Once you’ve found a work of art that you love, that inspires you and that is going bring new life into your interior space, you’ll want to do it justice by finding the perfect frame. Of course it’s possible to purchase a standard size frame from your local housewares store to simplify the process and cut down on cost. However, it’s important to remember that an original work of art doesn’t always come in a standard size and that having a work of art framed properly can ensure that not only will it be an elegant edition to your home or office, but it will also be protected from potential damage for many years to come. This guide was designed to help you consider all of the options and decide what is best for you and your artwork.
We’ve broken this article down into a series of “considerations” that you should make if you’re shopping for a frame. This article covers everything from the materials to the different styles that are available. Your local art supply store or framing expert will know more and we encourage you to do your research before making a big decision. Also, we’d love to hear more about your framing experiences. Please leave your comments below this article.
The very first consideration to make when searching for the perfect frame is the type of artwork that you have. You’ll need to determine the material of the support – canvas or paper – and make decisions based on the recommended methods for framing those materials.
Works on canvas, be it oil or acrylic paintings, are very often “stretched” across wooden beams and mounted using tacks or staples to hold the canvas edges in place (see image below). If you purchase a work on canvas that has not been stretched, you can make or purchase the stretcher bars and do it yourself or take it to a professional framer. Stretching a finished painting can potentially cause some damage, so we recommend caution if your artwork is very expensive or special to you. Canvases that have been stretched can be framed or hung directly on the wall from the stretcher bars, without a frame. This option is known as a “gallery-wrapped” canvas.
If you would prefer to frame the unstretched canvas, you will have to mat it or mount it to panel or board so that the canvas lies flat in the frame. To mat the canvas, you’ll need to purchase a mat from your local art supply or framing store. You will need to find a mat that matches the dimensions of your frame. The mat secures the canvas in the frame and provides a nice neutral border. See below for an example of a photograph with a white mat and a black frame.
To mount the canvas, you’ll need archival glue, gesso to seal the back of the painting and a good quality panel of wood or Masonite. Follow the proper technique or hire a professional to prevent warping and damage to your canvas.
If you purchase an old painting on canvas that already has a frame, you may want to consider keeping it or having it restored. The artist may have chosen the frame personally for the complementary effect it has on the painting. Also, prices are often higher for pieces that are sold in their original frames, which is something you should consider if you think you’ll ever sell your work of art in the future. If the frame is damaged, it is not necessarily lost. Take it to a professional framer or the conservation department of your local museum to see if all or part of the frame can be salvaged.
Whether you’ve got a drawing, a print, a photograph or even a poster, the options for framing a work of art on paper are very nearly the same. Whereas works on canvas can very easily be cleaned, works on paper are far more delicate and should be displayed behind glass or Plexiglas, also known as acrylic, to prevent contamination with dust and dirt. The glass can also function to protect the artwork from discolouration due to light exposure. Conservation and museum quality glass filter out 99% of harmful UV rays, which can cause bright colours to fade over time.
Plexiglas is lighter and more shatter-resistant than glass, but it can be scratched. Glass is better for charcoal, graphite or pastel compositions because it doesn’t allow for the build-up of static electricity, which can pull the media right up off of the support. This means that Plexiglas is better suited to prints and posters, while glass is better for drawings. Regardless, it is important to choose a glass that is not too reflective, so that it does not interfere with your ability to see and enjoy your work of art on paper. Ideally, you shouldn’t see the panel of glass at all.
You will also need to pay very close attention to materials that will come in contact with your artwork. Even a small trace of acid can completely destroy a work on paper. A mat is quite commonly used to create some visual space between the art and the frame. This “frame within a frame” is generally made from one of three materials: pH-neutral wood pulp, acid-neutralized lignin-free wood pulp and cotton fiber. The cotton fiber is the highest quality material, utilized by museums. However, it is expensive and the colour palette is limited. Wood pulp mats that are pH-neutral or acid-neutralized are designed not to release acid for a number of years, but they should be replaced with regularity – just to be safe. They come in a variety of colours, which can be a fun way to really bring the artwork and the frame together.
If you are thinking about putting your work on paper behind glass, consider double-matting it to prevent expansion from rising humidity within the frame. The double mat can also allow you to play around with different colours. It’s common to choose one in a neutral colour – beige or white – and another in a colour matched to the artist’s composition.
Works on canvas and works on paper should also be protected with a backing behind the frame. Triple backing involves the use of cotton-rag board, corrugated plastic and a dust cover. A more cost-effective option is a foamcore backing in place of the corrugated plastic. This foamcore is made of polystyrene, which can break down and release gases that are dangerous the work of art, so the foam is wrapped with pH-neutral paper to prevent any leakage.
The second consideration when choosing a frame for your work of art is the subject matter or style of the piece. There are no fixed rules and certainly you should feel free to choose a frame that matches your personal taste. However, there are some conventions that have been established that can provide some guidance if you’re not sure where to start:
• An expensive and traditional oil or acrylic painting on canvas usually belongs in an ornate frame. Research the time period in which your piece was created and find a frame that originates from or was designed to look like it originates from that same period. This type of frame can be made of wood and is often made even more extravagant by the application of gold leaf.
• A more modern painting on canvas can also look good in such a frame, because it may provide a certain amount of contrast to the piece that viewers find interesting. A very simple metal frame might also be complementary. Modern and contemporary works of art often look their best as gallery-wrapped canvases, so no frame is necessary.
• Works on canvas can also be displayed in a special type of “floating” frame, which give the appearance that the artwork is literally floating, without touching the edges of the frame.
• Works on paper can take a variety of different shapes and styles, so feel free to play with any kind of frame for drawings and prints. Posters are almost always displayed in a very thin metallic frame and photographs benefit from the added drama of a box frame.
• Wooden frames are most often made from ash, basswood, cherry, maple, oak, poplar and walnut. They may be hand or machine finished and come in a variety of different colours.
It’s important to be sure that your work of art fits in the frame that you’ve chosen. Though it can create some visual appeal to place a small work in a much larger frame, with a mat to compensate for the size difference, this should be undertaken with caution. The last thing you want is for the frame to overpower and draw attention away from the artwork. The frame’s job is to support and act as an extension of the art, not to be the star of the show.
Of course there are the obvious wood finishes, gold and silver, white and black frames to consider. However, if you really want to make your work of art pop, don’t be afraid to experiment with bold colours. Again, don’t allow the frame to steal the spotlight, but choose a colour that appears in the composition to create a real sense of harmony and balance. Wood pulp mats come in a veritable rainbow of colours, which provides a unique opportunity to participate in the artistic process by choosing a colour that complements the style of your piece.
Finally, you should not overlook the room where the work of art is going to reside. What colour are the walls? What types of furnishings have you chosen? Are they modern or more traditional? Which fabrics are being used? Are there any unique architectural details? You’ll want to take all of these factors into consideration when you choose a frame. Though it’s not necessary to match a frame to the colour of your sofa or area rug, you should be sure that the work of art that you’ve chosen and the frame that you’ve chosen for your work of art do not clash with your existing interior decoration.
How big is the room? Contrary to what you might think, large rooms often look best with just one or two well-placed and properly-sized works, while smaller rooms can really feel larger and more interesting with an almost crowded “salon” display of art. Choose frames in different shapes, sizes and colours for your favourite pieces to create a very personal and eclectic atmosphere.
Though not strictly necessary, it is not a bad idea to connect with a local framing expert, particularly if you have the intention of significantly building your art collection. Framing can be an additional expense, but it is not cost-prohibitive and it adds a great deal of visual value to your piece. Knowing more about the materials that are available and widely-used can only help you to make better decisions and we hope that the information and advice that we’ve presented in this article will be helpful to you as you determine how best to finish and hang your new work of art.