A Guide to Framing

It is time to get those tubes full of Shag’s work finally framed and up on your wall. Time to end the languishing of beautiful artwork and instead relish them every day. Finally, time to get those pieces, bought oh so long ago, presented and protected in gorgeous frames to enhance the art. So be strong, visit the storeroom, dust off the boxes, and find a free piece of wall space.

But how do you decide on the frame to use, which will look best, and how to protect your art? Luckily this post is for you, to help you understand the ins and out of the framing world, and to aid in the decisions that you will make. So to begin, there six elements to a framed work – the frame, the glazing, the mat, the artwork, the backing, the accessories. Let us take each of these in turn.

Picture frames are typically made from machined, molded and painted wood, composite, MDF, PVC, extruded plastic or metal. The edges are glued, fixed or assembled together and serve as both decoration and protection for the artwork. Frames come in standard pre-made sizes or custom cut by framing shops with width, thickness, contours, and colors all varied to enhance the art contained. Early gilded frames were replaced by expensive woods or veneers and now by today’s today’s more disposable and affordable materials such as pine, MDF, metal or even frameless.

The molding itself can also be decorated or embellished by painting, foiling, texturizing, writing or even carving. Which material suits Shag’s artwork is debatable, tropical bamboo may fit with some of the tiki pictures, whereas a clean streamlined molding works well with cocktail party prints. Contemporary images are enhanced by flat, contourless edges. Luckily Shag does not have any rustic countryside compositions which would demand barn wood frames. Pick a framing material that you like, that works well with your décor, and does not detract from the art. For the thickness of the frame, select a size that complements the picture but does not overpower it. Smaller pictures generally have thinner frames although a thick frame and large mount can provide focus on small high-value images.

Finally, shadow boxes are enclosed glass-fronted display cases for displaying objects in groups. This may include Shag’s collectible figurines, jewelry, or mugs. The frame must be deep enough to hold the group without the thickest object touching the glazing. Note that the following three pictures are not box frames but are simply illustrative of framing.

The glass or plastic providing protection within a frame is called the glazing. It is important the keep this off the artwork surface to prevent mold or adhesion. The options for glazing are:

  • Regular Clear Glass: Ordinary window glass can be used but is thicker and contains flaws. Picture framing glass is lighter, thinner and flawless. Glare can be an issue with this type of glass.
  • Non-Glare Glass: Etched or texturized glass minimizes reflection but can cause viewing distortion when fixed too far from the artwork.
  • UV-Filtered/Conservation Glass: By filtering ultraviolet light this glass protects the art by preventing fading. It is not a complete shield though so direct sunlight must still be avoided.
  • Plastic/Acrylic: This can be useful for children’s areas and is light, but not ideal for artwork. Do not use plastic for pastel or charcoal drawings as static causes the glazing to lift particles from off the art paper. Styrene will yellow over time so again should not be used. Perspex works well for areas where glass is not wanted for safety concerns, or a lighter frame is desired, but due to cutting is surprisingly expensive.

Note that oil paintings are generally not glazed to allow the free flow of air around the artwork (museums may still use glass to protect works from people). Acrylic paintings also do not need glazing as the artwork is waterproof.

Matting is a border that surrounds artwork. Matboard is designed specifically for this purpose and is cut with one or more apertures to serve as windows to the art beneath. Mats can highlight specific colors, accent shapes, and even increase the size of the art displayed. There are over three hundred colors of matboard so careful consideration should be taken to complement the art being presented.

The artwork is sandwiched between a backing board and a mat to protect it and hide the hinges or means of attachment. The art is generally attached to the backboard but sometimes for smaller works can be attached to the mat. A mat allows unframed works to be handled without touching the art. The three prints below are framed by Corners Custom Picture Framing:

A mat also allows air to circulate between the artwork and the glazing material. Prints, photographs, and needlework should not be placed directly against glazing as moisture that condenses inside a framed piece can become trapped and cause mold or buckling. In addition, gloss prints can problematically stick to glazing when pressed directly onto it. The paper will expand and contract with changes in humidity and space must be allowed within a frame for artwork to move. A correctly suspended artwork between a mat and backboard will allow for these movements.

The mat should have an even size for all four sides of a print unless a weighted bottom is desired in which case the bottom border of the mat will be slightly larger. Decorative mats can be used to enhance the image, these include:

  • Multiple Mats: Layering mats with the inner mats having narrower borders can showcase artwork. Double and even triple mats are used to create depth with the size giving balance.
  • Shaped Mats: Oval and circle mat openings can highlight art and generally look better in rectangular or square frames.
  • Embossed/Engraved: Cuts can be made into the surface of the board or the surface can be raised with embossing. The decoration is often kept to the third of the mat which is closest to the artwork to provide a transition.
  • Rub-On Designs, Stencils, Rubber Stamps, Woven Ribbons, Threaded Borders, Fabric Covered, Ink Lines, Painting: Decoration can be added by several different means to the mat, be careful though, less is often more. The role of the frame is to protect and present the artwork, not to overshadow it.

Matboard can be made from various materials:

  • Standard/Regular Matboard: Made from processed wood pulp acid-free board buffered to neutralize acids to make the pulp last longer. Wood pulp boards typically discolor and become brittle over time.
  • Conservation Matboard: Cotton or purified wood pulp (alpha) core plus buffered acid-free surface and backing papers. Conservation board is designed to last unchanged for many years.
  • Rag Matboard: Museum grade board, cotton throughout. Manufactured from cotton pulp compressed into a solid sheet.
  • Poster Board: This is acidic craft board intended for short-term use. Do not use for framing as it is moisture-sensitive and will fade and deteriorate quickly.
  • Cardboard, Construction Paper: Unsuitable for framing due to high-acidity and uneven density.

This is one area where you do not need any advice as you are framing the work of Josh Agle. Great choice of art but consider a few elements when framing: size, color, theme and medium.

Mount Board and Backing Board
A mount board, often foam-core and museum quality, can be used to increase rigidity or act as a spacer within the frame. These are backed by an MDF or hardboard backing board with, in some cases, a moisture barrier (often foil) and dust cover. A specialist sealing tape is used to keep out dust, moisture, and insects.

Small or inexpensive frames often have pneumatic-driven steel staples attaching curtain cord for hanging into the molding. Larger frames use a pair of metal D-rings secured to the frame and joined together by wire. Many framers add two or more bumpdots to the bottom section of the frame, 12mm in diameter, to stop the frame touching and marking the wall. The bumpdots also prevent water leaks from damaging the art, assist with the circulation of air and make it harder for insects to ingress. Spring-lock security fittings are available when needed which slot onto wall fixings with a securing spring clip, a removal key is also provided.

And to finish, Link David has run Frame Fetish online since 1999 and is a master craftsman and artist. Here are a few examples of his impressive framed Shag prints, more can be seen on his Shag gallery.

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