyes should go about ¼ of the way down from the top of the frame, and the wire should be stretched taut straight across between the eyes.  You don’t need a huge curve of wire, and you especially don’t want to have any wire showing when you hang the picture.  

     If the piece doesn’t have finished edges, you’ll first want to be sure you have a frame that is deep enough for the work.  Canvas boards and flat wood panels are no problem; you just fit them into the frame and tack them in on the back side with small nails or brads.  Use a good quality wood or metal frame; hold several up to the painting to see which one looks the best to you.  Oils and acrylics are strong enough that you can often use a bigger frame than you’d want for a delicate watercolor.

     Stretched canvas calls for a canvas-depth frame, which you can get from a professional framer or from the internet on sites like  If you are framing a very small piece, consider using a wide frame to help focus the eye onto the painting. 

     Oils and acrylics on canvas or wood are normally not glazed (covered by glass) although sometimes glass is used to provide protection for smaller paintings.  However, if the work is on paper, then you will frame it like a watercolor.

     WATERCOLORS AND ACRYLICS ON PAPER – Watercolors have delicate surfaces and the wrong mat or frame can make them “disappear”.  A thinly painted watercolor in an ornate, heavy frame will look overpowered by the frame.  Although acrylics on paper might have stronger colors, they also need a lighter framing treatment unless they are extremely bright.  

      Almost all watercolors are put behind a mat, which is a cardboard “frame” within the actual frame.  This separates the image from the hard edge of the frame.  There are many mat colors available, but in general you can’t go wrong if you stay with neutral colors such as light warm beige or light cool grey.  Brightly colored or black mats can take away from the picture unless you have a very good reason for using them.  The smaller the picture, the bigger the mat should be.  And, although the mat is often a broad border around the picture, the frame itself should be narrow and simple so as not to detract from the picture. 

     Traditional watercolors on paper are almost always covered with glass to protect them from dust and moisture. 

     PASTELS – Like watercolors, they are usually framed with a mat and a frame, Sometimes double mats are used to keep the pastel away from the glass and avoid smudging. 

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, HowDoit PB dept, 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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