Selecting mats and frames for works of art can be problematic and a little scary. It is not as easy as it looks, it's not all that inexpensive either. When you are shopping for framing, ask questions and be sure to shop for value and good service. Use these tips to make an informed decision about the presentation of your work of art.
Framing this work on paper will differ significantly from framing a painting, a print or other type of work of art. Archival framing is a must for all works of fine art.
Two (2) videos of Dr. Lori discussing "Framing
Pitfalls" and "Antique Frames" on
her CBS 3 TV "Trash or Treasure?" program in Philadelphia,
In many Art Advice columns, I discuss topics that relate to buying art for enjoyment and investment. In a related Art Advice column, I discuss art lighting and art design presentation. This column, dedicated to framing solutions, is equally important to the art collector or the artist. Framing and proper protection --lighting included-- for your art is crucial, of course, and this protection adds to the beauty and value of your collection.
Everyone has had something framed at one time or another: a work of art, a needlepoint sampler, a certificate or diploma. With works of art, as with anything you care about, the frame is extremely important. I am pretty sure that you know of several professional framers in your area. As with any other profession, some are good and some are not so good. Shop around for the best service, best price, and look for value as you would for any other product or service.
In my experience, I have seen people buy the most hideous paintings because they, unlike anyone else in the room, knew something about the picture frame. I know, you're thinking "Oh no, not another art thing to know about and to collect." You got it! Many people purchase works of art for the frame only.
Many works of art, interestingly enough, just happen to be frames. For instance, European baroque frames (produced from about 1600 to 1700), highly ornate and decorated Louis XVI style frames (produced during the late 1700s), and Stanford White's famous Gilded Age (late 1800s/early 1900s) frames are all highly regarded and collectible works of fine art. These frames often bring high prices, in addition to, or in some cases, in spite of the paintings they surround.
If you are like most collectors, you are probably more interested in the
painting than its frame. You are probably looking to purchase a frame that compliments
your picture while offering protection from dirt, particles, dust, insects, etc.
Professional framing can be the best friend or the worst enemy of any work of art. In
terms of value, if something is not framed properly, it can do significant damage to a work of
art. In some cases, the framer's mistake or carelessness could
result in a valuable piece decreasing in value.
Most frame shops are dedicated to archival, museum quality framing. Well, that sounds very good but what does that mean?
Basically, that means that a professional, standard archival, quality
frame shop will only use 100% cotton rag or other all natural and reversible
materials in their mats and
appropriate archival protective processes for framing. Framers who offer archival framing
services will only use linen tape, for example, to secure the work of art to the mat so it
does not shift in the frame. They should never use cellophane tape or masking tape or
another adhesive such as basic glue to hold down a work of art within a frame. You should
ask about this procedure and the framer, a good one anyway, will tell you that they are
using the proper materials. Don't be embarrassed, just ask the questions so you get your
work framed properly.
Don't let anyone (not even your best friend) drymount a work on paper or
anything else of value to a mat when framing it. Some framers may tell you that the work
is too big to be secured with linen tape and that the piece has to be drymounted to foam
core board to secure it within a frame. Don't do it!
With pieces of lesser value, you don't have to stick to your guns on the linen tape issue. For instance, when framing a poster or other similarly inexpensive work, drymounting is fine since the piece is intended for enjoyment rather than investment. In this case, drymounting is fine because it will keep the poster flat and prevent it from buckling. When you are framing a work of fine art or an original work on paper, however, drymounting is no-no. Remember, if a work of art is permanently secured to its mat or frame by drymounting, regular tape, or glue, it decreases significantly in value -- I mean significantly! Like to nearly zero. You are literally attaching a foreign object to a work of art and as such, you have manipulated the piece with no recourse for change.
The process of drymounting uses heat to attach the paper (artwork) to a foam core board or cardboard backing forever. Using regular adhesive (cellophane or masking) tape could result in damaging adhesive marks and if not careful and lucky, damaging rips and tears to the artwork. When you try to remove tape, you run the risk of ripping the work of art and completely devaluing the work.
Glue is a horror story, plain and simple. Glue removal usually requires professional conservation studio experts to save the work of art. Glue also can promote the growth of mold or mildew which can damage a work on paper permanently.
Simply, ask the framer to explain the framing process to you before
getting your piece framed. Don't leave a work of art with a framer who has not convinced
you that the work will be cared for properly. Most good framers will happily explain their
process and cooperate with you.
A professional framer will give you the choice of ultraviolet or UV blocking glass (to protect your work of art from the sun's harmful rays), regular glass (a simple, old fashioned, heavy but good option), or non-glare glass (a product that is pretty expensive and not always necessary). I don't recommend putting any work of art in direct sunlight even if you have UV glass on the work. The UV glass won't completely prevent fading but it will give some protection. In a related column, I discuss the topic of art lighting and UV glass.
If you are concerned about the cost of framing (and who isn't since framing is expensive), select regular glass because it is a cheaper option. Regular glass is heavy. For those of us who wear eyeglasses, we remember the big difference we felt on the bridge of our nose when we had the option of buying lightweight plastic lenses. It's the same principle in art framing. Regular glass is heavy so make sure you have a strong picture hanger so your framed work is secured to the wall. Wall hangers or picture hangers are designed by the weight of the picture (e.g., 10 lbs., 30 lbs., 50 lbs.) If you choose regular glass, remember that it is heavier and that it will not protect your work from UV rays or glare.
Non-glare glass is not necessary most of the time. The basic thought on
this point is if you are concerned about glare then there is probably too much light
coming into the area where you have the piece hung anyway. If you have a piece of artwork
in this situation, then you should move the piece to another spot or buy UV glass.
The purpose of a spacer (and a mat is a type of spacer) is to provide an area of space between the work of art and the glass. You do not want any work of art to be directly touching the glass on a frame. Condensation, dirt, dust, and tiny particles can build up and adhere to the glass in your frame. This could result in damage to the work of art.
For those pieces that just wouldn't look appropriate with a mat
surrounding them, professional framers offer methods to keep the work of art away from the
framed piece of glass. These framing components are called, simply, spacers. They do what
their name says they do, they give space between the work of art and the glass. These
spacers are usually little plastic elements that are placed within the area between the
art and the frame (you can't see them in a completed frame as they are hidden within the
frame). They provide space so the work of art doesn't touch the frame or the glass. The
result is that the work on paper or similar 2-D piece looks as if it is floating in the
frame. This is often a desired framing method for contemporary works of art.
In addition to a specific skill set, framers must have experience in the field. Most frames are custom or nearly customized to fit your work of art. Solid woods are a rarity and the price is usually quite high for frames and rarely are they made of solid wood. You should be aware, completely aware, of the materials that you are purchasing. Shop around for the best prices and ask questions. The people who don't want to spend time answering your questions or help you make decisions about frames, don't deserve your business.
Ask as many questions as you like and if the framer doesn't answer your
questions or explain the process well or to your satisfaction, go to another framer. I
would bet that no matter where you live, there is more than one framer in your town. It's
funny but I did this just today. I left one frame shop and there was another one in the
next block. Don't be shy about asking for help and I know that you'll choose something
that looks great! I hope this information proves helpful. Please feel free to contact me with any
questions or comments.
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