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Framing is all about the three P’s--- proportion, presentation and preservation. It is the process of deciding how to coordinate the artwork and the framing materials. Most of all it is about feeling—using an aesthetic sense which we all possess to guide us in the selection of choices based upon what feels right for proportion of size, color, texture, and shape. The goal is to arrange the elements of the artwork and framing so they are composed as a pleasing presentation. 

When making an appointment to have something framed, it might be considered thoughtful to have a certain idea in mind as to the final appearance. It is often is more advantageous to keep an open mind, working with the choices at hand, and allowing the framer to guide your selections, offering advice but also listening to your personal preferences—that is why this type of framing is called is custom framing. Each person has their own preferences and it is the framer’s job to tailor them to match what is available and workable.

A frame exists to provide a support and setting for the artwork. If a person looks more at mats and the frame, diverting attention from the artwork, a proper effect has not been achieved. The artwork, mats and frame should be a coordinated presentation with the mats and frame playing supporting roles. The artwork needs to be center stage and the focus of attention.

The function of the surrounding border of material inside the frame, known as the mat, in combination with the frame, is to provide a structure for an appealing presentation. For both the frame and mat, proportions of size that are too large overwhelm while those that are too small make the artwork look unsupported. The same is true for color—some colors are intense even in small amounts and need to be used only as accents. The majority of color should be subdued and subtle. Textures should be chosen to add variety and interest while shapes should accentuate a theme or motif, complimenting the subject matter. The frame and mats should play off the tones and style of the artwork being framed, adding to their presence. A proper framing job can do nothing but enhance a work of art, whereas even the most amazing subject matter will be denigrated by poorly chosen surroundings. 

When we started our business 35 some years ago we ordered a set of mat board samples and when they arrived there was a good range of color selections. My partner had recently received her fine art degree in printmaking and was astonished at the variety. At the university her professors had described the manner in which prints should be matted and to them the only proper vehicle of presentation was a white mat. Even though we did order some colored mats, the first order amounted to a variety of white boards. We soon discovered, however, a proper presentation need not be exclusively white and since then we have thoroughly enjoyed using the wide spectrum and the growing variety of mats that have become available over the ensuing years. Thirty years ago there was a nice selection of a couple hundred colors from which to choose, but that certainly pales in comparison to the more than 1600 available today. This variety allows the custom framer a large pool of colors and texture. There are tone boards which are used for everyday framing, the alpha cellulose boards whose core is made from a highly refined and buffered wood pulp, rag boards, and fabric covered boards. Each has its use depending upon the type of artwork being framed and price considerations.

Most artwork should be glazed—covered with glass or plexiglass; the exceptions are oil and acrylic paintings and works in fiber, both of which need to breathe. Glazing affords protection against detrimental environmental influences. Among the most damaging effects to artwork are moisture and exposure to direct sunlight. Glazing should be separated from the artwork by a window mat or other spacing, leaving room for air to circulate and to prevent the accumulation of moisture. There are numerous options to choose from, ranging from regular glass to nonglare to ultraviolet protective to optically coated anti reflection products. Photographs generally need protection from ultraviolet radiation for preservation and plexiglass should be utilized for large pieces where weight is a consideration.

After the mats have been cut and assembled, the artwork is mounted onto a backing mat with acid free paper or linen hinges or with polypropylene corners. This assemblage of mats is held in place in the frame with wire brads. If there is space remaining between the level of the back of the frame and the mats, a non acid filler board is inserted and a kraft paper sheet is glued to the rear of the frame to prevent dust from entering. Finally, special braided or plastic coated wire is attached to the frame to provide proper support for hanging the frame from a nail with a hook. 

At first glance, the finished framed piece may look simple but it is not uncommon for a framed piece to consist of 10 or more layers, ranging from the glazing, mats, and spacers to the dust cover.




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