Twice in the last few weeks, I have been asked for advice about picture framing. Each time, the requests surprised me, because matching a frame to a picture is such an exacting exercise that I don’t think of myself as an expert. However, I have framed nearly three dozen prints and canvases in the last four years, so on second thoughts I must have picked up a few basic ideas.
My first advice to anyone framing a picture is: keep it simple. Anything you like well enough to frame is probably going to be around much longer than your current furniture – plenty of time for you to get bored with something elaborate, and for anything trendy to date itself. So, unless you are decorating a room like an 18th century boudoir, forget the gilt frames that are half as thick as the picture. You are far less likely to grow tired of a plain black frame or one of stained wood.
After all, the whole point of a frame is to accent the picture, not to call attention to itself. If you notice the frame as much the picture, you’ve made the wrong choice.
In choosing the frame, try to match a dominant color in the picture. If, for example, the picture has a blue background, consider a blue frame. If there is a hint of metal in the picture, then consider a metal frame rather than a wood one. When the picture is colorful, either go with a plain frame, or, at the most, a frame with a barely noticeable line of color that picks up on a common color in the picture.
In general, the smaller the picture, the thinner the frame should be. A canvas that is “museum-finished” – that is, painted on the sides (a reference to the times when artists were expected to provide their own frames and wanted to save the expense) – need not be framed at all, although it will usually look more finished if you do. Other canvases often have a deep frame, with the canvas resting about halfway from the bottom.
For a print or a painting on paper, you will often want a matting, or even a double matting between the frame and the picture. The matting needs to complement both, and choosing between the dozens of shades of an appropriate color for exactly the right one can be demanding. You need to consider the width of each matting, as well as which is on top of which, and, occasionally, if the matting should be some other shape than square. Usually, part of the picture is concealed by the matting, which is why white space is so important, but a picture with a ragged edge may float on top of the matting instead. Canvases generally do not use matting, although paintings on paper do.
The next consideration is the glass, unless the picture is on canvas. In some cases, you can save money by the glass you choose, but I generally prefer glass with ultra-violet protection. This glass is expensive, and usually mutes the picture’s colors, but if you think that you may ever change its position, you’ll be glad that you took the time to protect your painting from sunlight.
The combination of frames and matting are numerous, so expect to spend some time finding the exact ones. Twenty minutes or half an hour are not unusual for the decision, especially when you are not used to it, so don’t expect framing to be something you rush in and do in a few minutes. Take the time to do it right, and you’ll enjoy your picture more over the years.
Oh, and one final piece of advice: Don’t attempt to frame a picture yourself. For one thing, if you’re like most people, you don’t have the tools to do so. For another, hobby stores and do-it-yourself framing stores (which mercifully are far less common than they used to be) generally don’t have the selection of frames and matting to help you make the most suitable choice. Going to a professional framer won’t cost you that much more, and you’ll likely be more satisfied with the results.
In Vancouver, I use either Framagraphics or Kent Picture Framing. In other cities, ask the gallery or store where you bought who they use for their framing. – if professionals employ a framer, chances are you can safely use them, too.